Monday, July 20, 2009

Traveling Evangelization

Evangelization is a scary thing to most of us Catholics. We don't want to impose. We don't want to be pushy. We don't want to make people feel awkward. We don't want to be embarrassed. However, evangelization is not optional for Catholics. We find in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Since, like all the faithful, lay Christians are entrusted by God with the apostolate by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, they have the right and duty, individually or grouped in associations, to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth. (Section 900; based on the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium [Dogmatic Constitution on the Church], section 33)

It is important to note that the Catechism tells us that evangelization is a right and a duty, and we should remain aware of both aspects. How do we cope with the fear that we have of evangelization? Lumen Gentium tells us about one of the most important ways:

Moreover, by the sacraments, and especially by the sacred Eucharist, that love of God and humanity which is the soul of the entire apostolate is communicated and nourished. (Section 33)

So what are some ideas for evangelizing in non-threatening ways, especially starting out? Since this is the season of summer vacations, and since many people travel for business, here are a few ideas that I have either used or am planning on using when traveling and staying in a hotel.


Once while traveling for business, I rented a car. In the glove box was a rosary. (It was bright-deer-hunting-season orange; simply hideous as far as aesthetics.) That started me thinking that I should say the Rosary while on my trip, which I did. I left the rosary on the desk in the room. After the maid had come in to clean up the room, she had very reverently hung the rosary over the center of the headboard of the bed. I was (and still am) very touched by that simple yet powerful gesture of faith. When I returned the rental car, I put the rosary back in the glove box for the next person.

So I would suggest two approaches. First, inexpensive rosaries are very easy to come by. Leave one in a rental car or leave one in a drawer in a hotel room. You never know how the rosary may speak to the next guest in the room. Second, while you are staying, leave the rosary out for the maids to see. Many maids are Hispanic and may currently be or may have once been Catholic, so such a religious object may have great meaning for them, or call them to a renewed use of the Rosary. Even if the maid is not and has never been Catholic, simply seeing the rosary may be some consolation to her in what is a difficult day's work.

Putting Money in Perspective

I once heard something about someone (possibly an urban legend) putting a large denomination bill in a hotel Bible. I thought, that's an interesting way to get people to at least open a Bible. And as we know from his Confessions, simply opening a Bible had a significant impact on St. Augustine:

So was I speaking and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo! I heard from a neighbouring house a voice, as of boy or girl, I know not, chanting, and oft repeating, "Take up and read; Take up and read. " Instantly, my countenance altered, I began to think most intently whether children were wont in any kind of play to sing such words: nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So checking the torrent of my tears, I arose; interpreting it to be no other than a command from God to open the book, and read the first chapter I should find. For I had heard of Antony, that coming in during the reading of the Gospel, he received the admonition, as if what was being read was spoken to him: Go, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me: and by such oracle he was forthwith converted unto Thee. Eagerly then I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I laid the volume of the Apostle when I arose thence. I seized, opened, and in silence read that section on which my eyes first fell: Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, in concupiscence. No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away. (8.12.29)

I don't put large bills in the hotel room Bibles, just one dollar bill. But I always put it in the same spot: Matthew 18. That is the part where Peter asks Jesus how often he has to forgive his brother if he sins against him. "As many as seven times?" (Matthew 18:21). Peter reminds me very much of myself in these moments, which is why he makes such a good patron saint for me. Of course, Jesus replies, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:22). Then Jesus tells the parable of the servant who owed his king an insurmountable debt. The servant pleads with the king, who forgives the entire debt. Then, the ungrateful servant goes out and threatens to put a man into prison if he does not pay him the much smaller sum owed to him. When the king finds out about this encounter, he throws the ungrateful servant into prison "till he should pay all his debt." The parable concludes, "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart." (Matthew 18:23-35). This is what Jesus was talking about earlier in Matthew when he prayed "forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matthew 6:12). I like the irony of leaving money in a Bible passage that commands us to be charitable both as regards money and also as regards love.

Prayer Cards

I have not done this yet, but another item we can leave in hotel rooms is a prayer card. Whether they be cards for particular saints, cards with the Our Father or the Hail Mary on them, or some other religious card, these can be very meaningful to others. I think of Fr. John Corapi's conversion story in this regard. Although raised a Catholic, he had left his faith, pursued a life of complete materialism, and through drug addiction ended up homeless. At that point he began re-learning the Hail Mary from a prayer card that his mother had sent him. That child-like beginning started him along a path that led him back to the Church, into the priesthood, and into a powerful apostolate. Think of prayer cards as signposts left to mark the trail for other fellow travelers.

I'm sure others have more ideas. These are unobtrusive ways of spreading the faith that get us started on the path to more overt apostolates. When it comes to evangelization, let us all pray:

...grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness. (Acts 4:29)


Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

Love these ideas, thanks for sharing!

Pete Caccavari said...

Thanks, Jennifer. I have enjoyed hearing about your conversion story on Sacred Heart Radio. As a transient atheist, I appreciated hearing about your background and your journey to faith. I also loved your entry at your blog on "Why my life is better since becoming open to life." All five points which you made there were excellent, but I think I was most taken by #3: "It's not what you do, it's whom you serve." (Maybe that's just because I have long been a Bob Dylan fan, and it reminded me his song, "You Gotta Serve Somebody." I just did an NFP talk for our parish's Baptism prep class, and this gives me some more food for thought on presenting that subject. Thanks very much.