We often say the holidays are about family—about coming home, reconnecting, and being grateful for the relationships in our lives. Sometimes, that’s tougher than it sounds. Unfortunately, not every meal ends like the closing scenes of a Christmas movie, with everyone agreeing about the true source of love and His rightful place in our lives.
I asked professor, author, speaker, and former Academic Dean for Evangelization Allan Wright for his advice on how to negotiate what can be a challenging season, if those we hold dearest are of a different frame of mind and heart. Among Wright’s titles are Jesus in the House: Gospel Reflections on Christ’s Presence in the Home, The Bible’s Best Love Stories, Daily Companion for Married Couples, and notably, Jesus the Evangelist: A Gospel Guide to the New Evangelization (plus another included in the interview below). I have the privilege of knowing Allan and of hearing him speak gracefully on Jesus’ message for our lives. I am grateful that he offered his academic expertise and practical advice for this post.
People “evangelize” in a variety of ways, some more effective than others. How does Jesus define “evangelize”?
Allan Wright: We know that the Good News is not about Jesus Christ … it is Jesus Christ. So, in the same way, I would say that Jesus defined evangelization by who He is. Everything He did revealed and connected people to God and the Kingdom of God. His parables, miracles, and His questions engaged people where they were at and often they challenged them to go deeper in faith. When you think of Jesus as a leader, He led by example and certainly had a plan for evangelization by investing Himself in the Twelve and modeling for them the behavior He desired them to have.
With the understanding that every individual and every relationship is unique, where do you recommend we start in trying to evangelize to the people closest to us who have fallen away from or who were never part of the Catholic faith?
AW: The best way to evangelize people closest to us is through service and joy. We need not preach, share our story, recite scripture or battle theological and moral issues. In my experience, these tactics only lead to deeper division. Those closest to us know what we believe, so let our service to them and our joy be the net to catch souls, as Pope Francis says. Jesus is the savior, not us. Pray for them consistently and pray that someone they work with or who is on their softball team witnesses to them. When we lead with joy and service to them, that will be enough. If they come to you with questions, answer in layman’s terms and keep it simple. It’s a sin to bore someone with the Gospel.
Holiday celebrations can bring together family we don’t interact with very often. How do you suggest we respond when questions or challenges to the Faith make their way to the dinner table?
AW: The dinner table can be a battle zone and a place where relationships are forever ruined. If questioned about the faith around the table, realize that that question is more likely to be a trap or a “set up” where we are expected to lose our cool. If they bring up something bad and say, “Did you read about what that priest did/said?” if it was bad, then agree it was bad. Never defend or make excuses for bad behavior.
Jesus did not answer every question posed to Him, and when we examine His encounter with the woman at the well, we see a template for a conversation that started off with temporal needs and finished with spiritual ones. Be wise and keep focused on the Gospel and Jesus, and not church issues. It’s one of the most difficult things to do, but the most prudent as well. Afterwards you can share your story with them one-on-one, where you’ll have a better chance at communicating and not looking like a fool.
What resources could we offer to a family member looking to learn more about Catholicism?
AW: The fact that the person has a New Testament and Bible is often assumed, so start there. Dr. Peter Kreeft, Dr. Scott Hahn, and Bishop Robert Barron have some great books and YouTube resources. My latest book, 25 Life-Changing Questions from the Gospels: Letting Jesus Lead You through the Stages of Spiritual Growth, takes the approach that it’s asking good questions like Jesus did which can help us engage in fruitful conversations with others.
Questions like “What are you looking for?”, “Why are you afraid?'” and “Did you never read the scriptures?” puts the ball in the other person’s court rather than having us think we need to have all the answers. Asking a few good questions is how Jesus stirred people’s interest.
Thank you, Allan, for your insight! Through the love of Christ, may the holidays truly be a time of peace in all our homes.
Copyright 2017 Lindsay Schlegel
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