September 15, 2017

Evangelization and Catechesis Supplement

Anybody can evangelize

By Father Patrick Beidelman

Father Patrick Beidelman“An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances … it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others … standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be. It is familiar with patient expectation and apostolic endurance.” (Pope Francis, “The Joy of the Gospel,” #24)

I hear many folks talk about the remarkable example that they were given by their parents.

Our former archbishop, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, speaks of his mother frequently. He calls her “The Mother of all Tobins,” and he shared many stories about her during his time with us, many of which spoke of her strong and enduring faith in his life and in the life of many others.

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson gave a moving tribute to his father at the end of his installation Mass in July, speaking of his father “as the greatest example of faith, hope and charity of any man” he knows.

It’s not just bishops who talk about their parents’ witness to the faith. Many couples on their wedding day take time to say thanks for the love, guidance and example of a parent in the ways of faith.

So many people talk about their parents, it almost feels clichéd for me to do it. However, when thinking about evangelization and missionary discipleship, my thoughts immediately turn to my mother, Patricia.

My mom’s example of how anybody can evangelize is an inspiration to me, especially when viewed in the light of Pope Francis’ call to each us of to focus on accompaniment, dialogue and encounter as missionary disciples.

I witnessed my mom’s skill at sharing the love of Jesus Christ firsthand. One of my favorite phrases that I heard her say growing up was perfect when she wanted to build you up rather than point out a weakness or embarrass you. When faced with something I didn’t do well (shooting three-pointers, algebra, singing solos … just to name of few!), she knew how to turn an “I can’t” into an “I can” with a loving phrase: “Oh Patrick, you have other gifts.”

God knew it, and she knew it, too. We all have been created to carry out some special part of God’s mission—mine was not going to be with the Indiana Pacers.

In reminding me that I had other God-given gifts that I needed to discover, my mom was able to be a vessel of God’s love for me and to help me search for the path he wanted me to follow.

While experiencing it firsthand was great, I mostly heard about Mom’s evangelizing witness from others.

I remember a mutual friend of ours who had experienced the trauma of a divorce telling me how present my mom was to her when she shared the news of the breakdown of her marriage.

My mom interrupted her to touch her arm and say “I am so sorry,” the first person to acknowledge her loss in such a way that helped begin to break the darkness of the isolation she felt.

There was the time when the mother of the teenage daughter who had become pregnant asked Mom, “How could God do this to us?”

Mom looked her square in the eye and said, “Honey, God didn’t do this to you, but he’s the one who’s gonna get you through it.”

Sometimes, it just involved reminding people that they are wonderful—which, by the way, you can see in each person when you look at them with the eyes of faith.

People would tell me over and over again, your mother is so wonderful! I would agree, stating that she’s just a “big ole charmer.” But what I really meant was that she knows how to evangelize, how to walk and talk with people as Jesus did.

Even now, in the midst of living with dementia, she’s still charming the socks off of everybody. There isn’t a nurse or caregiver who she doesn’t compliment or treat like a long lost friend. Some people may say, “I am not like that,” but I would contend, that since we’re all trying to walk in the footsteps of the Lord, then anybody can do it.

(Father Beidelman is the executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Worship and Evangelization.)

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