Thursday, January 29, 2015

Tell your story - that's what it's all about.

What happened in your life to make you a follower of God – 
a believer?

What made you a spiritual person –
a religious person?

I imagine that a lot of us are like the prophet Samuel.  

Samuel was called by God as he slept in the temple at Shiloh. He was in that holy place where God called him because his mother Hannah had dedicated him to God.  Hannah was barren and asked God for a son.  She promised God if he answered her prayer, she would raise her son to serve God. So like Samuel, I imagine many of us are people of faith today because we had a mother or a father who were a great influence on our lives.

Perhaps some of us are like Paul who had a powerful spiritual experience. Paul was actually an enemy of the Christian faith when God called him.  Paul had a major conversion experience in his life. Perhaps that is your story.

Or maybe your story is more like the apostle Andrew’s.  Andrew was looking for something.  He had gone out to the desert to follow John the Baptist. He was standing near John when he pointed out Jesus - “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Andrew was curious.  He was searching, so he followed Jesus to see what he was all about. Perhaps you too were looking for something in your life and someone invited you to church, invited you to meet Jesus.  We all have a story to tell of our faith journey. 

I heard a very dramatic story of someone’s conversion the other day. It was one told by the Bishop of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris during part of the last century.  He liked to tell the story of a young man who would stand outside the cathedral and shout derogatory slogans at the people entering to worship.  He would call them fools and all kinds of names. The people tried to ignore him but it was difficult. One day the parish priest went outside to confront the young man, much to the distress of the parishioners.  The young man ranted and raved against everything the priest told him.  Finally the priest addressed the young scoffer by saying, “Look let’s get this over with once and for all.  I’m going to dare you to do something and I bet you can’t do it.” And of course the young man shot back, “I can do anything you propose!” “Fine” said the priest. “All I ask you to do is come into the sanctuary with me.  I want you to stare at the figure of Christ and I want you to scream at the very top of your lungs as loudly as you can 
“Christ died on the Cross for me and I don’t care one bit.” 

So the young man went into the sanctuary and screamed as loud as he could looking at the figure ... “Christ died on the Cross for me and I don’t care one bit.”  The priest said, “Very good. Now do it again.” And again the young man screamed with a little more hesitancy, “Christ died on the Cross for me and I don’t care one bit.” “You’re almost done now said the priest, one more time.” The young man raised his fist kept looking at the statue but the words wouldn't come.  He just could not look at the face of Christ and say that any more.

The real punch line came when after he told the story the bishop said, “I was that young man. That young man, that defiant young man was me.  I thought I didn't need God but found out that I did.” 

Few of us have such a dramatic story but all of us have a story. And sharing our stories is an important part of belonging to a faith community – a parish – a church.  

In the story of the apostles Andrew and John, they followed Jesus once John the Baptist pointed him out. They spent time with him hearing his story. They became believers.  They were so inspired, they went to their friends and family and said "listen to what we've found."  They told their story. Then those who heard them came and heard about Jesus and their lives are changed forever. 

That’s what this whole Church experience is all about. Sharing our stories, and telling the great story of Jesus Christ. Each one of us is called to become part of something bigger than ourselves.  We are all called like Samuel, Paul, John, Andrew and Peter to follow Jesus – and – bring others along with us.

My story is simple. I was raise by great Catholic parents. I wandered for a while in my youth, as many of us do, only to return to the foundation built by my parents. And when I returned, for many years, I came to church and sat in the pew barely looking at anyone. I didn't think this faith experience was about anything other than me and God. Then one day I heard Pope John Paul II, at a world youth day, say that our call as believers is to be “the infusion of Christianity into the life round us.” He called me out of my private faith experience when he said the we are all called – as Samuel and the apostles were called – to an encounter and personal friendship with Jesus; and then to share that experience with others. His message changed my life.

You are called too! To what are you called? You are called to tell your story ... that’s all. That’s what your faith journey is truly all about.  You have been called by God to simply tell your story to others. There is an old saying that goes “faith is caught, not taught."  If you hide your faith journey it is unproductive. Share it!  Change someone’s life.  It is simply telling people who you really are.  That’s the most effective evangelization of all.