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How to evangelize your family this Thanksgiving
Posted By Eric Sammons On November 23, 2009 @ 9:08 am In Evangelization | Comments Disabled
This week most of us will be closely interacting with cafeteria Catholics, fallen-away Catholics and non-Catholics. In other words, we will be visiting family for Thanksgiving. Those of us who are trying to live an authentically Catholic life are pained when we see those we love rejecting the Church and her loving guidelines for a fulfilling life. So what do we do? How do we evangelize those people who are closest to us? I have a few suggestions from my own personal experience.
1) Pray for your family members
This point can be easily skimmed as clichéd, but if you ignore this advice, all the other suggestions are worthless. If you are not praying for your loved ones, you are not evangelizing them. Period. And when I say “pray for your family members” I don’t just mean some offhand prayers on an irregular basis. I mean daily, specific prayers, including offering up sacrifices for them. Only the Holy Spirit can convert people, so you need to get Him involved in your evangelization.
2) Live your Catholic Faith
St. Francis is alleged to have said, “Preach the Gospel always. When necessary, use words.” I think that this saying has been abused in recent years to excuse doing nothing, but there is truth in it. After prayer, the most important thing we can do is to live our Catholic Faith. Trust me, if you have 6 kids and go to Mass every Sunday, you are making a loud statement to your extended family members. And if you are living your life joyfully, that loud statement becomes an attractive one to others. Don’t think you have to be perfect – because you are not – but just making a serious effort to follow our Lord in your daily life will do more than any words you might say.
3) Accept your role
Typically over a hundred people have a role in someone’s conversion. Most of those people won’t say a word about the Faith to the convert, but will instead impact the person by their life (see #2 above). In my own life, my college roommate was the primary catalyst in my conversion, but there were many other Catholics who impacted me by the quiet witness of their lives. There is a good chance we will not be the primary catalyst to our family member’s conversion (“Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor”), but our lives can be a secondary cause of others’ conversions.
4) Recognize where people are
The sad truth is that most people (including most Catholics) are not interested in learning more about the Catholic Faith, much less embracing it fully. Trying to engage them in conversations about the Faith is therefore usually counterproductive. They will feel that you are pushing something on them and will therefore put up defenses to reject what you are saying. Obviously if someone says something explicitly against the Catholic Faith you should correct their misunderstanding, but that is the extent of how much we should talk about the Faith with them. For these people, we should be content with praying for them (see #1 above); only God can change their attitude of indifference or hostility.
5) Be aggressive in looking for legitimate opportunities
It might seem from the above that we should not say anything about the Catholic Faith to our family members. Nothing could be further from the truth; we are obliged to share our faith whenever possible. As St. Paul writes, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). If someone is open to hearing about Catholicism, we should be looking for opportunities to share our love for Christ and his Church with them. Although our culture is loath to talk about religion publicly, I have found that there are many opportunities to share our faith with others. The person who is open to learning more will make that clear by the type of questions he or she asks you and by their interest in your lifestyle. Although you might not be the primary catalyst in most people’s conversions, you don’t want to miss an opportunity to be one when God is calling you to it. And if you are praying hard for your loved ones (you did remember #1, didn’t you?), then these opportunities will come more often than you might expect.
6) Don’t expect instant results
In our modern culture we expect instant results for everything; we get mad if a web page doesn’t load in under 2 seconds. However, conversion is almost always a long process. Do not expect your family members to embrace the Faith within days, or months or even a few years. More likely is the possibility that they will slowly move closer to God over time until they eventually find that they are living an authentically Catholic life. Do not be discouraged by this slow progress; the Lord works on his own timetable.
Or, in other words, leave the heavy lifting to God. Do not be anxious about your family members who are not living a Catholic life. God loves them more than you ever will and He wants them to come closer to Him more than you can imagine. Being aggressive about evangelization does not mean that we are pushy or desperate. Let your conversations naturally flow to matters of the Faith; don’t always try to direct them there. If you are praying, the Holy Spirit will let the right words be said at the right time.
St. Paul, pray for us!
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