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Service without the sales pitch


I have always felt slightly uncomfortable when I see a group of evangelical Christians set up for the day with their Bible and brochures, often at a suburban beach or some other popular public venue.

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They are always polite, well dressed (no boardies or thongs) and smiley.

In some ways I admire them for their commitment and courage, and my inbuilt Catholic guilt makes me edgy (am I having too much fun?). But mostly I wonder why they would bother. Surely there is a more subtle and easier way to spread the Word.

It wasn’t until recently that I put my finger on how I felt about such proselytising.  I was listening to Jesuit priest and prolific author Fr Richard Leonard (Where the hell is God? What are we doing on earth for Christ’s sake? to name a few) address a group of Catholic school leaders. Borrowing from Methodist minister Rev Martyn Atkins, he suggested Christians were not meant to be salespeople but rather ‘free giveaways or samples’.

Images of travelling Latter-day Saints and door-knocking Jehovah Witnesses immediately came to mind, and reinforced my feeling that there must be a more productive way to serve the Lord.

As a cradle Catholic educated in Dominican and Mercy schools, my faith upbringing was grounded in the pursuit of social justice and living the gospel message. Hence the concept of being ‘samples’ of Christianity sits well with me.

Not that we should keep our faith entirely to ourselves, but if history has taught the Church anything, it’s that we need to come from a position of humility.

Those of us who inherited our faith from our parents and were baptised as children can be a tad shy when it comes to articulating our own beliefs and the teachings of the Catholic Church. It might be because we take them for granted, or maybe we just don’t know enough about them.

I am in awe of those adult men and women who choose to be baptised into the Church later in life and who seem to have far greater knowledge of the Catholic faith than me and have put many hours into learning about it.

As Tristan Barnes says it’s not just ‘rock up and sing Kumbaya and talk about baby Jesus’, it’s a ‘heck of a journey of discovery’ (page 4).

‘New’ Catholics such as Tristan and Stacy Blair (page 1) are a great gift to the Church at a time when fewer people are attending Mass. They are also living proof that religion still has a place in an increasingly secular society.

Interestingly, most of them are motivated to explore Christianity not because someone has stood on a soapbox and urged them to join, but because they are seeking a spiritual dimension or searching for meaning in their lives. Some are attracted to the rich tradition of the Catholic Church, others have encountered someone of faith who had an impact on their lives. The reasons are as varied as their backgrounds, and deeply personal.

No salespeople were involved in their conversion of heart and mind, but there were plenty of free samples – the coordinators, religious instructors and sponsors who offered many hours of their time to introduce the catechumens to the Catholic faith. It’s an important part of the journey and one that is done without fuss or fanfare every year in parishes and communities.

There are many other examples of people sharing their faith quietly by their actions. When I was walking down Gawler Place the other evening I encountered a group of cheerful southern suburbs parishioners who were volunteering for that wonderful St Vincent de Paul Society initiative, Fred’s Van.

Every night the homeless gather in a small space between office buildings and wait for the Fred’s Van crew to start serving meals. Sadly it’s a much-needed service as the number of people without a roof over their head continues to rise but fortunately there is never any shortage of people willing to help out – a credit to Vinnies and the grassroots network it has established through parishes across the country.

In contrast to the evangelical Christians at the beach, there is no sales pitch, just people doing what Jesus would have done.

Happy Easter to all our readers from the team at The Southern Cross.

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