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This Thanksgiving, find positive ways to share how Jesus plays a part in our lives

The holidays are a prime time to share faith with others. Here’s how to do so in a positive manner.

Bobby Hofman believes that sharing joyous experiences is an invitation to others to experience that joy.

Bobby Hofman
Thanksgiving is for expressing gratitude, enjoying family and reflecting on blessings. Just as important is sharing how Jesus has been a part of our lives. How do we share our faith with others?

We’ve heard the adage to avoid discussing religion or politics at the dinner table. But Hofman believes otherwise, when it comes to matters of faith.

“I can communicate, ‘Hey this is why I love my faith. This Church, these events mean so much to me, and these are the reasons why,’” said Hofman, who with several friends recently started Via, a young adult ministry hosted at Incarnate Word Parish in Chesterfield. “Sharing a personal encounter with Jesus is so important, but sharing the joy is what stands out to me.”

Inviting others to share in that joy is true evangelization, he said. “It’s all about sharing the joy of the experience, but then not being afraid to invite people,” Hofman said. “There’s never been a time where I’ve been invited to something where I was upset about it. To say to somebody, ‘I’d love for you to come with me.’ That’s one of the reasons we started Via — to invite people into a community.”

During the holidays, there can be a temptation to avoid talking about faith. It’s easy to analyze the football game on TV or catch up on the latest family gossip. But there’s a missed opportunity to evangelize loved ones when we stay quiet about faith.

Sharing our faith with others doesn’t necessarily require heavy catechesis. We can start with expressing our gratitude for the ways in which Jesus has been present in our lives. We asked for some of the best advice on talking to others about the faith.

Here is what we heard:

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson
During the prayer before the meal, ask each person to share one thing for which they’re thankful. “Sometimes it’s beautifully faith-filled and sometimes its humorous, and sometimes they don’t know what to say,” Archbishop Carlson said. “But everyone is called in that experience to think of something they’re thankful for. That crosses every boundary. My mother would always say, ‘I am thankful for all of my children and my grandchildren, and I love each one of them very much.’ It’s something that doesn’t take a lot of preparation, but it can give the holiday a very deep spiritual meaning.”

Attend a Mass or prayer service the night before or day of Thanksgiving. When he was a parish pastor, Archbishop Carlson invited families to bring an item of food to be used at the Thanksgiving meal, which he blessed. “I invited people to bring the bread that would be used, because it’s so symbolic for us … May it remind them of what we do with the Eucharist every single day (at Mass).”

• Whoever leads the prayer at the family gathering should offer a prayer in advance that God will touch the hearts of everybody in the family, as they gather at the Thanksgiving table. Pray “that God will give them the freedom for Him to touch the deepest part of their hearts.”

Accept each person’s God-given dignity, even those with whom you don’t agree. Archbishop Carlson noted the model of Jesus in encountering the woman who was caught in adultery. “Did He accuse her? No,” said the archbishop. “He simply reminded everybody in the group that they’re sinners. He was inviting them to look at that woman through the eyes of their own sinfulness — because every one of us are sinners. And to listen intently to the person and not judge them. We must come to know them. If someone disagrees with us, it doesn’t do any good to fire back. (Jesus) always frees us.”

Share what being part of the Church community means to you. For the family members who say they don’t need church in order to encounter God, remind them of the blessings found within the Body of Christ. “There are people placed in our lives, who we know have something we don’t,” he said. “I can think of a great aunt who sacrificed greatly, and she was a very generous person. I always admired that in her. And that was faith. All of that naturally leads us to a more intense experience. What could be more intense than having the Body of Christ within you? Or to spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, or to bring Christ in the Eucharist to those who could not get to church themselves? Each one of those experiences has the same element … bringing us closer to God. … You go because of your relationship and faith. To be with Jesus Christ your friend.”

On responding to the clergy sexual abuse scandal: Archbishop Carlson said he is reminded that “the apostles didn’t leave the Church when Judas betrayed our Lord. Likewise, we don’t go to church because of our pastor; we don’t go to church because of the music; we go to church because of our friendship with Jesus Christ.”

Shane Van Diest, director of the Office of Young Adult Ministry

Shane Van Diest
Pray for your future conversations. “People are going to think of that one family member. They know that Uncle Larry is going to grill them,” he said. “They know that Aunt Sally is going to have three glasses of merlot and get into it. Every family has that one person — and maybe more than one — that they know this is going to come up with. Before you encounter them, pray for that person, pray for your conversation … You’re not trying to win an argument, you’re trying to win a soul. You’re going in with that desire to open their hearts to Jesus Christ, and not necessarily trying to win a debate.”

Assume the good will of the other person. “That’s always going to soften your heart for how to approach it,” Van Diest said. “And it’s going to help you see the other person as a human being and not as an agenda or someone that you’re trying to convert.”

Don’t underestimate the impact that young people have on older family members. Even as a young adult, it can sometimes be difficult to be the child and speak about your faith when maybe your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, may not see it the same way, he said. “I’ve seen a lot of conversions of parents through the witness of their children. Don’t be afraid to be that witness.”

Share your encounter with Jesus Christ. It’s easy to fall into a debate about Church teaching, but the most effective tool in softening hearts to the Gospel is a personal story. “”In that moment of sharing a meal, of sharing graces of your year with your family, tell people about how you’ve encountered Jesus throughout the year,” Van Diest said. “Tell them about the changes in your life, because you’ve come to know Christ. Regardless of where they stand on the Church … that’s going to have an impact.”

Evangelization takes time. There can be such an urgency with evangelization, Van Diest said. “We also have to keep in mind that we’re playing the long game,” he said. “And the Holy Spirit is the primary evangelist. Our primary role is to be, whether we’re talking about Thanksgiving or being someone at the bar next Friday night, evangelization is always going to be sharing your story and planting some sort of seed — and knowing that you might not get to see the fruits of it.”

Build trust with others. “You’re only going to convert hearts within a relationship,” he said. “You might not convert Atheist Aunt Sally at Thanksgiving dinner, but your story may spur something in her down the road, and she’s looking for answers. She knows because you’ve been intentional and relational, she knows where to turn now that she has questions. It may be down the road — but she’ll remember that conversation.”

Be willing to defend the Church, while also having the empathy to admit where she has had fault. “We’re all called to defend the Church and speak about these things intelligently and do it with great love and understanding, but also being OK with not having all of the answers,” Van Diest said. “It’s important to have the humility to say, ‘I don’t know how to respond to that. We as a Church are trying to figure it out.’”

Maria Thornton, parishioner at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Ferguson

Maria Thornton
Maria Thornton, a native of Mexico, did not grow up celebrating Thanksgiving. But when she came to St. Louis and married her husband, Matt, she became familiar with the U.S. holiday. Now, she sees it as a day to “give thanks to God for food, for friends, for family,” said the parishioner at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Ferguson. “The focus is on giving thanks to God for the blessings.”

Thornton said Thanksgiving celebrations combine cultural traditions when she gathers with her husband’s side of the family. In addition to turkey and mashed potatoes, meals also include traditional Mexican dishes, including tamales and pozole.

The Thorntons also have instilled in their children, also named Maria and Matt, the importance of prayer. The family has a longstanding Thanksgiving tradition to have one of the children lead the prayer before a meal. Sometimes her mother-in-law will sing a song. Or there might be the reading of a Scripture passage.

When it comes to matters of faith, the Thanksgiving table is an open door, said Maria, whose husband’s side of the family is Lutheran. “We talk openly about our faith and hear from both (faiths). When I talk about celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, they know it is very dear to our hearts. They’re very supportive.”

Thornton said that sharing in those faith traditions may contribute to deeper conversations about the faith. “Learning from one another — what a great experience,” she said.

Angela Richard, coordinator of Young Adult Ministry

Angela Richard
• Don’t give in to the temptation to keep quiet, or direct the conversation toward more secular topics. “Being able to witness to my year … and where the Lord has been present,” she said. “The exciting part is in those one-on-one conversations are so much richer, and usually my family opens up to me a little bit more about their faith journeys. Being vulnerable with them about my faith allows them to ask me a question, or to share with me, ‘I really need to get back to the church, or I’m struggling with this piece of my faith.’”

When someone expresses a past hurt, or a desire to get back to the Church, offer a sincere prayer. “When they mention wanting to go back to Mass, I usually say, ‘Let me know how that goes,’ or ‘How can I pray for you?’”

On talking about the clergy abuse scandal: Just days after the Pennsylvania grand jury report was released in August, Richard took to Facebook to share some thoughts about the clergy abuse scandal. Richard said she anticipates the topic will come up when she travels to New York for her family Thanksgiving gathering.

“It’s important to be informed, but also to take this position of empathy with the rest of the Church and those people who are hurting, and those people who don’t understand,” she said. “I’m hoping that the conversations that I can have about this with my family are ones of … we’re not assuming blanket statements about the Church, but we’re praying for the Church. There is such a call to the laity here. I am encouraged by the reminder of being priest, prophet and kingship, and the graces that have come out of this … I look forward to talking about it.”

Effective conversation in conflict

Faith Perceptions, a Cape Girardeau-based firm that specializes in helping faith-based organizations provide more effective ministry, offers programs that train people on developing hospitality. Inevitably, there will be times in which someone with whom you’re having a conversation does not agree with you. Here are some tips on how to approach those conversations:

1. Give the benefit of the doubt.

2. Listen to learn and understand the other person.

3. Take responsibility with “I” statements.

4. Use a cushion, such as “I appreciate what you’re saying,” “I appreciate your view” or “yours is a common viewpoint.”

5. Avoid the use of words such as “but” or “however” when responding to someone.

6. State opinions with evidence.

7. Know when to disengage or change the subject

Other points to remember:

• When you use evidence to support your position, you get to know the other person a little bit more.

• Learn to state your opinion in a way that opens a dialogue rather than an argument.

• When you use a “cushion” you can say, “Tell me more about why you think that,” before you launch into evidence of why you think differently about something.

• When you begin with a Christ-centered approach as your motivator, it postures your heart to be more open to listen and learn from others.

• Rather than having your defense ready, listening gives us our breath and open hands to receive what is being said.

• Responding to someone’s request for information when you can’t give them what they want (at the time they want it) with, “I’m sorry I can’t get to this right now, but I will get back to you by the end of the day.”

• Body language is very important. When you engage in a discussion avoid crossing arms, posture yourself to be open and look less guarded.

• Demonstrate that you understand what the other person values by acknowledging it.

• Be willing to learn about the other person.

• Evidence of your own personal experience is very compelling.

• There are situations where the better option may be to not engage in disagreeing agreeably.

• Recognize the other person’s “hot-button” issues. One person’s molehill might be another person’s mountain.

• Recognize that God the creator is dwelling within the other person.

• It’s OK to know that we might fail in our conversations with others. We must draw strength from Christ’s love.

Source: Faith Perceptions, www.faithperceptions.com

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