“Faith is an encounter with Jesus Christ, with God, from which faith is born, and from there it brings you to witness,” Pope Francis tweeted.
That’s what happened to the Virgin Mary.
Mary’s encounter with God’s messenger changed her life. The Holy Spirit overwhelmed her with such joy she could only respond by telling those dearest to her what God had done in her.
What questions did Mary ponder on her way to visit Elizabeth? In telling her faith story the angel’s visitation became more active, more powerful, more real. The reactions and questioning that followed her initial experience clarified it.
Knowing and pondering our faith story helps clarify our thoughts. Like Mary, when we share our story, we see how God intervened and steered us to the path he planned for our greatest happiness. Then our deepest beliefs naturally emerge — like Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-49:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. . . The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”
A different path
My path was vastly different than Mary’s. My mother, two sisters and I showed up at our beloved Protestant church every time the door opened. Sometimes Daddy came with us. We were devout but private about our faith—we just didn’t talk much about it.
At 15, I quietly committed my life to Jesus at a mountaintop youth retreat. I was shy and didn’t share that glorious moment with anyone, even when asked by the youth director and my mother about my experience. From their questions, I suspected the change in me showed on my smiling face and in my lighter step. Perhaps in a little more patience with my bossy older sister and my tag-along younger one.
I thought talking about Jesus and me would spoil something precious between us. I could never find the words to fit the awesomeness of the experience of knowing for sure that Jesus loves me – me! His love was alive in my heart. His love grew in my heart, filling me with new life.
Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit and the life of Jesus began to form within her. She was compelled to share the Annunciation with those close to her. Unlike Mary, I couldn’t share the new life in me even with those dearest to me.
Although I couldn’t share my relationship with God, it fortified me for the shock of my life. My father died suddenly three years later. God was the only one who could comfort me. I knew he would never fail me.
Thunderbolt of love
Then Got hit me with a thunderbolt of love for Phil, whom I dated in college. He was what I prayed for—a strong Christian man to build a Christian family with me. The trouble was, he was Catholic!
Since I didn’t talk about my relationship with God, it was hard to explain that relationship intertwined with how I worshiped him. Again, God was there for me, assuring me that he would work it all out. With peace in my heart, Phil and I married in the Catholic Church, but without Mass.
Soon I was a bride of a few months, newly pregnant and living away from home for the first time. The 2 ½ years we were in the service my husband was at sea more than he was home. I used that time to practice the disciplines of the Catholic Church, which at that time meant no meat on Fridays and trying to follow the Latin Mass.
With no RCIA, three different pastors catechized me one-on-one as we moved around the West Coast. I was comforted by the consistency of teachings and liturgies, but not by the unfriendly parishioners. My only connection to the parishes was the instruction sessions.
The last pastor stopped short during one session and said, “Nancy, you know enough to become a Catholic. When you get home, have the priest who married you, baptize you.” The finality of his proclamation cinched my deal with God that he would work it all out. The Lord assured me that I belonged in the Catholic Church. Three years and two children after my wedding, I was received into the Church in the same cathedral.
The secret to evangelization
Now I am one of those faithful Catholics that I saw in Phil so many decades ago. I have never looked back except to thank God and my mother for a solid Christian upbringing, which nurtured my personal relationship with Jesus. The tenets of faith I learned and practiced in my childhood enabled me to leave that denomination, but not my relationship with God.
Unlike Mary, I did not share my story with those close to me anywhere along the way, even when asked. I didn’t get the benefit of clarifying my encounter with God through their questions, feedback and support.
Not so, today! I’ve learned the secret to evangelization. Through crises and blessings, surrendering my life to God countless times, and delighting in his healings, my forever song is,
“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.” (1 Peter 3:15,16)
Copyright 2015 Nancy Ward.
Art: The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner (Wikimedia Commons)