Do you have family members who are away from the Church?
Are you not sure what to say to them when they are home for Christmas?
I used to be a fallen-away Catholic who went to Christmas Mass every year with my family. I am not sure why I went to Mass; I was an atheist. Sometimes I felt annoyed during the homilies or unmoved by the liturgy.
But there were other times when I felt something stir.
Maybe it was something the pastor said.
Perhaps it was the reverent way someone received the Eucharist.
Or maybe it was just the beautiful decorations that soothed my soul, or the festive, joyful atmosphere that awakened my heart.
Granted, I never felt motivated enough to return to the Catholic Church after attending a Christmas Mass, but these little movements in my heart paved the way for my eventual conversion and return to the Church.
You probably have family members who are away from the Church. You may not know what to say or do when you are around them during the holiday season.
This first Christmas of the Jubilee Year of Mercy is a particularly beautiful time of grace to reach out. Mercy is a virtue that influences us to have compassion for others and to alleviate their misfortune. Evangelization, leading others to God’s love, is mercy.
Here are five Christmas evangelization tips, inspired by the ideas in my book, The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church:
1. Be Peaceful as We Await the Prince of Peace:
It is easy for everyone to get stressed out during Christmas. My family usually has at least one blowup before the visit is over. But, you can be a sign of contradiction in the midst of stress. Focus on Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and find your tranquility in him.
You may ask, “What does that have to do with my loved ones?”
Your example will not go unnoticed, especially if you tend to be anxious or were the primary instigator of arguments in the past, (I’m not speaking from experience or anything).
When we change our behavior because Jesus has changed us, it makes others want what we have.
2. Stay Focused on Jesus:
There are a lot of distractions during the Christmas season, including cards, gifts and parties. All of these things are good but we can lose sight of the spiritual aspect of Christmas.
When I went home for Christmas as an atheist I always knew that my parents would continue with the traditions of my childhood. We would carry Jesus to the manger on Christmas day, light Advent candles, and say prayers before opening gifts. It was sometimes annoying to me, but other times I just figured it didn’t really matter much.
What I didn’t realize was that all of these things built a foundation in me, a gut instinct that recognized that a Christmas without the spiritual can be glittering and glitzy, but ultimately empty of transcendent meaning.
3. Look for Opportunities to Share Your Faith:
Heaven kisses earth on Christmas. Families get together. Rivalries pause. Stores close. Wars cease (at least temporarily). It is as if time has stopped.
During this year’s peaceful Christmas intermission, look for opportunities to talk to your loved ones about your faith. Just share the wonder of knowing a God who loves you and has been there for you this year. Point out how he has worked in your life and don’t be afraid to point out how you think he may have worked in the lives of your loved ones.
4. Be Normal, Loving and Down-to-Earth:
This may sound like odd advice, but when I was an atheist, I was most moved by Christians who interacted with me first on a human level. I was impressed by Christian friends and relatives who loved me for who I was and appreciated my gifts, my thoughts, and my time.
When I felt like people were interacting with me as a means to an end, (i.e. just to convert me), I was turned off. People are not here for us to try out “strategies” on. They are here for us to love, to accompany.
This mode of evangelization is effective because this is how Jesus interacted with the people he met. The people standing in front of Jesus were always the most important thing to him. The people knew this, and it was this kind of love that changed them.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out:
There is a spirit during Christmas that fills people with openness toward one another.
This is the perfect time to reach out to invite, to ask simple questions.
“Why did you stop going to Church?”
“Would you be open to coming with me sometime to X (Mass, adoration, or any other Catholic event)?
“How do you feel about God these days?”
Questions, rather than statements begin conversations. And Christmas is a time of grace that may just allow conversations to turn into baby steps back to the Church.
So, fear not.
God is with you.
In our interactions with others, he is there, guiding us and opening the hearts of those we love.
Emmanuel: God is with us.
Sr. Theresa Alethia, FSP is the author of The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church.