What’s that?” a woman asked me on the sidelines of my daughter’s softball practice years ago. “Oh, never mind!” she went on without pausing, “I know what that is! It’s a Get Out of Hell Free card!”
All the other softball moms’ eyes turned toward me and the brown scapular that was poking out of my tee-shirt.
A scapular is not, of course, a Get Out of Hell Free card, but I wasn’t sure my inquisitor wanted a legitimate explanation.
“It’s actually an outward sign of my devotion to the Virgin Mary,” I began, but she was already rolling her eyes and waving me off with one hand.
This is not my comfort zone. As a Catholic speaker and retreat leader, it might be ironic for me to admit, but many times, I don’t like to preach. I don’t like to bear witness. And in the row of moms standing on the sidelines of middle school girls’ softball practices, I definitely don’t like to be the Catholic weirdo.
And yet here I am, so very Catholic and, as a consequence, often so very weird.
For years, I cringed at the fact that my larger-than-average family size garnered me unwanted attention, but I wound up making my peace with it. It was an opportunity to bear witness to the beautiful gifts of life and family that I probably never would have sought on my own.
People’s occasional rude comments or questions offered me the opportunity to show them that being a mom to many kids could be a great blessing, and, for those of us called to it, there’s a lot of joy in saying yes to large family living.
These days, however, with fewer of my mostly-grown children in tow on any given trip to the supermarket, I get less unwanted attention. I need to be a bit more intentional about how and where I bear witness to my faith. I wear a miraculous medal. I ask challenging questions sometimes in group conversations, and I tell even unbelieving people sometimes that I am praying for them.
My meager efforts pale in comparison, though, to the evangelization work of someone like St. Francis Xavier, patron saint of missions, whose feast day we celebrate December 3.
In his lifetime, St. Francis, a contemporary of St. Ignatius Loyola, traveled to Lisbon, India, Malaysia, and Japan, preaching the Gospel and converting countless souls for Christ. He dreamed of going to China but died before that dream could be realized. In one of his letters to St. Ignatius, we see his zeal for reaching and converting souls with the message of Christianity:
“Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: ‘What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!’ I wish they would work as hard at this as they do at their books, and so settle their account with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them.”
I find in these words a real challenge to my comfort zone. Who in my life today is not becoming a Christian only because there is nobody here to make them Christian? How many people might I meet and interact with every day who would be blessed by the gift of faith, and yet I remain silent about the life-giving Good News of the Gospel? You know, because I don’t want to be the weirdo.
Like St. Francis, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was unafraid to seek and preach the truth throughout her lifetime, despite what others might think or what it might cost her. When she left behind her Episcopalian faith and embraced Catholicism, her actions surely raised some eyebrows among friends and family, and even in the culture at large in 1805 in New York, where anti-Catholic laws had only just been lifted a few years prior.
Elizabeth also sacrificed a great deal to evangelize poor and young girls through the religious congregation and free school she founded in the U.S., the beginnings of the modern-day Catholic parochial school system we know today. In a culture that frowned upon Catholicism, did not value education for girls, and certainly did not value education for the poor, she challenged the status quo. Elizabeth, who had previously lived the comfortable life of a wealthy Episcopalian woman in New York, stepped quite surely out of her comfort zone with all that she accomplished.
The examples of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Francis Xavier challenge me today. What am I doing to bring others to Christ? I may never set sail for Malaysia, found a school, or launch a religious order, but every day there are opportunities before me. I might offer to pray for someone in need. I might invite someone to Mass. I might give someone a Bible. I might gently correct a misunderstanding.
How might God use us, if only we are willing? Who might be blessed by our efforts?
Together, let us pray that God will show us all the small ways we’re called to bear witness bravely to the truth each day. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Francis Xavier, pray for us!
DANIELLE BEAN is the brand manager for CatholicMom.com and former publisher and editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest. Danielle is author of several books for women including Momnipotent,You’re Worth It! and her newest book, You Are Enough. She is also creator and host of the Girlfriends podcast and a popular speaker on a variety of subjects related to Catholic family life, parenting, marriage, and the spirituality of motherhood. Learn more at DanielleBean.com.
Image: Saint Francis Xavier Baptizing Infidels by an unknown painter, 18th century; in the collection of the Museo Nacional de Arte, Mexico City.