Catholics aren’t known to be great evangelists. I admit that I tend to talk about my faith to those who already share it, however, I certainly am very willing to engage in conversation if someone else brings up my faith. I know I don’t have all the answers about Catholicism and even when I do know the answers, I can never explain it in quite the right way. So I take two approached with those who show interest in the faith: I invite them to Mass and I find them something to read. There is nothing I could say or do that would exceed the heart-changing power of the Mass. And while I try to be knowledgeable about the faith, I know that I just can’t answer questions as well as can the great Catholic literature that is out there, by the likes of Scott Hahn and Christopher West, to name only a few. I greatly believe in the power of the written word to transform lives.
Here is an example that is quite near and dear to my heart:
My grandfather was raised in a non-practicing Jewish family, culturally Jewish yet not particularly religious. He grew up in Los Angeles, among many Mexican friends, and therefore had attended Mass many times before he met my Hispanic, Catholic grandmother. When they married, they agreed to raise their children in the Catholic Church. My grandfather loved the Church - the music, the tradition, the hierarchy - but never expressed a desire to convert, and my grandmother never pressured him.
Just a few years ago, Papa sat me down and told me he had something very important to tell me, something that he had not told anyone before: he had begun to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, but still held some small doubts because of his Jewish upbringing. It was an incredible moment to learn that my grandfather had chosen me to be the first to hear this! More incredible was his assertion that the cause for his new belief was nothing more than Mass attendance for the past 60 years or so. Just by sitting in the pew, week after week, experiencing the Mass as it has been practiced for thousands of year, my grandfather came to know and understand Christ.
I urged Papa to attend RCIA classes, to learn more about the faith from those that could answer his questions much better than I, but he was resistant and for some odd reason, so was my grandmother (she kept insisting that he was “fine the way he was”). So I tried a gentler approach - I gave him a book. Although he dropped out of college to support his mother and young wife years ago, my grandfather is a vastly intelligent and inquisitive man. Long before this time, he knew much more than most Catholics about the history of the Church and many of the traditions (in fact he always loved telling me about the similarities between Judaic and Catholic tradition - something he always admired about the Church that didn’t forget it’s roots). Now I gave him a book to help him discover the truth behind what he already knew. The book was The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, which chronicled a journalists own research into the historical evidence of the claim that Jesus did live and rise from the dead. He devoured the book, and upon finishing it, promptly proclaimed that it gave him the confidence to be able to put his old doubts to rest. He now truly believed without reservation.
Papa wasn’t immediately baptized. For a while, he felt that his belief was enough and that he didn’t need a formal baptism. But last fall, not long after his personal conversion, he was diagnosed with cancer and asked my mother to contact the local parish about becoming baptized. The priest there was wonderful and made it possible for my grandfather to be initiated into the Church without RCIA. Since he was undergoing chemotherapy, he wasn’t supposed to be in large groups where he could potentially catch an illness, so the priest met with him personally at his home. After contacting Archbishop Chaput (they live in the Archdiocese of Denver), he received the go-ahead to have a private Mass with just the family in the rectory in order to protect Papa from being in contact with parishioners in the church. In addition to allowing my grandfather to receive the sacraments of initiation, the Archbishop sent his blessings, wishing he could be there to witness the faith of a man who wished to complete a long and joyous life with acceptance into Christ’s Church. The blessings of the Archbishop meant so much to Papa, who saw himself not as a symbol of faith but as a humble man before God. The Mass was beautiful, held in the dining room of the rectory with a make-shift alter and punch bowl turned baptismal font. The priest was able to arrange it with less than a week’s notice in order to coincide with a trip that me, my husband, and aunt had arranged previously to visit the family. My husband and I served as Godparents to my grandfather, such an incredible honor. Papa was beaming the entire day and constantly marveled that it was the best day of his life and that he felt a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He was 79-years-old.
Recently, Papa was given a clean bill of health and he looks forward to many years practicing his new faith. My mother takes my grandparents to Mass each Sunday and usually calls me afterward to tell me about the joy she sees in her elderly father as he actively participates in the Mass - loudly singing, reciting Mass parts, gratefully kneeling before the Lord, and practically skipping toward the altar to receive the Eucharist. He’s been going to Mass since boyhood, but only now has he been able to fully participate. I will never experience the Mass quite as he does now - as a cradle Catholic, I have never known a life without the sacraments so try as I might, I cannot personally understand their transformative power.
Although there are clearly many more influences that led to my grandfather’s ultimate conversion, including my grandmother’s example throughout their 58 years of marriage (so far), never underestimate the ability of the Mass, of the written word, and of the service of a few good priests to change to souls of mankind.