I recently attended a municipal gathering to discuss ways to improve our local community. After the formal presentations, the floor was opened for questions and concerns from the audience.
A middle aged man approached the mic to inform us that all the problems we face, not only locally but on a global scale, could be solved if we confess Jesus as Lord and accept him as savior. The moderator had to curtail his comments after the scriptural proofs he presented began to run long.
Afterwards, I overheard two people praise him for his bold witness saying how good it was to hear from “a brother in the Lord”.
I’m sure we’ve all experienced similar occurrences, but I wonder if the reactions of this blog’s readers are more alike or different from my own—embarrassment.
Commissioned to Proclaim
We were meant to tell others the Good News. Our founder said so:
“He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.’”—Mark 16:15
And when this gospel (Good News) is preached, we are not to be ashamed:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…”—Romans 1:16
The Church herself enjoins us to boldly deliver the sacred message:
“From this loving knowledge of Christ springs the desire to proclaim him, to ‘evangelize’, and to lead others to the ‘yes’ of faith in Jesus Christ.”—Catechism of the Catholic Church #429
So why oh why did I feel this way? Since the event, I’ve thought long and hard. Was I embarrassed for him? For me? For the audience? For the presenters? Was the source of embarrassment my Roman Catholicism or my social introversion?
Was it the messenger?
Was the source of my embarrassment the man himself? I don’t think so because he was unremarkable in every way. By this I mean nothing stood out. His appearance was tidy and he spoke eloquently. If he were disheveled and drunkenness slurred his speech, it would definitely make me cringe. But he was neither intoxicated nor unkempt.
In fact, I imagined an elderly woman and a teenager both delivering the same message and asked myself if I would be equally embarrassed. The answer—yes. The messenger is exonerated.
Was it the message?
Without having spoken to the man, I am pretty confident that we would disagree on the role the Sacrament of Baptism, the role of the Church and the role “works” play in one’s salvation. We would also dissent on whether or not salvation could be guaranteed. Putting all that aside, could I stand next to what he said? Absolutely. We all need a relationship with Jesus Christ and the Bible is full of examples that say so. His message is impeccable.
If it’s not the messenger or the message, then why did his words make me blush?
Location, Location, Location.
It’s not the messenger that I found embarrassing, nor the content of the message, it was the context. I don’t think a municipal gathering convening at 7 PM on a weekday to address civic problems is the time or place to “preach the Gospel” to a captive audience. Those in attendance have not been given the choice whether or not to hear the message.
God created man with free will. A testimony to God’s greatness is that he does not force us to love him or even listen to him:
“God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. ‘God willed that man should be “left in the hand of his own counsel,” so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.”’”—Catechism of the Catholic Church #1730
Our free will is an inextricable component of our human dignity:
“The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in religious and moral matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of man.”—Catechism of the Catholic Church #1747
Granted, if someone at the meeting were to have asked me about my faith or salvation, I would have been happy to share the Gospel message. But not to a room full of unsuspecting parents desperate to get home, have dinner, put their kids to bed and prepare for school and work the next day.
But then again…
Who am I to dictate the appropriate time to speak of God’s mercy and salvation? Perhaps there was someone in the meeting that needed to hear that message and this man was more open to the Spirit’s prompting than I will ever be. Maybe I lack a fervor, urgency and zeal for souls that he epitomizes. Or my embarrassment may be my subconscious justifying my shyness. Or it may be an adherence to the age-old admonition never to discuss religion or politics.
How about you? Obviously it is the Spirit that ultimately turns hearts to God, but is a silent, subtle witness more effective than a more overt, vociferous one? Have you ever been in a situation like this? How did you feel? Embarrassed? Encouraged? Exasperated? Euphoric? Were his comments appropriate? Untimely? Are we too timid as Catholics? Share and let’s learn together!