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Father Michael Schmitz: When sharing the faith, don’t just rely on the three Ps

I am a member of a parish here in the diocese. I have a co-worker with whom I get along very well who has taken a deeper interest in Catholicism. How do I best direct him to a parish that will make him feel welcome and engage him in a personal way?

Thank you for being so willing to help your friend in his journey to the Catholic Church. The fact that he knows you as a Catholic is to your credit. So many of us live and work in such a way that no one we work with would have any clue whether or not we belong to Christ. You must be living out your faith in such a way that he not only knows it but finds it attractive. Praise God for your willingness to be a public follower of Jesus!

Father Michael Schmitz
Father Michael Schmitz
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That said, I see three issues with the question as you present it: Programs, Professionals, and Procedures.

As Catholics, we can tend to be a bit preoccupied with these “three Ps.” When it comes to sharing the faith or helping someone come to a deeper relationship with Christ and his church, we default to the question about Programs. “Is there a class happening somewhere for people interested in Jesus?” “Where can my friend get ‘plugged in’ in this parish?” “What does the parish offer for those who are on the fence?”

Now, as someone who appreciates the usefulness of Programs (and who has written and filmed a few of them), I need to offer a word of caution. Programs don’t replace people. Jesus never called people to show up to participate in a Program. He didn’t send the Apostles out into the world to create Programs. And the church has not spread across the globe through her fantastic use of Programs. Yet this is often our default.

We next look to the Professionals. We will say things like, “If only we had a priest who was more friendly and welcoming.” Or if your priest is welcoming, we may wish that he was more accessible. “If only my friend could meet Father and spend time with him, I bet Father could answer all of his questions.” If we don’t look to the priest, then we look to the paid staff of the parish to perform this task. We have become a church where we want to give the everyday work of the ordinary disciple to the Professionals.

Of course, our priests have the role of being missionaries themselves, and priests must take that call seriously and actively. And yes, we want the staff of the parish to share themselves with the world beyond the walls of the church building. But as the past four or five popes have been reminding us, the missionary work of the church is not limited to a certain “class” of Christian; it does not belong to the Professionals. It is the work of the average and ordinary disciple to reach out to people and in places where priests and staff cannot.

Because of the truth that reaching out is not the result of a good Program and is not solely the responsibility of the Professionals, we know that outreach is the job of the person in the pew. A problem with this, even when Catholics agree with this and want to live it out, is that the tendency is to ask for a Procedure. “What is the proper Procedure for sharing my faith with my friend?” “What are the steps that I should lead them through?” “Is there a set of questions and answers that I should lead my friend through?”

I acknowledge that we most often bring up these kinds of questions because Catholicism can often seem so “Procedure bound” and so complex that we assume that there must be something like “How to Share Your Faith With Anyone (in Five Easy Steps).”

The response that I offer here is to raise your eyes above the need to rely exclusively on Programs, Professionals, and Procedures. Instead, begin to trust in a fourth P: Personal. Rather than hoping that your friend meets a friendly, welcoming priest or community, why not be the friendly, welcoming Catholic?

Your co-worker doesn’t immediately need a relationship with some random stranger at the parish, they already have a relationship with you. You are their connection to the Catholic Church. You are the one who will give them the sign regarding whether or not they will meet people at the parish willing to allow their schedules and lives to be “interrupted” by a stranger who wants to know Jesus better. If you, who already have a relationship with them, are not willing to share your relationship with Jesus with them, who in your parish will? If you are not willing to make the effort to invite them to brunch after Mass with you and your family, who in your parish will randomly notice the new person sitting in the pew and ask them?

St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica about how he interacted with them. He wrote, “With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). The model Apostle highlights that he was not going to rely upon Programs, Professionals, or Procedures. He would allow the Gospel to be Personalized through him.

Your coworker already has a connection with your parish: you.

One last note on “sharing your faith.” That sounds an awful lot like giving a lesson on the Catechism. It doesn’t have to be. It can simply be this: Sharing your relationship with Jesus with the people who are interested. But more on that later.

Father Michael Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth.