Working to Make the Gospel Living
The most effective evangelization isliving what you believe with conviction, say Scott Roy. We make Christ present through work and deed, not by soapbox preaching
For eight years I worked in the construction industry as a fire sprinkler fitter. During that time I interacted on a day-to-day basis with a rough group of men. It would almost seem that the industry, and the men working in it, not only constructed new supermarkets but also had the market cornered on foul language and inappropriate behaviour. Some might be tempted to think that the world of construction is a "lost cause," that the men within it are too hardened and perverse to recognize the Truth. Having been a part of it, I see that, well, obviously no one is a lost cause. But even more, by living out our faith firmly, we can bear witness to Jesus in a profound way and make a huge impact.
The very first thing that my foreman said to me on my first day of work was, "So you're a Christian, eh?" I hadn't even said one word to the guy besides "hello." I'm pretty sure I didn't greet him with a "churchy" tone. However, I discovered that my boss had set the tone for me before I showed up that day by telling him I was a believer. That was it. I never had to tell anyone after that.
The fact of my being a Christian seemed to go before me like a herald announcing royalty. It had an odd effect. If any explicative came out of someone's mouth, it would be immediately followed by, "Sorry, I meant 'dang.' " Or if the guys were going to a pub after work, I wouldn't get an invite. That's not exactly how I imagined the evangelizing to go. However, God uses all situations for His greater glory, always giving a man the opportunity to receive Him. And so it was that, from time to time, people would come up to me and ask some moral, philosophical or even theological question. Whether it was sarcastic or serious, I would answer them to the best of my ability. Sometimes I would get direct friction, like an insult to test the waters and see whether I would "turn the other cheek" or lose my cool and act the hypocrite.
At a later point in my career, when I was a foreman, one of my apprentices was a self-proclaimed atheist who actually knew his stuff well. He and I built a relationship on philosophical dialogue, sharing with each other our particular world views.
Now, I was by no means perfect in evangelizing. If anyone ever came to the Sacraments due to anything I said, I am not aware of it. I learned a lot of lessons and made a lot of mistakes. My most common blunder was (and sometimes still is) trying to argue everything. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against accurately articulating, only against stubbornly steamrolling. When my faith looks less like a lantern and more like a flame thrower, I know it's time to check myself. In my life experience, later confirmed in more formal training in leadership, I discovered that it is more effective to close my mouth and open my ears. To listen to where the other is at, where they are in relation to the Truth.
This young atheist would hurl all of the common objections to the existence of God at me. The faults were, of course, suggested in good humour topped with a smile. But they always had an edge. Left to stand on their own, they would surely have been gloated over. So, I put on my apologetics hard hat and responded to each concern, challenging as best as I could godless faith. It was not those times that caused my influence with him to increase, although he regularly said he admired that I actually knew why I believed what I believed. What he loved was that I would give him freedom to express his views, a freedom his dope-smoking buddies and his girlfriend would not, or could not, grant. He would bring hour-long lectures by his favourite atheist gurus for me to listen to, and during one week I remember listening to 13 of them. I knew some of that stuff as well as he did himself. He loved it, and although he never felt compelled to become Catholic, we have stayed in contact (admittedly largely due to him) over the last six years. From time to time he wants to know my opinion on ideas.
Throughout my career I've experienced a number of different evangelistic situations. However, I would say that my most fruitful and influential moments were not refuting moral relativism or proving the existence of God, the Divinity of Christ, or doing anything from the proverbial soapbox.
Pope Paul VI states in Evangelii Nuntiandi that "the first means of evangelization is the witness of an authentically Christian life" (EN 41). I experienced this when I realized that the most effective combination in my evangelizing on the work site was: first, when I lived what I believed with conviction, without compromising (to the best of my ability); second, when I took a real interest in the lives of the guys I worked with and made myself available to talk to at lunchtime, while we worked side by side, or as we commuted together. This way they were more inclined to try to understand the life I was leading. To be honest, I don't know that I ever actually started many, if any, of the conversations I got into. The clichÃ© is "walk the talk." The talk, in this case, just happens to be the Gospel, in other words the life of Jesus, who was here to make God present. We make Christ present through word and deed. We will not make Jesus present by soapbox preaching, because He must be made present by our love, our genuine interest in the lives of others.
As I became a seasoned veteran in sprinkler fitting, mainly seasoned by stale sprinkler water and concrete dust, I also became a seasoned evangelist. I spoke with fallen-away Catholics, ex-Christians, anti-Catholics, atheists, agnostics, and many who just couldn't have cared less. Many of those conversations were painful, and I would have had more success with the stale, black sprinkler water. However, because the Holy Spirit is at work in those moments, asking only that I co-operate with Him, I know something good will come of it. I am not a failure when someone doesn't heed the Gospel or have a "wow" moment. I am at fault if I stay silent when someone, at that moment, needs to hear about the rejected cornerstone
We must be bold and unashamed of the Name of Jesus, even in the face of ridicule. "There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed" (EN 22).
I no longer work with young apprentices on construction sites, but I work with young men on university campuses. They are the same kind of men. I am the same witness of the Gospel. The difference is that I am now a full-time missionary. Now, I not only share with non-believers, but equip and commission young Catholics to evangelize their future workplaces and families, thus fulfilling their deepest identity as baptized Catholics to be missionary.
We are called to do this in every environment we are placed in, even the difficult ones. God wants to reach the people in our lives with the Gospel of Hope through us. If we don't witness to them, who will? If we look at the people in our class, office, job site, sports team, or even our families and say "it's too hard" or "they would never listen to me," then who will genuinely love these people enough to do it? The reality is that we've been given everything: the fullness of life. God wants all people to experience it as well. The real question is: do we have the right to keep it from them â€“ our neighbours, Christ's lost sheep?