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Did you know that 45 percent of Americans (about 112 million people) have some meaningful connection to the Catholic faith in some way? Some bridge of trust? Only 20 percent of them – 50 million — are Catholic. This statistic means more than twice as many Americans have some connection to the Church in some way as those who go to Mass once a year or more.
What would a Sunday Mass at your parish look like with more than twice as many worshippers? Imagine how the quality of our families, schools, work environments, media, relationships – everything in our culture — would improve!
Nine percent of Americans feel they are “partially Catholic” or “half Catholic.” They think of themselves as associated with Catholicism. Perhaps their spouse or parents are Catholic; they worked in a Catholic parish or school. Two-thirds are “Ex-Catholic” who grew up in a Catholic culture but no longer attend Mass.
Many partially Catholic people were not raised in the faith. They are the ones who consider Catholicism more faith than culture.
Fifty-two percent of Americans have left the Catholic Church at some time, most of them now ex-Catholics. Many say they are open to coming back. Eleven percent of them are back. “The rest are still in motion and the Holy Spirit is still at work,” said Sherry Weddell, author of Forming Intentional Disciples.
Some of these meaningfully-connected, partially-Catholic or ex-Catholics are within your circle of influence. You work with them, work out with them, serve them in your business, go out to dinner and concerts with them. They live in your neighborhood. Maybe they work in the Food Bank or March for Life with you.
We cannot write off even one of these people who is somehow connected to the Catholic Church but not worshipping with us. Each of them has a story of that connection. How do we influence them, evangelize them?
Bridges of connection
When we listen to their stories, we will discover bridges that connect them. Perhaps the bridge is a relationship — a Catholic spouse, childhood friend, teacher or grandparent. It may be cultural and tied into holidays and celebrations. Or a shared ministry such as pro-life or charities. That relationship, family celebration or ministry is the bridge that brings them back.
For the cradle Catholics who have left, perhaps it was a bridge of unforgiveness for a priest or teacher that treated them unkindly. I might be a sin they feel God cannot forgive. When you discover the bridge they took to leave the Church you will know the bridge on which they will return. Their need for reconciliation is the path back.
Make yourself approachable
Can we find a way to accompany them back across that bridge of trust? Help then come home? Here are six suggestions:
- Make yourself approachable. Live the Faith. Walk the walk. Always and everywhere do the right thing wherever you are. Rather than you initiating a deeply spiritual conversation, let them come to you with a question or two.
- Drop PC. Don’t worry so much about being politically correct or hurting someone’s feelings by mentioning religion because it makes someone uncomfortable. You can know a person for years and not know about their interest in what’s going on the Catholic Church unless the two of you are comfortable talking about religion.
- Talk about your life as a Catholic. Don’t hesitate to mention casually your Catholic activities. It’s who you are and what you do. If everyone is talking about the coming weekend, chime in with your plans to attend Mass with your family, among other things. You don’t know who around you is one of those meaningfully-connected, partially or ex-Catholics who want to know more about Catholicism. They may even ask where you go to Mass.
- Sense spiritual needs. Recognize that everyone around you has spiritual needs and be ready. Many times I‘ve had a non-Catholic neighbor or acquaintance ask me for prayer for an urgent need. They know I am a Catholic convert. Here’s an opportunity to listen to people who need consoling – and evangelizing.
- Pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As you listen to someone’s story with one ear, keep the other ear, so to speak, attuned to the Holy Spirit.
- Encourage their faith in God. Remind them that God loves them. Ask them when they first knew he loved them. Make these questions as natural as getting to know a couple by asking them how they first met and fell in love. The love question gets right to the core of relationships and connects soul to soul.
Your personal witness
Saint John Paul II taught that the most effective way to evangelize is through our personal witness. If you know the love story of your relationship with God and can tell it succinctly and authentically, you have a winning strategy. We all go through the same struggles in different scenarios. What you have experienced, and come through the wiser, can help someone beginning that same struggle. A reason for hope is what you offer them. (You can learn how to share your testimony in “How do I share my witness?”)
Witness where you work
If you own the business, you either set a secular or a spiritual tone. Some ways that businesses that honor God include:
- T-shirts – sweetFrog yogurt shops. FROG stands for “Fully Rely on God” with the John 3:16 scripture written out on employees’ T-shirts.
- Fundraisers – The sweetFrog shops hold fundraisers for church groups, schools and charities in their 350 locations in 25 states.
- Containers – In-N-Out Burger prints Bible citations on their cups, containers and wrappers.
- Shopping bags – Forever21 prints “John 3:16” on the bottom of their shopping bags.
- Mission statement – Interstate Batteries’ mission statements reads, to “glorify God as we supply our customers worldwide with top quality, value-priced batteries.”
- Testimony – The testimony of Chairman Norman Miller is on the Interstate Batteries website.
- Closed on Sundays – Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A are closed on Sundays and business is picking up after a brief slowdown.
- Court battles – Hobby Lobby’s court battles with Obamacare are well known.
Where do we start? At the top, by thanking God for the gift of faith and our rich inheritance of the Catholic Church. Next, each day pray the words our first pope wrote in 1 Peter 3:15, 16,
Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.
What can you do today to become a bridge to Catholicism for someone in your life?
@2017, revised 2018 Nancy HC Ward
The Pew 2014 US Religious Landscape Survey, http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/
Forming Intentional Disciples Today 2016, FID today 2016