Learn more about my latest book – All In: Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters. Available now!

Among Women 189: Leading with Humility — talking about “The Prodigal You Love”

Among Women 189: Leading with Humility — talking about “The Prodigal You Love”

In this latest episode of Among Women, I discuss the unscheduled hiatus of the show in the last couple of months, as well as my forays into the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. I also welcome my guest, Sr Theresa Aletheia Noble FSP, author of a new book from Pauline Books and Media, The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church. St Theresa is a former atheist who returned to the Catholic faith after encountering Catholics whose authentic faith and joy won her over. In this conversation Sr Theresa offers three tip for helping us invite our loved ones back into the Church… the most important of which is to lead with humility.

Finally we explore the life of a 14th century saint, St Dorothy of Montau, whose humility and gentility won the hearts of her husband to Catholicism, as well as many others. Don’t miss the return of Among Women with this newest episode.

Listen now. 

This makes me think… and makes me value my baptism all the more…

As Catholics… we believe that original sin isn’t something committed, it’s something contracted. We recognize that we have received from Adam and Eve a human nature devoid of the divine nature God originally entrusted to them. As such, we don’t so much see original sin as a “thing,” as we do a lack of a “thing” — that “thing” being sanctifying grace. And sanctifying grace isn’t just religious rhetoric for something special. It is the Holy Trinity dwelling within the soul.

What that means for us is that we receive a human nature from the moment of our conception. But because we receive a human nature without a divine nature, we’re spiritually dead from the start. That’s our inheritance from our first parents: spiritual death. We’re physically alive but spiritually dead because God’s life does not dwell in us.

Baptism changes that.

Sometimes we talk about Baptism as “wiping away the stain of original sin.” But that’s a flawed metaphor. It inadvertently suggests that something is there before Baptism that isn’t there afterward — almost as if we could perform a spiritual x-ray of our soul, before and after Baptism, showing first a dirty soul, which is later made shiny and new. But again, it’s not the presence of something before Baptism that’s the problem. It’s the absence, the absence of divine life. 

That divine life is what baptism restores. It gives us back the divine life that Adam and Eve lost. 

Scott Hahn
Evangelizing Catholics: A Mission Manual for the New Evangelization

This makes me think… what is my spoken and silent witness saying?

A few generations back, you can understand why many Catholics didn’t see the need to evangelize. They could live their faith in their homes and parishes, and when they walked outside — going to work, or school or the playground — the cultural temperature didn’t feel that much different than it felt inside. For all appearances the gap between the Catholic way of life and the American way of life didn’t look that great.

Today, however, when Catholics walk outside our homes and parishes into the culture at large, we feel the difference. It hits us in the face like a slap of ice-cold wind. The culture has turned toxic, and the gap between how the Church calls us to live and how the culture tells us to live has grown so wide, we can no longer bridge it. 

But while we can’t bridge the gap, we can attempt to close it. That’s what the New Evangelization calls us to do. It calls us to transform not just individuals, but the entire culture, recognizing that just as the de-Christianization of culture led countless men and women away from the Church, so can the re-Christianization of culture lead en and women back to the Church. 

That’s what we’re doing when we share our faith, through both our silent and spoken witness, with the people in our neighborhoods, and communities, schools, and workplaces. We’re transforming culture by introducing the individuals within it to a Person who will transform the very fabric of their lives. We’re welcoming them into a family of believers who will walk with them as they strive to live the life to which God calls them.

That’s something your parish priest can’t do. He can’t bear witness to the guy in your office who has never stepped foot in a Catholic Church. He can’t strike up a conversation at the gym or the coffee shop with the person who stopped going to Mass a decade ago. Your priest’s reach is limited… they can’t go where you can go.

-Scott Hahn-
Evangelizing Catholics, 2014

This makes me think… how clear am I when I talk about Christ and the Church?

The Characteristics of Effective Evangelization

If, then, our encounter with Christ is the premise of evangelization, what are some of the other characteristics of evangelization that will render it effective in our time? Let me suggest the 4 Cs of effective evangelization – namely that it needs to be CLEAR, CHALLENGING, COMPASSIONATE, and CONVINCING.
First, our presentation of the Gospel and the faith of the Church needs to be clear and accurate. I wonder how many people have left the Catholic Church, or never considered joining the Church, because they received incorrect information or were laboring under a misunderstanding of Catholic doctrine or discipline. More than once I’ve heard someone say, “I left the Catholic Church because I was divorced and could no longer receive Holy Communion.” Or, “I left the Church because Catholics don’t believe in the Bible.” Both statements are completely inaccurate, of course, but there are many others like it.

We have to admit, that in too many settings during the past 50 years, the teaching of the Church hasn’t always been presented in a clear and consistent manner; and in other times individuals have simply misunderstood the tenets of the Church. In any case, a serious approach to the believing community needs to be based on teaching that is accurate and authentic.

Next, evangelization in the world today needs to be challenging.

Many critics have suggested that the Catholic Church would attract more adherents if, for example, we changed our teaching about difficult topics such as abortion, contraception, homosexuality, divorce and re-marriage, the ordination of women and clerical celibacy. But, we need to ask in response: Is an easy Church, devoid of any moral imperatives or challenge, being faithful to its mission? Is it contributing anything of value to the moral well-being of the world?

I recall that a journalist asked Pope Benedict what we could do to make the Church more “attractive” to the modern world. The Holy Father responded: “I would say that a Church that seeks to be particularly attractive is already on the wrong path. Because the Church does not work for her own ends, she does not work to increase numbers and thus power.”

In other words, the task of the Church is to proclaim the truth – whether easy or hard, popular or unpopular, “convenient or inconvenient” as St. Paul charged. (II Tim 4:2)
The fact is, we do no one a favor if we water-down or minimize the hard teachings of Christ and his Church in a vain attempt to make them more palatable to modern taste.

The Third “C” of evangelization, for those returning to the Church or those who have never been part of our community, is that it needs to be compassionate.

Here I mean that our presence in the world and our outreach has to be attuned to the real life experiences of those we meet; we need to be sensitive to their needs and concerns. Good teachers and preachers, in the Church as elsewhere, have to be careful listeners and astute observers as well as articulate speakers.
Some folks who have departed the Church have done so not for doctrinal reasons but because of more personal experiences. Perhaps they had an argument with another member of the Church – clergy, religious or lay. Maybe they approached the Church with a pressing, personal need or problem and were turned away.
It’s instructive to recall the many personal encounters Jesus had – with the poor, the outcast, the sick, and the sinner. Jesus was always alert to and responsive to their situation. He was a listener, a counselor, a companion. And while he clearly challenged individuals to repent of their sin and to live a moral and upright life, his starting point was the human condition. In short, he was compassionate. And so must our evangelization be.

Finally, it seems to me that our evangelization in the world today has to be convincing, and by that I mean that we can effectively evangelize by our deeds as well as our words, by our actions as well as our axioms.

Pope Francis has certainly given us an example to consider.

The early days of his pontificate were marked by symbolic gestures that spoke of his desire for simplicity and humility in the Church – for example, the preferred simplicity of his attire, personal and liturgical; the personal phone calls he made; the fact that on the day after his election he stopped and paid his hotel bill; his decision to not reside in the Apostolic Palace but rather in the Domus Santa Martha.
I have to confess, when the media turned somersaults because the Pope paid his own hotel bill, I said to myself – and I think to a few others – “Big deal; I pay my own hotel bill all the time, and nobody cares.”
But it seems clear that while this simple approach is truly the Pope’s style, with or without the presence of cameras, he is also sending a message to the rest of the Church, especially its leaders.

But even beyond these simple symbols, we evangelize most effectively by our works of charity. In the works of education and health care, in the ministry of our homeless shelters, food pantries and soup kitchens, we serve Catholics and non-Catholics alike. We serve without asking for baptism certificates or parish registrations. We serve in the name of Christ and with the knowledge that in those we serve we encounter the real presence of Christ.

Effective evangelization is a combination of words and deeds. It is in our works of charity that our words are fulfilled, that we convince people of the authenticity of our message.

-+Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, Diocese of Providence,

 “Evangelization in a Secular Age”