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Evangelizing by word and deed

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Steve TrosleyThe bishops of the United States convened with lay and clerical delegates from dioceses around the country in July to discuss evangelization and discipleship.

A goodly number of representatives from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati attended and we sent staffer Gail Finke, so you can read all about it elsewhere in this edition.

Everyone in the Catholic Church seems to be looking for the evangelization silver bullet at the prompting of Pope Francis. It reminded me of something one of my editors used to tell say about developing a difficult story. He said the hardest things to find were usually the things sitting right out in the open. My first real encounter with evangelization was like that.

Back in the pre-Vatican II 60’s, the pastor of my parish church asked me to serve an especially early Mass. We had three priests in the parish and we had Masses at 5:45, 6:45 and 8 a.m. on weekdays with the 8 o’clock being the start of the day for the nearly 500 children in the eight grades at our parish school. Servers from the seventh and eighth grades rotated the duties.

Father Edward Douglas, the founding pastor, knew the back door of my grandparents’ house faced the sacristy door and he was a man who prized dependability and volume. He knew that between my mother and my grandmother, I would be there on time to respond, loudly, “Ad Deum qui laetificat, juventutum meam,” to his “Introibo ad altare Dei…”

So it was arranged. But this was not the usual show-up-15-minutes-early-to-prep-for-Mass gig. This was show up by 5 a.m. to assist at a Communion service that started at 5:15 a.m. Many of the Catholics in that parish worked at the McDonnel Aircraft complex in St. Louis county and the day shift started at 7 a.m. A 5:30 a.m. Mass of 30-40 minutes in length would not allow these workers the drive time they needed to make the 7 a.m. clock-in.

I would ride my bike to my grandparent’s house, park it in their yard and visit with them briefly before going into the sacristy to prep for the service and the Mass. (Servers were instructed to light the candles three minutes before the service because, Father Douglas said, candles were expensive. Extinguishing the candles was the first chore after Mass, too.)

I would see the 30 to 40 working folks and some retired folks wandering in right after the lights went on at 5:05 a.m., (and not a second before: Electricity was also expensive, Father Douglas said.)

Most of the people in the pews were familiar. Some were blue collar and some white collar. They were friends of my parents and parents of my friends and those I did not know had familiar faces. I felt sorry for them – too bad they couldn’t get a job at the oil refinery in town where my Dad worked or at the ammunition plant or one of the other factories in town where clock-in was 8 a.m.

No wonder they wanted Communion before they left town, what with having to deal with Missouri drivers.

You had to admire their stamina. They probably had to get up well before I did to get dressed, groomed, and ready for work. Many ate breakfast in their cars, and weathered all sorts of challenges.

I was sharing this story with Father Todd Grogan recently and he said, “What a powerful witness they were for you.”

Boom! There it was, in plain sight. Those 30 to 40 people were evangelists to all who saw them attending that communion service each morning. They were glorifying the Eucharist by word and deed, proclaiming the Gospel with their display of faith.

Look around: Someone may be evangelizing you without you even knowing it.

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