National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

30 Days, 30 Ways

Evangelization Made Easy, Now Through Advent

BY ANGELO STAGNARO

November 26-December 2, 2006 Issue | Posted 11/22/06 at 11:00 AM

 

In his 1990 encyclical Redemptoris Missio, Pope John Paul II stressed the “urgency of missionary activity” by all members of the body of Christ, the Church.

To which most of us say, “Count me in. What do I do?”

In the United States, we are blessed with endless opportunities to evangelize and catechize. People come here from all corners of the earth, wishing to remake their lives. And, among our neighbors, there is no shortage of Christians who have become estranged from their church. (Not a few of these are baptized and confirmed Catholics.)

Not all of us are cut out for knocking on doors, and most of us feel unqualified to write books or give talks. But Christ’s great commission (Matthew 28:19-20) does not only refer to direct missionary activity.

We witness the saving and sanctifying Gospel with what we do as well as what we say — including when we “give God permission,” as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta often said, to convert our own hearts more deeply to Christ.

Sunday, Nov. 26, is the feast of Christ the King, an important solemnity. It falls one week from the start of Advent and 30 days prior to Christmas. For each of those days, here’s a simple way for you to evangelize, catechize and just say Yes to deeper personal conversion to Christ.

1 Pray every time a siren sounds. I recall my kindergarten teacher telling my class to do exactly this. I was surprised to find out later that this was once a common Catholic-school experience. I was once asked by a catechumen how many times Catholics pray per day. I told her that we should pray whenever someone needs our prayers and gave her the example of the sirens being a request for urgent prayers. I saw a light grow in her eyes as she thought about this concept. Even though she was baptized a long time ago, she reminds me from time to time about how she still prays for emergency victims and first responders.

2 Cross yourself when passing a church.A simple and ancient tradition. In many ways, it’s one of humility. I’ve frequently found myself avoiding crossing in public myself because I didn’t want to attract attention from strangers around me. Then I realized how powerful a witness a simple Sign of the Cross can be.

3 Say grace before meals — even in restaurants. Generally speaking, I take seriously Christ’s admonition about praying away from prying eyes (Matthew 6:6), but when one does so for the sake of others rather than for oneself, it seems like a gentle and efficacious means by which to evangelize. Like other overt public displays of piety, this can be a bit humbling but it is a magnificent opportunity to give to God that which is his (Matthew 22:16-22).

4 Place a cross or sacred-art item in every room. An old-fashioned act of piety? Sure. But one that, in our day of gadgets, electronics and conveniences, can stand out and make a powerful statement to others while providing a gentle reminder of God’s omnipresence to ourselves.

5 Have your house blessed. It’s a warm and comforting feeling to have one’s home blessed and dedicated. If your family doesn’t have a priest friend to do the honors, your parish can arrange for one to visit. I prefer to have my home blessed twice a year, once during Advent and again at Lent. It allows me and my family to be mindful of the change of liturgical seasons and the sanctity of family life.

6 Know your saint. Having grown up in an Italian household, I was surprised to find that most of my fellow Catholics generally do not celebrate their onomastico, or “name saint day.” In a traditional Italian household, one’s onomastico was even more important than one’s birthday. A little bit of research will turn up the feast days of every saint honored by a name in your family. (Online, catholic-forum.com/saints is a good place to start.) Celebrate the family’s saints in a special way with a party that includes Mass attendance. Afterwards, ask the celebrant for a blessing for the children in your family.

7 Establish a family Rosary. As Holy Cross Father Patrick Peyton, the “Rosary priest,” said so often: “The family that prays together stays together.” A more beautiful way to bring prayer and the light of Christ to one’s family could scarcely be thought of. A family Rosary creates intimacy, humility, spiritual awareness and profound introspection — all things sorely missing in our daily lives and in society in general.

8 Stand up for the Church. When confronted by bigoted, closed-minded, anti-Christian opinions — a lot of those are going around today, aren’t they? — it is incumbent on us set the record straight. And to do it with love, respect and patience.

9 Live your life as if it were not your own — because it’s not. We, like all created beings and things in the universe, belong to God. Keeping this in mind, it is easy to understand the courage that our saints had as they lived their lives in Christ. Not everyone is courageous enough to seek out a martyr’s crown, but all of us should pray for the strength to be strong in the face of persecution from the unenlightened and unconverted.

10 Offer to pray for those in need. A Jewish friend of mine was surprised when I offered to pray for his ailing mother. Eventually, he thanked me. He came to understand that my faith was the standard by which I ordered my universe. It was an evangelizing moment for us both.

11 Receive the Eucharist frequently.John Paul II pointed out that the Blessed Sacrament contains in itself the “world’s principle and eternal source of salvation.” Participation in the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice is therefore the most effective missionary act in which the faithful can participate. We should avail ourselves of its benefits as often as possible.

12 Check the liturgical calendar every day. The Church measures time in terms of ecclesiastical seasons and individual feast days. Classic literature is replete with references to the uniquely Christian way time had been reckoned. It is a loss to our society that such references are uncommon outside of church, except for secularized references to St. Patrick’s Day, St. Valentine’s Day, Christmas and Easter.

13 Put up an Advent wreath. Lavishly decorate your home for Christmas and Easter. You’ll cheer the spirit and serve up inspiring symbols of our faith. One family of my acquaintance takes it upon themselves to create banners for Lent, Advent, Pentecost, Ash Wednesday, Mardi Gras, Corpus Christi and for the patronal saints of each member of the family. They hang them outside for all the world to see, and change them as the liturgical seasons progress.

14 Keep your devotions to Mary, the saints and the angels. For millennia, Christians have had recourse to Mary’s intercession. The Blessed Mother serves as the perfect model for all Christians, for women, for children, for teens, for mothers and for anyone who seeks to develop a Christ-centered life.

15 Join a prayer group or Bible study at your parish. All fellowship is local, and it’s highly motivating to meet other Catholics who are dealing with the same struggles, doubts, temptations and challenges as you.

16 Make a mezuzah. My observant Jewish friends are proud of their faith in God and in their identity as his children in some special, mysterious way. One outward sign of their faith is the use of the mezuzah (that’s Hebrew for “doorpost”), a small piece of parchment inscribed with several biblical passages (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21) and marked with the word Shaddai, an ancient name of God. The parchment is rolled up in the mezuzah and affixed to their doorposts. In imitation of this declaration of faith, many Christians similarly fashion their own Christian mezuzah. It can be as simple as an actual cross or crucifix or one fashioned from blessed palms. The point is to make a bold, anti-secular statement about one’s faith and one’s family and home.

17 Go ahead and preach it! The benefits of actively telling others about Christ — in a word, proselytizing — far outweigh the costs, which usually add up to nothing more than mild feelings of social discomfort. As long as it’s done with love and respect, you have little to lose and much to gain for Jesus. Trust in Christ and allow him to speak through you.

18 Take your family, or yourself, on retreat. As our lives become ever busier, it becomes all the more important to step back occasionally — once a year, at least — to recollect, remember and re-charge.

19 Say the Angelus every day. The Angelus is a short prayer that is flexible enough to be used as an individual or group devotion. (“The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary …”) It is dedicated to that cosmos-altering moment of Christ’s incarnation on Earth. With a gentle ringing, the faithful are reminded to pray this three times each day: at 6 a.m. to commemorate Christ’s resurrection, at 12 noon to honor Christ’s passion and at 6 p.m. to remember the Incarnation. (If you don’t know the prayer, it’s online at EWTN.com.)

20 Adore Jesus in the Eucharist. What’s stopping you from spending some time in the presence of the Lord every day? Any tabernacle will do!

21 Volunteer. Faith without works is dead (James 2:26). It is useless to speak of prayer and one’s love of God if one is disinterested in human need. What more perfect way to let the world know that you are a follower of Christ than to love and care for those who cannot hope to repay you?

22 Let your light so shine before men … St. Francis is said to have told the first Franciscans: “Preach the Gospel always; when necessary, use words.” We can be the most eloquent and gifted preachers and apologists in the world, but the world will take note of how we live before it pays any heed to what we say.

23 Practice putting God first. In Luke 14:26, Jesus gives one of his hardest challenges to those who would follow him: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” In his wisdom, God knows that, by loving him above and beyond everyone and everything else in our lives, we will — paradoxically — be better able, not less so, to love the people he has placed in our lives.

24 Put up a lawn shrine. Sure, there are some tacky lawn shrines out there. But a tasteful Mary garden, well-tended all year, can speak volumes to passersby.

25 Create a prayer corner. For those of us who have the space in our homes, reserving a corner or an entire room for prayer and meditation is an excellent way to let Christ have a place of prominence in our homes and in our lives. And what a great place to show and explain to guests.

26 Eschew cultural corrosion. Support edifying art. Rent, buy or attend wholesome films — even when their production values aren’t up to the standards of Hollywood’s mega-budget productions. Tinseltown hears one thing loud and clear: the bottom line. Christians should be making their voices heard at the box office.

27 Seek spiritual direction. A magnificent resource we have as Catholics are the many nuns, monks and priests who serve the Church and, if approached, can be at our disposal to offer tailored spiritual advice.

28 Keep a prayer journal. Most of us are not blessed with such incredible memories that we can recall the progress we’ve made or the hindrances we’ve encountered as we develop in our spiritual lives over the years. That’s why it’s imperative to keep a record of our experiences in prayer and our personal thoughts about God. Your journal can become an invaluable resource as the years go by.

29 Celebrate Candlemas, not Groundhog Day. Until relatively recently, Candlemas marked the traditional end of Christmastide. I personally keep my Christmas decorations up until that day. If nothing else, I’m allowed the pleasure of seeing my decorations and have the opportunity to explain to curious passersby as to why they are still up. With all due respect to Punxsutawney Phil, the idea of prognosticating rodents is eerily pagan and has nothing to do with the originally Christian intention. Feb. 2 had always been the day set aside by the Church to bless candles used in her liturgies. Let’s take back Candlemas from the secularists and use the day to bless the candles we use in our home — and wait until then to take down our Christmas decorations.

30 Abound in hope. Even in our weakness, the Holy Spirit helps us. Even in our spiritual confusion, when we do not know in what direction to turn, the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express (Romans 8:26). If we willingly give up our access to God’s grace, if we do not reach out to accept God’s outstretched hand, we block him out of our lives. It is in our darkest hours of disappointment that God seeks to reach out to us. As Thomas Merton pointed out: “Prayer and love are learned in the hour when prayer becomes impossible and your heart has turned to stone.” Let love — i.e., God — rule!

Angelo Stagnaro is a stage magician based in New York City.