Thursday, January 15, 2015

One Disciple is Worth a Thousand Headlines

A couple of years ago, I received a young man into the Catholic Church and I confirmed him.  His name is Michael.  Although recently engaged to be married, Michael nonetheless left his full-time employment at the beginning of last summer and became a FOCUS Missionary working at MIT.  Shortly before Christmas this year, I was at a party hosted by the FOCUS Missionaries at Harvard, MIT, and Boston University and I met a student there.  While we were talking, Michael approached and I asked the student, "Do you know Michael?"  "Yes," he replied. "Michael is the reason I'm becoming Catholic."

There's a tendency in a lot of us to equate the "Catholic Church" with big events, big programs, and big personalities.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I attended a conference this month where ten thousand university students came together to draw closer to Christ and to the Church.  It was a big event.  But, what most struck me about the event were the encounters with individuals who--all over the United States--are just living out their Catholic life in quiet, unassuming ways.  There are a lot of good people doing a lot of good work.

This Christmas, I received a card from an elderly woman named Barbara whom I received into the Catholic Church and confirmed in her parlor a few years ago.  She is in her late eighties or early nineties.  A woman named Hannah (who has since died) was a member of my parish and used to visit Barbara on a regular basis.  Through their friendship, Barbara asked to become Catholic.  Hannah arranged for me to come and visit Barbara at home and instruct her in the Catholic Faith.  Barbara became Catholic because of Hannah.

The Christmas season which we just concluded reminds us that Christianity began in the womb of one woman.  God's entire plan of salvation hinged upon a young girl from Nazareth.  It wasn't in Jerusalem, Rome, or Constantinople.  It was Nazareth.  It wasn't a major political, religious, or cultural personality. It was a young girl. I am Catholic because that young Nazarene girl said, "Yes."  I am a Catholic because a fisherman and his brother left their nets, boat, and father behind and followed Christ.

Throughout the Church, there are witnesses.  Some of them are elderly and have hardly any income.  They show up at daily Mass and croak out the "alleluia" before the Gospel.  They pray for their children, their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren.  Some of them are young men and women in the workforce.  They pop into local shrines for adoration or confession on a regular basis.  Some are married men and women who take seriously the obligation to raise their children in the Catholic Faith.  Some are wealthy and are always looking for ways to generously support the good works of the Church.  Some are college students who are seeking to live lives of holiness and who--despite all of the odds being against them--read the Scriptures, pray, and seek to understand what the Lord is saying to them.  Some are priests, deacons, and religious who continuously take on more work with less resources because they don't want to miss any chance to share the Gospel.

Sometimes we think that it is the stuff that makes the headlines in the newspapers that really matters. We think that good press or bad press is what ultimately determines the fate of the Church.  There were, however, no media reports of what happened in Nazareth two thousand years ago.  And, had there been, would they have been favorable or negative?  This is not to dismiss the media, but it is to say that the secular media is not the primary instrument of the Gospel.  The young college student that I met at a party clearly stated the reason he was becoming Catholic: He met a young missionary named Michael.  Barbara became Catholic because a woman named Hannah communicated the Gospel to her through their friendship.

The Church grows because of faithful Catholics who labor in the vineyard.  They aren't the stuff of headlines.  They are the people who visit the sick and the imprisoned, donate to support the Church, pop into confession on a regular basis, teach religious education, sing in the choir, and invite others to meet Christ.  I am grateful to be surrounded by people like this.  I need people like this. They are the people whose example sustains me in my Catholic life.  They are priests and lay people, nuns and deacons, young and old who are waking up every day and following Christ.  They usually don't make the headlines, but they are making disciples.

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