An interesting point was made at the deacon meeting I attended last week. The question was raised as to whether or not a newly ordained deacon should continue to attend his home parish or move to the parish where he was assigned as a deacon. It was noted that, although some deacons continue to attend their original parish, it can be advantageous to move entirely to the parish of their assignment and develop new relationships there.
Some men have been at their parishes for a long time and people know them quite well. In some cases, this dynamic may actually hamper their ministry as a deacon. Since people know them so well, they may have difficulty taking them seriously as an ordained minister. This is similar to the phenomenon Jesus referred to when he said that a prophet is not accepted in his own town. People are often more accepting of a minister when they know him only as a minister and not as “that guy we grew up with.” Jesus encountered this reaction when people who knew him said, “Who does he think he is? Isn’t he that carpenter?”
The same principle may apply to anyone who tries to witness to friends and family members about spiritual matters. It can be hard for friends and family to look past the person they know so well and receive the message being delivered. On the other hand, the opposite may be true. When a person’s life has turned around for the better, friends and family members may be the most amazed and impressed at the difference. Or, like the Prodigal Son’s older brother, they may resent the spiritual awakening of a family member. Only God knows the hearts of people.
Some people readily accept input from family members while others bristle at the thought of a family member offering any advice at all. Parents of adolescents often experience the frustrating sentiment that “if Mom or Dad says it, it must be wrong.” Adult children of aging parents frequently find themselves at a loss when Mom or Dad “won’t take any of my advice or even entertain any of my suggestions.” The aging parent may be thinking, “You are still my child, so who are you to tell me what to do?” Longstanding sibling rivalries may cause brothers and sisters to regard each other with skepticism. Family dynamics such as these affect more than just communication about spiritual matters.
So, when we have friends or family members that we wish were more open to the message of Jesus Christ and his Church, we must not be discouraged when our witness has no apparent positive effect on them. First, we do not know how the message is being processed in their minds and hearts. Secondly, the message may need to come from someone outside of the family. Personally, my return to the Church was prompted by people I had never met. My family cared for me, influenced me and prayed for me, but nothing they said to me triggered my reversion. God used the voices of people outside of my family for that. It had to be my decision to come back to the Church. I decided to be Catholic because Catholicism is true, not just because my family is Catholic.
Like a new deacon who must go and create new relationships as a deacon, we must allow our friends and loved ones to experience new people and new places. God has a plan. God knows who we need to encounter and when we need that encounter.
What can we do for our friends and family to help them find Christ and his Church? Love them. Be available to them. Listen more than we talk. When we do talk, speak the truth in love. Be ready to answer their questions and hear their complaints without judgment or criticism. Be patient. Let God do His work. Pray for them. Specifically, pray that God will give them encounters with people that awaken their hearts and minds to His truth. Sometimes the last person one needs to hear from is a family member.