How is the gospel best spread? By talking about how the faith has changed you. It is by telling faith stories. It is by sharing the amazing, simple and real experiences of the faith. It is talking about wave walking. Sherry Weddell emphasizes this in her important book Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus.
What is a “faith story”? Here’s one I shared earlier this week–the story of my visit to a man’s deathbed and the transformation in his life as he received the graces from the sacraments. A faith story is a shared event in which the faith actually did what it was supposed to do: save people, heal people, change lives and change the world. Like Sherry Weddell, I am a convert to Catholicism from Evangelical fundamentalism. Like Sherry, I grew up in an atmosphere where it was natural to share our faith stories. The Christian folk in our church shared their faith with one another all the time. They spoke freely about answered prayer, prayer requests and the daily communication with God.
On Wednesday evenings we would meet for fellowship and a prayer meeting. Part of this weekly meeting was the pastor inviting anyone who wanted to stand up and share what God had done for them that week. Housewives would give a brief answer to prayer. Businessmen would recount an experience sharing the faith. Children would stand up and say what they were thankful for. Every week one dear old saint named George would stand up, and in a trembling voice say, “Well pastor, I don’t have much to say tonight except that I love my wife Flossie”, and then he’d reach down to take her hand and start to weep a bit. “The Lord has given us to each other and not a day goes by that I don’t thank him for Flossie.”
When all the theologians, scholars, philosophers and professional religious people are done, this is the down home, heart to heart, rubber meeting road kind of evangelization. We don’t follow Christ for what he can do for us, but we do expect our faith to work. The problem with so many Catholics is that they don’t really expect their religion to DO anything for them. They have been taught to fulfill their duties and say their prayers, and they give at least lip service to the beliefs that confession really absolves them of their sins and heals them and the Eucharist infuses supernatural love into their lives and that anointing brings healing. But they don’t expect the daily surge of God’s power in their lives.
This is where faith stories become so important. As we share faith stories people are inspired, faith grows. People come more and more to believe, trust and expect God to do great things. This is one of the reasons why I try to weave at least one faith story into every homily. In teaching confirmation class I tell faith stories so the children not only learn the facts of their Catholic religion–they learn how faith works and how God can touch their lives.
Faith stories should be at the bedrock of our lives as Catholics. We are sometimes so intent on learning the catechism or the arguments for the faith or apologetics, but we neglect the real stories of real people whose lives are transformed by God. Faith stories, after all, make up the heart of the sacred Scriptures.What is the Bible but one long, ancient collection of faith stories–the stories of real people who made a transaction with God, who set out on the great adventure and changed their world with God.
Why do we tell and re-tell the lives of the saints? Because they are our faith stories. Pope Benedict XVI said that the saints are “lived theology” and “the sacred Scriptures can only be interpreted through the lives of the saints.” It is in these faith stories that the Catholic religion lives and we should not be ashamed to tell our stories, and if we don’t have a faith story to tell? Then we better get one soon!
This is the theme of my upcoming book The Romance of Religion: Fighting for Goodness, Truth, and Beauty The book explores the need for stories and the importance of using the great stories as the pattern for living out our own great romance.
Evangelization takes place as real people first live the faith, then share their experiences. As others see the example and hear the stories they will be attracted and inspired to follow the way and embark on their own great adventure.