Today is Ash Wednesday. A day of prayer, penance, and renewal. The season of Lent is a reminder of our baptism as it culminates in the Easter Vigil and renewal of baptismal promises on Easter Sunday. It is also a time of year when we have an opportunity to reach out to loved ones. St. Paul, in today's second reading tells us that "we are ambasssadors for Christ." To be an ambassador is to represent, or speak on behalf of someone important. You and I are ambassadors of Jesus Christ. If you went to mass this morning you received blessed ashes on your forehead. I have a little more real estate on my forehead so my ambassadorship is quite clear!
Catholics can sometimes be reticent about sharing their faith. I hope this changes. At the closing mass of the 20th World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, Pope Benedict XVI had the following comment in his homily: "Help people to discover the true star which points out the way to us: Jesus Christ! Let us seek to know him better and better, so as to be able to guide others to him with conviction." How do we help others discover Jesus? Patrick Madrid, in his book Search And Rescue-How to bring your family and friends into-or back into-the Catholic Church, provides us with a systematic approach. Quoting St. Francis of Assisi, Madrid notes: " Evangelize at all times and if necessary use words." In chapter 3 of the book Madrid focuses on the Apostolate of Friendship. St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, once said, "May your behavior and your conversation be such that everyone who sees or hears you can say; This man reads the life of Jesus Christ." I will quote directly from Madrid's book: "God's grace and your authentic Christian example can do more to win souls for Christ than all the biblical or historical evidence in the world. So your search-and-rescue mission must be suffused with prayer, good example, and friendship. The more you rely on prayer, good example, and friendship, the more effective you'll be. The more you pray in particular for the person you want to draw home to the church, the more efficacious your prayers will be. The more you work at cultivating virtue and setting an unostentatious, joyful, authentic example of Christianity in your own life, the more people will be drawn to ask what the secret of your happiness is. 'Do nothing at all unless you begin with prayer' said St. Ephraem the Syrian. Without prayer, even your best search-and-rescue efforts will fail." Madrid then shares with readers the remarkable conversion of St. Augustine and the persevering prayers of his mother that helped facilitate the conversion.
Madrid then addresses some of the obstacles we will face: "Your adversary in your search-and-rescue mission isn't the person you seek to rescue. Rather, it's the blindness, the indifference, the hostility, and bad information, the ignorance, the sin, or any of a number of other impediments that block his path home. Those are the adversaries you can vanquish through prayer. In this way, the phrase,'search and rescue' takes on a deeper, richer meaning. You're called to rescue your friends and family from imprisonment-imprisonment in sin, in confusion, or in darkness (or in all three). If you doubt the importance and power of prayer in the face of seemingly insurmountable resistance, recall the story of Joshua and the Ark of the Covenant. Joshua and the Israelites were to confront in battle the inhabitants of the fortified city of Jericho. The Israelites were outnumbered, and the defenders of Jericho were protected by high, stout walls that ringed the city. For seven days, the Israelites marched silently around the city walls, praying and bearing in front of them the Ark of the Covenant. You can imagine how puzzled their enemies were at that odd sight. On the seventh day, the Israelites blew their horns in unison, and the walls of the city miraculously crumbled. You may know someone who seems absolutely unwilling to listen to your message. His fortress of disinterest or hostility toward the Catholic Church may seem, like Jerich, insurmountable. Reaching him may seem impossible. If that's the case, do what Joshua and the Israelites did: Pray!"
Inspiring words. St. Francis de Sales won back the entire Chablais region of France, some 60,000 people, through an apostolate of kindness and letter writing. You and I, with Jesus and the Blessed Mother, can participate in a wonderful search-and-rescue mission to bring back Catholics into the fold. Future blog posts will discuss how to handle situations where people have been hurt by the church.
St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Francis Xavier, patron of the missions, pray for us!