Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Secular conversations

[I wrote this over the weekend but am just getting around to posting it.]

At the ball game on Friday in Greenville, I ended up sitting next to the new boyfriend of the best friend of a good friend's girlfriend (did you get that? :)). Nice fellow. Over swigs of Sweetwater beer (now there's a good Atlanta brew), the conversation took a philosophical turn. Always a hazard in my vicinity. It started out with the Obama bumper sticker on his car, and then went to abortion, the uniqueness of human beings, vegetarianism, Iraq and what not.

On abortion, "Well I can't tell a woman what to do or not to do. That's judgmental." (So, if the woman in front of us turned around with a gun and wanted to kill you, I should not interfere?)

Oh but a fetus isn't a human being. On humanity, "We're no different from other animals really ... " (So, you're ok with the fact that eating a burger makes you complicit in murder? Would you eat a human being in the same way? How many cows do you know who've come and shared their deep angst with you?)

This repartee continued on and off through the day, at a fun, friendly level. At dinner, some other friends of friends of friends joined us for a bit. One of them was wearing a tee-shirt that read, "Make love, not babies."

"There you go dude, that's how one takes care of abortion."

I just shook my head.

The kicker was, "But you'd be ok with murder, right, if it meant killing the followers of those who pray to a different invisible man in the sky?"

An invisible man in the sky. That's who God is for this chap.

The thing is, he was raised Catholic. Baptized. First Communion. Confirmation. Yet, God is nothing but some invisible man in the sky, with no impact whatsoever on his life.

Later on in the evening, we were sitting up on a parking lot waiting for the fireworks to start, and sipping more, um, beverages.

"So, why seminary, man? I've gotta ask." So I talked a little bit, very briefly, about how I fell in love with Jesus Christ. "That's cool man."

It's been ages really since I've been around really secular people. Even as a campus minister, most of my interactions were with Catholic students. Sure I have secular friends, but they live far away and most of the time we don't talk about religion. And in seminary and formation, one is among insiders, so to speak, most of the time.

So ... who is going to be the one who might be able to share the Good News with young people such as this man? Our priests? Hardly -- they're busy feeding the sheep who do show up. In fact, the underlying assumption about ministry is that we'll serve those who show up. Very little time or energy is spent trying to reach those who are not there. We are mostly focused inwards. Our focus outwards tends to be related to outreach to the poor or charity -- no mean thing at all, and a constitutive element of living a Christian life. But what about evangelization as in inviting others to befriend Jesus Christ?

Would a young person such as this one, for all practical purposes a non-believer, open up in the same way to a priest? Perhaps, though when would he have an opportunity? In this case, I was friends with his girlfriend, not quite yet a priest, enough intrigue there to get a conversation going.

Who interacts regularly with the secular world? Not our priests. This is the job -- no, this is the vocation of lay Catholics. To take Our Lord with them into the world, into the work places and yes, even to ballgames, as appropriate.

Do lay Catholics get any training or any formation to help them carry out this task? I suspect not -- though there are some places that try and do this. It's one of the reasons I'm so excited about my involvement with the Catherine of Siena Institute. [In August, I'll be heading out West for the Making Disciples workshop in Spokane.]

But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring (the) good news!" (Rom 10:14-15)


Anonymous said...

I your frustration with meeting the truly secular. I often feel insulated in my little Christian bubble; my friends aren't very different from me. I just try to be a witness to the love,truth and hope in Christ.

I agree that lay Catholics are the key to this conversation. Enjoy your time at Making Disciples in my area in August!

Anonymous said...

We are trained! Jesus had no formal training on how to gain disciples, although he did have insider knowledge. It is in the bible, it is in the church, it is being Catholic. Those who are moved by the Holy Spirit will see our examples and hear our words and know God through us. Speak softly and carry a big stick! Jesus' words are great, but his actions are what won people over.