When I give talks around the country or sometimes in correspondence with readers of my books or blog posts on Integrated Catholic Life, I am often asked what I mean when I encourage others to “be joyful” and share the “light of Christ” with others. I am referring to the response I typically give when asked for effective ways to share our Catholic faith at work and in the public square. I sometimes get strange and curious looks. “Surely, there is more to it than that,” they might be thinking. Or “Well, I wanted the 10 step plan, but I guess I can try this,” may cross their minds.
I share these basic concepts with good reason. Recall Christ’s teaching: “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:13-14, 16). Do we really share our Christ-inspired joy with others? Are we the light of Christ to everyone we encounter?
Here is the most difficult question of all to answer: Do we make Christ and His Church attractive and inviting to others through our words, actions and the way we carry ourselves?
We may be eloquent speakers, gifted writers or effective debaters. But, when it comes to sharing our faith and wearing the Catholic “brand”, none of those gifts matter if they don’t emanate from the true joy of having Christ in our hearts and of being devout in the practice of our Catholic faith. People can smell a phony and our culture is filled with false teachers and TV evangelists who make my point.
The type of faith sharing I am advocating will often have people seeking us out because they want to know why we seem so…joyful! “What is your secret?” and “What is going on with you?” are questions you may receive because they desperately want what you have in their own lives. Can you imagine a better opening to a faith conversation?
Sometimes, people will not approach you. They will watch you and wait. They want to see if you are authentic. How do you act when you think nobody is watching? Are you as kind to the clerk at the grocery store as you are to a co-worker in the hall at the office? They, too, will want what you have and may be inspired to seek it out because of your example. “Our behavior will be the proving ground of our deepest convictions. This firmness in the Faith is often an excellent testimony to the beliefs of the Christian. In some cases it can cause people to begin their return to the House of the Father” (Francis Fernandez, In Conversation with God, Volume 4).
So, why is this question of whether or not we make Christ and His Church look attractive to others so awkward and uncomfortable? I think the answer is because most of us, myself included, feel convicted that we fall short in this area. We get so busy living in the secular world, that we forget our Heavenly home. We lose sight of our priorities and instead of placing Christ first in our lives; we try to wedge Him in when it is convenient. Instead of experiencing Christ-inspired joy, we are overcome with financial anxiety, work stress, family problems and sometimes an attachment to material things which become more important than our relationship with Jesus.
Let me share five simple actions I try to follow in my desire to be joyful and share the light of Christ with others. This is by no means the definitive list, but this short checklist helps me stay on track:
- Surrender to Christ every day and recommit to putting him first in all areas of my life.
- Give up my burdens to Jesus in daily prayer. I can’t do it alone and I need His help!
- Be thankful for my blessings. I can dwell on my problems or I can focus on all of the incredible blessings in my life and express my gratitude in prayer.
- Be a good student. I can’t live what the Church teaches if I don’t study our faith. I can’t be inspired by the Gospel if I don’t read it. I can’t emulate the Saints and their pursuit of holiness if I don’t read about their lives.
- Start with the end in mind. Are my actions each day serving our Lord? I hope to hear Jesus say at the end of my life on earth, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We are made for heaven and not this world. Am I living the kind of life which will lead me there?
Still not sure if this is doable? I personally subscribe to the thinking of Pope Francis in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel): “An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow.” Consider the simple manifestations of joy such as showing affection, smiling, laughter, joy after receiving the Eucharist in Mass or right after leaving Reconciliation.
The world will place enormous pressure on our shoulders that may make it feel impossible to be joyful at times, but if we are truly living our faith and trusting in Christ, then no burden or suffering will hold back the love that is in our hearts.
If I ever feel like I am not having a positive effect on the world, I can always show my sincere, Christ-inspired joy to those I encounter each day in hopes of at least making a difference in the life of another person.
That is a good place to start.