January 19, 2018

Worship and Evangelization Outreach / Ken Ogorek

An opportunity lost, a lesson learned

Ken OgorekI could kick myself. Rather than engaging in a conversation about Jesus, I settled for a label—and awkward silence.

It was last summer. A group of catechetical leaders, religion teachers, school principals and I were on the way home from the St. John Bosco Conference for Evangelization and Catechesis in southeastern Ohio. We

stopped at a fast-food restaurant, and were having a lively conversation about the workshops we attended—about discipleship, evangelization and teaching the faith.

A somewhat elderly gentleman walking by our table stopped next to us, having overheard parts of what we were saying. With a friendly voice he said, “Are you part of a Church group?”

“We’re all from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis,” I said.

“So you’re Catholic?” “Yes.”

His face fell a bit. “Oh,” he said, and walked away.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m very proud of our Catholic faith. Sometimes, though, it’s especially prudent to put in to practice a recommendation of Sherry Weddell, author of Forming Intentional Disciples; that is: Never accept a label in place of a story.

What I should have said is: “We’re disciples of Jesus, living out that relationship in full communion with his body, the Church. How about you?” That way, a conversation would have unfolded. The gentleman could have felt more invited to visit for a few more minutes.

Could have, would have, should have

Hindsight is often 20/20. I would have eventually used the word Catholic in our conversation. But based on his response to the word Catholic when I did use it, this gentleman had some preconceived notions about Catholics and our faith. I could have left him with the notion, maybe surprising to him, that Catholics are laser-focused on their personal relationship with Jesus as well as their membership and participation in the Church. That it’s often a deepening relationship with the real Jesus of sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition that draws people, by God’s grace, to a sacramental life and a quest to live out the moral dimension of discipleship.

We should have been two disciples of Jesus, sharing briefly about the difference that daily prayer makes in our lives as we seek to understand and love God, his Church and the entire human family. Instead, my clumsy and thoughtless albeit accurate response tended toward shutting down the conversation. He went his way. I ate another French fry. End of story.

What’s your story?

It’s worth asking ourselves: How prepared am I to talk conversationally about my faith? When God puts people in front of me—and he will!—who broach the topic of religion, what contribution will I make to the conversation? Will I start with labels and creeds—both of which are very important? Or might I simply say something like, “What I can tell you for starters is that I have a relationship with Jesus. I live out that relationship in a lot of ways, including worshipping him at Mass. My relationship with Jesus and living it out with my fellow Catholics makes a huge difference in my life. Wanna hear some more?”

Never accept—or offer—a label in place of a story, a chance at witnessing to the power and beauty of being a disciple of Jesus and living in full communion with his one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church. Good advice I’ll try harder to follow—by God’s grace.

(Ken Ogorek is catechetical director within the archdiocesan Secretariat for Worship and Evangelization. He can be reached: kogorek@archindy.org.)

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