My beard evangelized – and you can too
This column first appeared in our July, 2018 print edition.
A few years ago, when I was still working in a parish, my beard did some evangelizing. Now, before I elaborate, I should share a couple of points about my beard. First, it’s long. It’s not “ZZ Top” long, but it’s a start. It recently grew past my collar bone, a milestone in the beard-growing community. Secondly, it’s red, even though the hair on my head is dark brown. I’m not a geneticist; I don’t know why these things happen. But they do.
All of this means that I frequently get comments on it, which can lead to some interesting conversations. In one instance, my beard even helped me invite someone to become Catholic. My wife and I were at a restaurant for Valentine’s Day, and the waiter and I started talking. It went something like this:
Waiter: I have always wanted to grow a beard like that.
Me: Make it happen!
Waiter: I can’t! I tried once and it grew all patchy and misshapen, made me look like a creeper.
Me: I’m sorry to hear that.
Waiter: Yours makes you look so … (he’s waving his hand in the air, trying to find the right word)
Me: … professorial?
Waiter: Yes, exactly! Nice word! What do you do for a living?
Me: I’m the director of religious education at my parish.
He nodded his head and then took our order. I thought that was the end of the conversation, but when he brought us our ticket after the meal, he reignited the conversation:
Waiter: What church did you say you worked for?
Me: Blessed Mother Church.
Waiter: Is that a church around here?
Me: Yes, it’s a Catholic church here in Owensboro.
Waiter: Oh, Catholic! I’ve always thought that if I ever joined a church it would be a Catholic one. Everything there just seems so much more … serious.
Me: Well, I’m the man to talk to!
I shook his hand, told him more about what I do, and gave him my contact information. It was all a very pleasant surprise, and I walked away thinking, “All of that started because he liked my beard. My beard just evangelized!” It made me glad to have something that can be a conversation starter, that gets people to open up and share a bit of themselves.
Catholics often have trouble extending the invitation to consider the Catholic faith because they don’t know how to get past that initial barrier that people put up in a public setting. We wait and wait for the perfect time when inviting someone to Mass or to RCIA would fit naturally in the conversation, and that time never comes. What should we do, just blurt it out?
Here’s the key: “Out” yourself as a Catholic and people will come to you! I work for the church, so all I have to do is say what I do for a living and I have an opening. But there are simple strategies that anyone can use. For
• Pray before meals, even at restaurants or bars.
• Wear T-shirts with Catholic or pro-life messages.
• Put a Catholic bumper sticker on your car.
• Be the only person in your group who doesn’t gossip or use curse words.
• If someone asks about your lunch plans, say, “I’m going to daily Mass, want to join me?”
• If someone opens up about a struggle or difficulty, offer to pray for that person right then and there.
None of this is rocket science. Just live a joyful, honest life and be proud to be Catholic. You have something that people desperately need. When they see you for who you are, they will have questions. That’s your opening. Then you just have to provide some answers and extend the invitation.
If all else fails, grow a beard. I highly recommend it.