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Thursday, July 4, 2019

Guest Post: Be a Friend, Make a Friend, Bring a Friend to Christ

St. Andrew brings Peter to Jesus.
Ottavio Vannini, 17th c. 
Editor's comment: The priest who prepared my husband and me for marriage and witnessed that blessed event used to tell us, "Be a friend, make a friend, bring a friend to Christ." All of us have many opportunities to witness to the "hope that is in us" through Christ Jesus. Sometimes that witness is verbal and sometimes it's silent. But our witness begins with drawing closer to the Lord. Can you meet Him today at daily Mass? Can you speak to His Mother Mary and honor her through praying the rosary? She faithfully brings every soul who desires it to meet her Son Jesus. No matter what has happened in your life or where you are today, you can "bring a friend to Christ" through your love, kindness, patience, understanding, etc. 

by James M. Thunder* 

Last month I listened to a parish Director of Youth Ministry describe a sociological study documenting how so many young Catholics think of our Faith as a set of propositions without a personal relationship with God Who is the subject of the propositions. Then I watched World Over Live broadcast a videoclip of Bishop Robert J. Baker of Birmingham at the Junes meeting of the American bishops (the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), request that the words, the Name, Jesus Christ, appear at least once in one of the USCCB documents that was then under review.

These two events prompted me to think of the time I heard a priest say that St. Paul had such a deep relationship with Jesus that there are passages in his epistles where he uses the Name over and over again. When his letters are read at Mass, I’ll sit up and notice, for example, that St. Paul writes the Name five times in the opening eight verses of his Letter to the Romans, and eight times in the opening 10 verses in his First Letter to the Corinthians.

So, returning to the study described by the Director of Youth Ministry, how do we hand on the Faith to a new generation? We cannot hand on what we don’t have, what we don’t experience. We hand down our customs and beliefs, other than the Faith, all the time. Tradition is that word with connotations so many young dismiss, such a rigid, conventional, old, Victorian, hoary, hidebound, unprogressive.

Yet, the word is defined simply and objectively as “the handing down from generation to generation the same customs and beliefs, especially by word of mouth.” These customs and beliefs include dating practices, the way we celebrate birthdays or holidays, the ways we treat our parents, the ways we treat our flag, the ways we greet one another.

It is impossible for a young person, or a person of any age, to develop a relationship with the Lord if he or she is not surrounded by people who do not have a relationship with Him and address Him by Name (Jesus) or title (Lord). There is no one alive today, and there hasn’t been anyone for over 1900 years, who has not experienced moving from learning about Jesus to knowing Him.

Recall Jesus’ words “Blessed are those who have not seen but have believed.” (John 20:29) Even when Our Lord walked this earth, almost all the people who saw Him – the Apostles, the other disciples -- had learned of Him first from someone else. It was, and importantly, continues to be, a chain of witness over space and time.
  • Some knew Him, and knew Him well, before He began His public ministry. These included Mary and Joseph, Lazarus, Martha and Mary.
  • John the Baptist is one who met Jesus and recognized Him, before anyone had said anything about Him, when Jesus presented himself for John’s baptism. (Matt. 3:13-14)
  • John the Baptist says, “Look! The Lamb of God!” And Andrew, a disciple of John’s who hears this, follows Jesus. (John 1:36,40)
  • Andrew then tells Peter, “We have found the Messiah.” And he takes Peter to Jesus. (John 1:41-42)
  • Jesus meets Philip. (John 1:43) Philip then goes to Nathanael (a/k/a Bartholomew) and exclaims, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, the one about whom the prophets wrote…” (John 1:45)
  • Nicodemus, a Pharisee, “a leader,” sought Jesus out to ask Him questions. (John 3:1-21) He learned about Jesus first.
  • Jesus meets and converses with a Samaritan woman by the well. (John 4:5-38) She tells her townspeople about Him and “many…believed in Him on the strength of the woman’s testimony…” (John 4:39)
  • People brought their sick to Him because they had heard about Him. For example, the unnamed centurion in Capernaum with the sick servant had “heard about Jesus.” (Luke 7:3)
  • People came in crowds to listen to Him because they had heard about Him.
  • Herod heard about Him. (Matt. 14:1-2) Herod “was anxious to see Him.” (Luke 9:9)
  • Zacchaeus, the wealthy tax collector in Jericho, “was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was…” (Luke 19:3)
  • Pharisees and scribes, who had heard about Him, came to test Him.
  • Virtually all of Jerusalem greeted Him on Palm Sunday. St. John describes how this happened in these words: “[T]he crowds who had come up for the festival heard that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. They took branches of palm and went out to meet Him…All who had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead were telling how they had witnessed it; it was because of this, too, that the crowd came out to meet Him: they had heard that He had given this sign.” (John 12:12-13, 17-18)
Everyone has their own story about hearing about the Lord. St. Paul’s was unique. Yes, he had heard about Jesus, and didn’t like what he had heard. That’s why he was present for Stephen’s witness, but disapproving what he heard. (Acts 6:8-7:60) Paul approved of the execution of Stephen by stoning (Acts 8:1) and Paul subsequently “worked for the total destruction of the Church” (Acts 8:3). After St. Paul knew all that Stephen had proclaimed about Jesus’ life and mission, Jesus introduced Himself to Paul in stunning fashion on Paul’s way to Damascus. After Paul’s conversation with Jesus, and Paul’s conversion, Paul went and learned more about Jesus from His disciples:

  • Paul spent “a few days with the disciples in Damascus.” (Acts 9:19)

  • He went to Jerusalem and Barnabas introduced him to the Apostles. (Acts 9:27)

  • Barnabas spent a year with Paul in Antioch. (Acts 11:26)

  • Paul met James the Greater and spent 15 days with Peter. (Gal. 1:18)

  • Among everything else Paul wrote to us about the Faith, he “passed on” to us the words of consecration. (1 Cor. 11:23-25)

Another story needs to be repeated here -- because it highlights the transmission of the Faith by generations of family. Paul wrote to Timothy, “I am reminded of the sincere faith which you have; it came first to live in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice…” (2 Tim. 1:5)

How did the Faith get passed on after that first generation? A wonderful, comprehensive history of the conversion of Europe is told by the late Richard Fletcher (1944-2005), then a professor at the University of York and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, in The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity 371-1386 (1998). An online review says, “The conversion of the pagan world that began in the obscurity of the Dark Ages was in no way inevitable. England did not embrace Christianity until 627, and while confessing communities existed from Greenland to China by the millennium [1000 AD], the last European conversion occurred late in the Middle Ages, in 1386. How did it all happen--and why? In a work of splendid scholarship that often reads like a detective story…”

There is much that could be said, but let me conclude with some words from Our Lord from his “priestly prayer:”
As You have sent Me into the world,

I have sent them into the world,

and, for their sake, I consecrate Myself

so that they, too, may be consecrated in truth.

I pray not only for these,

but for those also

who, through their words, will believe in Me.

(John 17:18-20)

*A Washington, D.C., attorney. He double-majored in government and theology at the University of Notre Dame, and obtained his master’s degree from the University of Virginia with the thesis Aquinas on Marriage. He served as general counsel of Americans United for Life and is a past grand knight of the Knights of Columbus. He is the author of 225 publications.

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