The Hardest Part

… is often the most simple.

Let me be frank. I love Jesus. I love being a part of His Catholic Church. And sometimes the only thing that I really care about is whether or not people are Catholic Christians living in relationship with God. I just want to run around the world making lots of Catholics! I am a missionary for crying out loud, haha. But God reminded me of something very important this week.

I was leading one of my bible studies and a new guy was there who I met recently, so I was pretty excited to get to know him. I knew that he wasn’t Catholic going into it, and that made me even more excited because this way I can not only share Jesus with him but I am hoping that one day I can actually share His Church with him too! Doubleplusgood!

The group of us had a great study and were just chilling talking about semi-related topics after I basically gave them a Gospel presentation when this guy said something that was simultaneously a great compliment and a revelation. “You know, Chris, you’re probably the first Catholic that I’ve ever met that actually loves Jesus and lives like a Christian.”

Oh.

He went on as I walked him over to our Newman Center on campus, sharing how he’s encountered a bunch of Catholics and even attended a Catholic college for a couple of years, but they all didn’t actually practice the faith and were always becoming agnostics and atheists. I have a hunch he was telling me all this to convince me that because many Catholics are not faithful, I should leave the Church and become a Presbyterian like him. But I took his point a different way: he wasn’t worried about theology as much. The reason why he wasn’t even remotely interested in becoming Catholic is because he’s never seen Catholics act like Christians. He’s never seen Catholic saints!

Ohhhhhh!!!

Thank you God for this minor yet ridiculously simple revelation. You don’t convert the average Joe to Christianity (or specifically Catholicism) through your theology. You convert them by demonstrating how through your faith your heart has been converted to Jesus. Often this is not what we want to hear: we want to hear how we can change people’s lives without actually changing our own, by some sort of formula or logic. No. Give Jesus saints and He WILL change the world.

You know, half or more of this blog is apologetics. I’ve got a scientific, rational mind. I feel very comfortable arguing for the existence of God, the reality of Jesus, and the authenticity of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. But what this blog, argumentation, logic, and mere words cannot ever do is replace a life lived completely for Jesus. Bl. Mother Teresa has probably converted more people through less words than anyone else in this past century. She did not draw people to Jesus through her fancy speeches at the United Nations or Harvard but by her entire life lived in complete surrender to God. People are curious what it is about Jesus that made her give up everything for Him, so they look into Jesus more. People nowadays can’t see, hear, or touch Jesus (besides the Holy Eucharist you nerds), but they sure as heck can see, hear, or touch you and I as members of the Body of Christ!

Pope Francis and all these wonderful popes in recent memory have been working to make the Church as beautiful as she should be for Jesus, and of course the Holy Spirit is doing all of the heavy lifting, but you and I need to answer this call! We need to wholeheartedly embrace the Gospel. Preaching it is good, but if it isn’t lived, it is not effective. People nowadays don’t listen well anyways, but maybe they’ll notice a witness.

“The new evangelization will show its authenticity and unleash all its missionary force when it is carried out through the gift, not only of the word proclaimed, but by the word lived.” – Bl. Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor

“We shouldn’t just wait for the wounded to come to us; we go out and reach for them.” – Pope Francis

Mother Teresa in Calcutta

How to Share the Gospel: For Catholics!

A few months ago I was preparing a presentation for student leaders on the topic of sharing the Gospel, and for fun I decided to see if there was anything extra online that I could use to show them. For some reason, the #1 hit on Google for “how to share the gospel Catholic” is an article from some “biblical Christian” group on tactics for how to convert Catholics into “biblical Christians.”

That’s an easy way to understand our situation in a nutshell. The Popes have been pushing for the New Evangelization for 50 years now but it’s taken a while to trickle down to Catholics in the pews. As a Catholic missionary with FOCUS, I’d like to share with you what the Gospel is, why we need to share it, and how to do it.

What is the Gospel?

According to New Advent, the word gospel was derived from the Angelo-Saxon god (good) and spell (to tell). It was treated as the equivalent of the Greek word euaggelion (good tidings- usually from an emperor). When emperors had won a battle, they would proclaim the euaggelion to the people. The same way, we share the Gospel, or good news, of our King, Jesus Christ!

The word gospel could be used in many different ways. It could be used to tell any generic good news. It could be used to reference a type of music. It could refer to the Gospels in the bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Gospel of Jesus Christ that I am talking about essentially is Jesus, who is revealed most perfectly through the example of the Church and in a unique way in the bible: a book compiled by the Catholic Church.

The Gospel essentially is Jesus: His life, death, and resurrection. In my own words, the Gospel is that though we have fallen away from God through sin, Jesus- God Himself!- has given all of humanity an opportunity for salvation through His passion. By believing in Him and joining His Church through baptism and receiving the sacraments, we can hope to partake in His resurrection at the end of time. The Gospel is that God not only acknowledges our existence, but loves us all enough to die for us, and eagerly desires that we live in relationship with Him.

Why do we need to share the Gospel?

Let me begin with a hypothetical situation. Suppose that you hit your friend. All of a sudden, there is tension and discord in your relationship with that person. What can be done to right that relationship? One wise thing to do is to ask forgiveness for what we’ve done. But the relationship is still not right until your friend actually forgives you. There is absolutely nothing that we can do to make them forgive us, it is completely in their power to choose to be merciful or not.

Now think about our relationship with God. Unfortunately, we have also broken our relationship with God through our sins. As we learned in Genesis, there are real consequences for disobeying God (aka sinning). Because of their sin, Adam and Eve would now die, struggle to find enough food to live, not be able to trust each other innocently, etc. God has called us to repentance. Before Jesus began His ministry, St. John the Baptist went around Israel preaching repentance. We always need to repent first and ask for God’s forgiveness. But we also need something that we don’t deserve, something that we have no control over: we need God’s forgiveness. Remember, God doesn’t have to forgive us. But the good news is that He did! Thanks to Jesus’s mercy, we can be forgiven if we believe in Him and are a part of His Church: who He entrusted to share the Gospel throughout the world. The Catholic (universal) Church must make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19)!

We will die with no hope if we die without faith in Jesus. Our eternal souls will be in danger of eternal damnation without Jesus. Every single person that has ever lived can only be saved through Jesus.  That’s it. There’s no other way to heaven. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Just being a “good person” isn’t good enough. It is an integral part AFTER we believe in Jesus, but it doesn’t REPLACE belief in Christ, who is truth itself. There is one God and one Lord Jesus Christ. There is one true faith: the Catholic Christian faith. Acknowledging this is not hateful or discrimination but is merely following the truth just in the same way that we teach children that 2+2=4 and not 5 or 3. Living according to the truth is not constraining but rather freeing because it allows us to live the most relevant life possible. What’s the point in living with the dream of being the MVP of the NBA if at the end of your life you end up in Hell separated from God forever?

With all of this in mind, I want to remind you that it is not just the duty of priests and missionaries to share the Gospel, this is the duty of every baptized Christian!

Jesus did not say: “go, if you would like to, if you have the time”, but he said: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” – Pope Francis at WYD

How do you share the Gospel?

By this point in this post I’ve actually covered a lot of what to say in actually sharing the Gospel. The Gospel is Jesus, so anytime that we are sharing Jesus, we are sharing the Gospel. Merely sharing belief in God or belief in the Catholic Church is not sharing the fullness of the Gospel. As I believe Pope John Paul II said, if we haven’t shared Jesus Christ, then we haven’t shared the Gospel.

Practically, the best way to share the Gospel is in a conversation with a friend. We share who Jesus is in our actions and words, but actually sharing “the Gospel” is something that we need to actually speak. Another quote that I’m remembering is that “every single time that the Gospel is shared, something happens.” People won’t always welcome it or change their lives right there, but that’s an experience that should stick with them for the rest of their life.

God actually gave us a  model for how to share the Gospel when He gave St. Catherine of Sienna (1300’s) the “cross bridge” image to communicate aspects of salvation in Christ.

Jesus Bridge

I’m not sure if this is the actual image but this is a basic picture of it, with some verses to back up each step in salvation. Check out those verses! It is so powerful to read them all in order.

In addition to the image, God himself communicated this basic message to St. Catherine of Sienna to share:

“I have created them in my image and likeness so that they might have eternal life, sharing in my being and enjoying my supreme eternal tenderness and goodness. Because of their sin they never reached this goal and never fulfilled my truth, for sin closed heaven and the door of mercy. I will make of my Son a bridge… a bridge of the Word, my only-begotten Son.”

A great way to follow up sharing the Gospel is to invite your friend to join you in prayer inviting Jesus into their life.

If Christianity, as has so rightly been said, is not primarily a doctrine but a person, Jesus Christ, it follows that the proclamation of this person and of one’s relationship with him is the most important thing, the beginning of all true evangelization. To reverse this order and put the doctrines and moral obligations of the Gospel before the discovery of Jesus would be like putting the carriages in front of the railway engine that is supposed to pull them. The person of Jesus opens the highway of the heart for the acceptance of everything else. Anyone who has once known the living Jesus has no further need to be goaded along; we ourselves burn with desire to know his thought, his will, his word. It is not on the authority of the Church that we accept Jesus, but on the authority of Jesus that we accept and love the Church. So the first thing the Church has to do is not present herself to the world, but present Jesus… Insistence on the importance of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ is not a sign of subjectivism or emotionalismbut is the translation, on the spiritual and pastoral place, of a dogma central to our faith: that Jesus Christ is “a person.” – Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Papal household (both Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI)

Update: Check it out! My friend Andrew and I filmed a simple Gospel presentation for your benefit right here!

Related posts:
Why Evangelize?
A Case for Discipleship and Spiritual Multiplication
“Work Out Your Own Salvation with Fear and Trembling”
Salvation, Jesus, and Works

Lessons Learned from a Catholic with Same Sex Attraction

The following is a guest post from my friend Liam. 

Hindsight is 20/20. Let me explain. Growing up, I pictured I would one day live a perfect life: white man, beautiful wife, great kids, and a big house. Like many of our childhood dreams, I realized that’s not exactly going to happen. It doesn’t really help that I’m tan-skinned, gay, and my desired career as a high school history teacher wouldn’t quite pay the bills. Like I said, hindsight is 20/20. Getting to the point I made that probably stood out to you: yes, I’m an 18 year old gay dude writing on my friend’s Catholic blog. I guess you’re wondering how I got here; it’s okay, I sometimes question my sanity, too. Going back to that idea again: hindsight is 20/20. When I was a kid, I never knew what gay was. Besides “don we now our gay apparel”, I had never heard the word in my life. When I did come to the realization that I was gay (OHHH that explains the unnamed attraction I felt towards Jesse McCartney and that guy from Phil of the Future—there’s that darned hindsight), I was totally lost. I had allowed society to shape my mind as a child into not knowing about and then not accepting what it is to be gay. I had no guidance, and so I turned to society again…big mistake.

This time I turned to a different sector of society—one that said, rightfully, that it’s okay to be gay. Great. It is okay to be gay, because it’s not a choice. It’s a cross to bear, just like there are any number of other crosses that people must bear. (It’s also a blessing, but that comes later.) But it didn’t stop there. I fell into the trap that said it is okay to be gay and to make that one small part of me define my entire life. I’m blessed because I had an amazing support base in the form of my loving family and friends. But they really didn’t understand how being gay differs from being straight, especially when it comes to dating. This is where things got ugly. Considering such a small percentage of the population actually is gay, finding a significant other is more like selling yourself than anything else. Grindr, Jack’d, 321, chatzone, I had them all. I always had good intentions when using these tools: I wanted a boyfriend. I wasn’t looking for sex. I was going to save myself for the one I loved! I wanted what everyone else had around me. I wanted to be happy like them. What I didn’t realize at that point is that I was looking for love in all the wrong places. (Again, hindsight is 20/20.)

The more I thought this way, the less I relied on my relationship with God to make me happy. I felt empty. When I realized I couldn’t reach people on these social media outlets with talks of love and romance, I allowed the conversations to be turned into sexual ones. That got their attention. I began making promises, and then I began to fulfill those promises. Albert Einstein (he was a pretty smart guy) said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. With every different guy, I believed that things would be different. If I gave him what he wanted, he would magically fall in love with me. Our relationship would be founded in lust but it would magically become something holy. But you can’t expect sin to beget virtue; whether gay, straight, or bi. Sin begets sin. And with sin comes loneliness, feelings of worthlessness, depression, and even thoughts of suicide. (Now, doesn’t this sound like the side effects for a medication commercial?)

I started fulfilling these promises when I was 17. A year has passed. In one year, I destroyed my relationship with God, family members, and friends—all because I was empty and angry that everyone else wasn’t suffering along with me. I lost so much faith in myself that I didn’t even realize just how low I had sunk until I was awakened. <Enter Chris.> This happened at a retreat about the Holy Spirit. To keep a long story short, it saved my life. I thank God that Chris told me to sign up. Over this retreat I realized that God sees more of my own worth than I do. God trusts me. He loves and adores me and even filled me with His Holy Spirit. I felt my heart on fire, I cried, I even laughed for joy. I was so amazed that God would grace me, a sinner, with such an incredible experience.

When we came back from the retreat, I came out to Chris. And what he did in response amazed me: he prayed for me. He didn’t “pray the gay away” or ask God that in the future I would like women and get married. He prayed for me because he knew I was hurting and because he knew I needed a change in my life. He didn’t pray because I was gay and committing sins, but simply because I was committing sins. He was the first friend that I had come across that removed the gay label and didn’t support me simply because I was gay and confused but because I was human and confused. I don’t think he will really ever understand the impact that he is having on my life, even as he reads this over before he posts it to his blog.

So what’s the point of all this? Why do people (ESPECIALLY young gay people) need to hear my testimony? (Yes—it is because I’m very interesting BUT besides that…) I want people to read this because I want them to know an alternative to what society tells them that they have to do. Gay or straight—you don’t have to advertise yourselves on social media outlets to gain recognition. Especially in the “gay world”, you see that people-shopping is a common thing. Don’t make the same mistakes that I did. Believe me when I tell you that hindsight IS, you guessed it, 20/20. Hear it from someone who went through hell and came out (no pun intended) on the other side scarred but not broken. The path to self-destruction is lined with glittery promises of love and commitment that simply will not come true on places like Grindr. You may be curious—I get it! I really do. But trust me when I tell you that acting on that curiosity killed the metaphorical cat, along with its self-esteem, moral compass, and its friendships.

But then what?? Am I supposed to live a life of chastity? No sex? It’s not fair! Straight people can get married and have sex! Woah… hold up there. We are all called to chastity, even married people. Sorry to break it to you straight folk, but you’re not going to have it easy, either. There are going to be times when you will be tempted, even in a married state. We are called to chastity because God knows how we humans work. When we live a life of promiscuity, we become addicted whether we like it or not. This is because we feed off of these destructive relationships for our happiness. But it simply is not true happiness. Every time we give into desires of the flesh we get our momentary fix, but end up craving more and more like a heroin addict. It’s not the sex we crave—but the illusion of happiness and the false sense of security.

Still, I understand the arguments made for two gay people who are in love. It confuses me sometimes, too. It just doesn’t seem fair that two straight people have the option to live their lives in comfort when we gays don’t. To counter that, however, is the fact that, like I said, straight people don’t have it easy and don’t live in perpetual comfort, either! Marriage is difficult, as is any other state it life. Also, I was recently told by my friend (another missionary at my school), in a totally unrelated conversation, that we are not made for comfort. That one short phrase put so many things into perspective for me. Life is messy. We are dealt cards that seem unfair and burdens that we can barely carry. But we can carry them. And we will carry them. God would never give us a cross that we cannot bear. This becomes clear when we humble ourselves and simply realize that as our Creator, God knows us better than we do. When I came to this realization over the retreat, I surrendered: not to the wounds on my heart from people who left when they said they wouldn’t, not to the doubts in my head that said I could never become anything beautiful, but to the Will of God. My heart gets light as a feather even thinking about this. I feel so free now that I have removed the burden of virtually selling myself to people who just don’t care and never will. God has worked in me in so many incredible ways in the time since the retreat. It’s not because I’m now miraculously healed of “the gay” or because I am no longer tempted, but because I placed my trust 120 bajillion percent in God. God’s Door is always open; it’s up to us to keep ours open as well.

So what am I to do now, then? Should I pursue a life with another man or one dedicated God and chastity? The answer is that I shouldn’t be pursuing anything alone. Each one of us is called to discern what God wants us to do. God would not put us in a place where He knows we would not be happy. It’s simply a matter of trusting God. For now, I am taking things one day at a time. I am focusing on prayer and giving control to God, Who knows me better than I know myself. By living a chaste life at this moment (as all people are called to, not just gays) and opening my heart to whatever God has to offer, I know I will end up happy—even if God puts me on a very unexpected path. So please trust me when I tell you from experience, gay or straight, now is the time to surrender and trust. Everything else has a way of falling into place.

Let me leave you with this: you are beautiful and you deserve so much better than a life of aimless promiscuity and heartbreak. If you are gay, God made you that way because you have a specific role to fulfill in the Divine Plan—a role that God Himself trusts you with. He trusts you. It is when I realized this that I was able to overcome my past and become chaste (as we are ALL called to be—gay or straight, for the reasons explained above). It was at that moment that I realized that I could turn the shame of what I did into knowledge so others could learn from my mistakes. It was at that moment that I realized that informing people, especially my fellow young gay people, was the path I was to take next. It was at that moment that I realized that being gay is not my entire identity, but just a fraction of the person God made me to me. It was at that moment that I realized that being gay is not only a cross, but a blessing.

Growing up, I pictured I would one day live a perfect life—that life may not exist, but by God, I’m sure as heck going to make the best of the beautiful one that I do have.