Some say there’s a culture in our Catholic parishes of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” We don’t ask about faith: that’s private. We certainly don’t tell others about our own faith: that wouldn’t be humble.
It can almost become a spiral of silence. As Catholics, we quickly pick up that it’s “abnormal’ to talk openly about our faith, so no one does. This might keep everyone in our parish comfortable but it puts a huge dampener on evangelisation.
If we’re going to try to evangelise and create evangelising parishes, perhaps the first thing that has to be done is to break the silence and, in particular, to break the silence about a personal relationship with God.
We will talk about the Church, we will talk about politics, we will add the two together and talk about church politics – the administration and personalities in the parish – but the one thing we Catholics tend not to do is talk about our relationship with God.
And then what about the holy name of Jesus? Previous generations of Catholics were raised to bow their heads reverently when the name Jesus was spoken, and that’s no bad thing. There was a tendency, even, to avoid using His name, referring to him as “Our Lord’. Again, not a bad thing in itself. To Christians from the evangelical tradition, however, it can make Jesus a little like Voldemort in Harry Potter: “He who must not be named.”
But what if being silent out of reverence means that in a couple of generations people have forgotten what we’re being silently reverent about? What happens if we don’t talk about Him and, by not talking about Him, we make Him invisible? Are we in danger of communicating an institutional faith rather than a personal one?
At the heart of our Christian faith is belief in a personal God. This is a God who not only created us, but who calls us into personal relationship (to “know’ him, as the Old Testament puts it, meaning to have the sort of intimacy a husband and wife have). This is a God who not only calls us again and again to relationship but who, when we sinned and wandered far away, came to seek and find us; took flesh and entered our experience; became Incarnate and one like us in all things but sin. He did this to bring us back to that close, personal relationship with Him.
This is the Christian faith and being an evangelist means wanting the people of our parishes to know it. It means wanting our kids to know it! But where are they going to get it if no one’s mentioning it – if we’re not talking about our faith in the parish and at home and in the workplace? We need to break the spiral of silence, the “Don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture, about Jesus and the reality of having a personal relationship with Him.
In speaking to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation, Pope Francis said:
“What we need, especially in these times, are credible witnesses who can, through their life and words, make the Gospel visible, awaken the attraction to Jesus Christ, for the beauty of God.“
Would you say that people in your parish are giving a credible witness through their life and in their words to the transformative power of Jesus Christ? Do you often hear the name of Jesus spoken in formal or casual conversation in your parish? It is critical that we begin to create a culture of witness by modelling it ourselves and by helping our fellow parishioners to speak about their faith.
Where do we start? How do we witness? We can begin by telling the story of God working in our own lives – in big and small ways. We can encourage others to catch a glimpse of God’s compassionate presence in the ordinary and extraordinary events of life.
One of the most powerful ways to challenge the silence is by making a safe place for others to talk about their own lived relationship with God. Imagine small faith sharing groups where friends share weekly stories of joy and struggle. Picture families gathering around the table each evening to discuss the events at school and work in the light of Christ. We can break the culture of silence and begin to transform our parishes and homes through a culture of witness. We can, through witness, make the Gospel visible and attract others to Jesus Christ!
How can we structure “happenings” where the silence can be broken? Where are the safe places in our parish? How can we help to create these safe environments?
Based on Sherry Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus