As a sister, I find that when it comes to sharing the Gospel with family and friends, I often feel like I’m either a lightning rod for religious discussions (friendly or hostile in tone) or I am ignored as irrelevant to everyday life. I suspect that any practicing Catholic whose family members “aren’t religious” goes through this as well. How do we share the joy of the unconditional love of God with all of these expectations swirling around us? There are two fundamental choices or attitudes that I consciously try to bring with me everywhere.
1) First of all, I simply try to be fully and faithfully present to the people I am with. “Fully present” means that I try to be lovingly present. Often that means simply expressing genuine interest in others. I share activities that are important to others, and I listen a lot, always trying to connect with others’ experience. Often, listening with attention and love seems to be more important than anything else I do or say. I believe that some of my relationships have been built upon years of listening.
Much of the time, I am a wordless witness to Christ Jesus with my family. If I’m provoking a strong reaction in others without saying much, then my hope is that the way I’ve chosen to live my life speaks for itself. Sometimes, waiting to speak about my faith until I’m asked seems to be the best approach.
But I also seek to be “faithfully present” to others, by which I mean that I am faithful to who I am: a beloved child of God who can’t help but share the love she has received. When the opportunity comes up, I don’t shy away from talking about my experience of faith, or my prayer, or my “take” on current Church events. Whenever someone confides a challenging situation to me, I always offer to pray for them. If I’m asked questions, or find myself in certain situations—such as visiting a hospital room—I always try to offer a witness and accompaniment of faith—for example, offering to pray with someone who is ill, even if I know they aren’t a church-attending Catholic. Sharing God’s love and my conviction that God is with them and will take care of them is too important for me not to talk about. I never know when my few words could make all the difference in their experience of God.
2) “Walk with” those who are suffering. Among my family and friends, there is a lot of suffering. When someone I love undergoes a loss, illness, accident, or other suffering, I can feel self-conscious about being with them. Instead of reaching out to them when they most need to be reminded that they are loved, I can—almost unconsciously—choose to avoid them. Lily, a close friend of mine, has a good friend who just lost her husband in a tragic accident. After the funeral, Lily wanted to reach out to her friend, but she didn’t know what to say to her in the face of such tragedy. After agonizing over it for a week, Lily worked up her courage, had a drink, and picked up the phone to call her friend. Her friend was so happy to be able to talk with someone. She confided that, in the midst of her sudden, overwhelming grief when she needed her friends the most, they all seemed to be avoiding her.
After the phone call, Lily realized she didn’t need to be nervous about what to say to her friend any more. “There’s nothing I could say that would make the situation any more painful. She’s already living the worst thing she can imagine…and my being with her, no matter what I say, means that she doesn’t have to suffer alone.”
In my experience, when someone is going through a particularly difficult time, it’s not easy but it is a privilege to walk with them. Times of suffering are moments of profound growth and grace, and it’s a grace for me to bear witness to that. As any believer who contemplates and shares in Jesus’s passion, death and resurrection at daily Mass, I am often more comfortable than others with the paradoxes and mysteries of life. I can see hope where someone else might see none, because when I look at a crucifix, I don’t just see Christ’s tortuous death, but I also see Jesus’s undying love for me that triumphs over every obstacle in the resurrection. Bringing my faith with me into painful situations, I can offer to others the serene witness of my belief, and the comfort of knowing that, even if life doesn’t make sense to them right now, they can lean on the faith and strength of those who are with them. In turn, I usually find myself deeply touched by my experience of staying with them in their suffering.
In many ways, it feels easier to share the Gospel with strangers than with our own loved ones. But simply because of the love and trust between us and our loved ones, it’s crucial that we share the Gospel with those we love first of all. Our love for Christ, and Christ loving our family in and through us will bless and transform our family, even when we cannot see it.
Only by sharing the Gospel do we live the Gospel fully. We cannot be completely transformed by Christ’s love until we begin sharing his love…because only then do we realize how unlimited is the scope of God’s love for us.
One way you can share the Gospel with those who urgently need to know Christ’s saving love is to help us continue our efforts to evangelize the family. Help us to share the joy of the Gospel with the world by donating today to our annual webathon fundraiser at: www.pauline.org/give.