By Father Donald P. Malin
When my niece made her bat mitzvah, I sent her a card congratulating her and challenging her regarding her future. For those who don’t know this part of Jewish life, the Bat Mitzvah is a religious ceremony celebrating the “coming of age” of a girl in Reform Judaism. I sent her the challenge that said, “Be the best and most spiritual Jewish person you can be.”
This may sound strange coming from a Catholic Priest, to encourage a niece to be the best Jew she can be. Primarily, I love my niece, and secondly, Jews are the people of the Covenant with God. My niece knows who and what I am. I trust that the Spirit of God will lead her to the truth. She knows where to get valid information on being a Christian, has heard me preach, and has heard my discussions with her mother, who abandoned Catholicism, about the role of truth in her life. Presenting the Gospel is the part of the Christian, and the conversion of the heart and soul of another is the work of the Holy Spirit. So I am gently being who I am with my niece, trusting that as I live the Gospel fully, she will see it and, perhaps by the grace of God, decide she wants to know “my reason for having the hope I have.” If it happens, I am “ready with the answer,” as St. Paul says.
When sharing the Gospel with a person of another faith or denomination, it is important to understand the world-view from which they are operating. It is also important to avoid charging like a ‘bull into the china shop’ of another person’s faith-life. People who destroy others’ belief systems are often more interested in being right than in winning a heart. For us Catholics it is a gentle process that begins with relating to these people as human beings, brothers and sisters, in our human race. Trust and charity are the keys, whether or not they join us in our prospective churches or denominations. Hopefully, if someone you know doesn’t respond right now to the Gospel, you won’t abandon him or her to the ash-heap of former friends. As Michael W. Smith penned, “Friends are friends forever if the Lord’s the Lord of them. For whom can we say that Jesus isn’t Lord? If God is God, then he is God over ALL!”
Pope Benedict has proclaimed this year, beginning on October 11, as the Year of Faith. It is in commemoration of the anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, which began the updating and reformation of the Catholic Church. He, along with Pope John Paul II, dedicated this millennium to the re-evangelization of our church members, in addition to a new evangelistic push to the ends of the world. We call it the “New Evangelization” because we are reaching out to those who are already Catholic, instead of just those who are not yet baptized. In the past 100 years, Catholics have become progressively more lax in their observance of the teachings of Jesus and His Church, so that we now have two or three generations of people who do not know what being Catholic REALLY means. Because of this, Pope Benedict is convening a ”synod,” a special meeting of some of the world leaders in our Church who minister to the modern culture, and those who are experienced at sowing the Gospel to study, reflect and propose effective plans of re-evangelizing the Faithful of our Church.
In every church and denomination there are scores of inactive believers who are no longer participating in the life of their Christian Communities. This work that Pope Benedict is undertaking is not only for the Catholic Church. He is also offering this information to all who have lapsed members in their churches and denominations. It is hoped that all Catholics and Christians will continue, and even intensify, their efforts at rebuilding their churches from within, while not neglecting those outside the walls of the Body of Christ.
In the Catholic Church’s laws of governance, every parish priest is responsible for the souls within the territory of his parish. As Pastor of the two Catholic Churches in Pagosa Springs and their three missions, I am responsible for those who live within Archuleta County, with the exception of Arboles. This means that I am supposed to reach out with the Gospel to those in my parish boundaries, and to encourage all Christians to live the fullest possible life in Christ.
When I knock on doors to talk with people, I picture myself as a waiter offering a tray of cookies that some will want and some won’t. No pressure here! If they say “No, thank you,” I move on to the next house. I leave a note for those who are not home, along with a brochure from our Parish, only if the address is on our parish rolls. Many of our addresses are outdated, so if I leave a brochure where a non-Catholic lives, it is not intentional. I am not trying to steal church members from another pastor’s flock. Rather, like I am doing with my niece and her Judaism, I am encouraging all Christians to become more active in their respective denominations, and to call lapsed Catholics to return home. My goal is to help people be the best faith-filled people they can be. As Scripture says: “Do not stay away from the gathering of the faithful.” Like the Good Shepherd, who goes after the lost sheep of his flock, every believer as a co-worker in The Lord’s Kingdom is charged with bringing the lost sheep home.
Fr. Don Malin
See the website of the cover painting here.