Thursday, July 11, 2013

What is your excuse?

behind his back, he felt alone and knew he could trust no one. However, he got a surprise when he met his cellmate, Michael. Unlike the other prisoners, he was not callous and cold. Rather, he was friendly, welcoming Russell to the cell and eager to talk with him. At first, Russell was suspicious. Why was he being so nice?

Then Michael started to share his Catholic faith with him. Of course, he was in no mood to hear about God and told his new cellmate to leave him alone. So, Michael made a bet with him. He told him that if he could pass a quiz about baptism, then he would leave him alone. Russell agreed, and Michael asked him ten questions out of the catechism. Russell answered each one correctly to his surprise. However, though he won the bet, he found himself fascinated by the challenge and decided he wanted to learn more.

And so, everyday, Russell asked Michael about what he believed as a Catholic. With time, as he learned about the faith, he decided that he too wanted to become Catholic and, after about one year of instruction, he was received into the Catholic Church by the prison chaplain in 1989.

Immediately, Michael’s life changed. He began to look at his prison sentence as an opportunity to reach other prisoners with the message of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ. Along with another prisoner, he founded First Century Christian Ministries with the intent of spreading the Catholic faith to his brother inmates, making sure they were able to attend Mass and receive the sacraments, and providing bibles, catechisms and rosaries to them. In a short period of time with the help of the bishop and some benefactors, they were able to bring their ministry to other prisons and have enjoyed continued success throughout the past twenty years.

Russell Ford’s story teaches us in a powerful way that there is no one who is outside of God’s mercy. No one is such a great sinner that Jesus cannot touch his heart and use him to spread the good news. Also, no one is in such an impossible situation that he or she cannot work for the spread of the gospel. It is difficult to think of worse conditions than those found inside a prison to do God’s work. But Russell Ford teaches us that, with God, all things are possible.

What is our excuse for keeping our faith to ourselves and not sharing it with others? What is keeping us from heeding the call of the master and going into the vineyard as Jesus calls us to?

Do we think we are not worthy, that we are sinners and hypocrites? That is certainly true. But are we worse than Russell Ford who was serving a twenty-five year prison sentence? Are we worse than Saint Paul who persecuted Christians or Saint Peter who denied our Lord? If God can use them, then He can certainly use us. Like them, all we need to do is trust in Him, put our weakness and sinfulness into His hands and step out with courage to live the truth of the gospel. Then the opportunities to witness to His love to others will come.

What other excuse might we have? Do we think that we do not know enough about our faith to share it with others? Again, Russell Ford is a good example for us. He knew very little about the Catholic faith when he first began his ministry to prisoners. However, he realized that what his fellow inmates were most hungry for was not information but love. They had questions about the Catholic Church, but what they were yearning for was a sense that they were cared for by God. That is why Jesus tells His disciples in the gospel not to take anything with them on their journey. They were simply to share with everyone they met the love of God. The same is true for us. We certainly should study our faith and be able to answer those who challenge us. But, at the same time, our primary job is to introduce others to Jesus. Once people realize that they are loved by God, then they become hungry to learn more.

Finally, besides thinking that we are unworthy or that we do not know enough, we might be afraid of being rejected or ridiculed by others for sharing our faith. In fact, Jesus tells us that persecution is a real possibility when he says in the gospel, “I am sending you like lambs among wolves.” Many of our brothers and sisters are not only indifferent to the teaching of Jesus but hostile to it. We cannot always change their minds or hearts. But if we live our faith and share it in a loving way, Jesus can have a chance to break through to them. We must remember that the work of converting our brothers and sisters is not just up to us. It is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit through us. Though we may not be seeing any results, we must trust that God, the master of the harvest, is using us to make a difference.

God is calling each of us out to His vineyard. Through our baptism and the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, He has equipped us to do His work. Each of us will perform it in a different way according to our situation in life and our talents. But we are all sent out without exception. If we accept the challenge with trust and courage we will witness great things.

(image by Marisol Sousa)

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