Pope Paul VI said in Evangelii Nuntiandi, his 1975 apostolic exhortation on evangelization, that “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers it is because they are witnesses.”
If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t consider yourself expert in the witnessing category. You most likely continue to work hard in your area of ministry and also do whatever you can to pass on the faith to your family. Most of us understand that the rest is up to God. We are not responsible for changing hearts, as that is the Holy Spirit’s territory. But isn’t it nice when the Lord allows us to see some of the fruits of our labor?
That’s what happened to my husband and me recently. It was unexpected and quite humbling to be told that our simple act of reading the Bible and doing our best to fulfill our responsibilities as Catholics made an impression.
It was unexpected because it happened within our own family circle, and we all know how sensitive the issue of faith can be among close friends and siblings. This is especially true around the holidays, when you have a limited amount of time, and emotions are on overload due to the frenetic pace of the season and possible family tensions that may have been present for years.
That’s why, when spending major holidays with my husband’s family, we have learned the fine art of answering questions about faith firmly but politely. We understand that there is a limit, a line that we have to be careful not to cross if we want to maintain relationships and continue to be an example. Setting an example, after all, can be hard to do if you’re not speaking to your brother or sister or Aunt Jane and Uncle Bob.
So, we tried to maintain going about our business when staying with the in-laws. We went to Mass at the local parish, even if they stayed home. We brought our Bibles and devotionals with us and did the daily Mass readings in the privacy of the guest room. We didn’t hide the Bible, but we didn’t hit them over the head with it either.
This pattern went on for years. But during the most recent annual visit, a relative told us that she was enrolled in a Catholic Bible study at her parish. She also invited us, to our sheer awe and delight, to take part in family prayer, which they had been saying together each evening for weeks. She explained how she found the link to the Bible study on my website and that the course has made a huge difference in her life and the atmosphere in her home.
What really sent us over the top and caused us to drop to our knees in thanksgiving was when she expressed how our witness served as the catalyst for her reversion to the Church.
She said that it was watching the simple routine of us going to Mass, of taking the faith seriously without shoving it in their faces, that made a difference.
I host a nationally syndicated talk show. I speak all over the country. I write books. My husband is working toward an advanced degree at a seminary and has led men’s groups and helped organize major conferences.
That’s all well and good. But when it came right down to it, within our inner circle, it wasn’t something I said on the radio or in print that clicked. It wasn’t my husband’s ability to quote Scripture or the Catechism. It was walking the walk.
St. Francis of Assisi is often quoted as saying “preach the Gospel always; use words when necessary.” We never thought anyone in our immediate family was paying any attention. But they were. In other words, actions, as another old saying goes, apparently do speak a lot louder than words.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of Catholic Connection, produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.