How can we reach out to others and have their best interests in mind as we evangelize? Thinking about that question reminded me of Jesus’ own way of “seeing us” through being compassionately aware and present, especially in our time of need.
In a recent prayer project with Joe Paprocki, I described prayer as a process through which we regularly take the time to stop whatever we may be engaged in, look around and connect to God’s magnificent creation, and listen for God’s voice beckoning us into deeper relationship and joyful discipleship.
As evangelizing catechists, the stop, look, and listen process is also helpful to us in our encounters with others.
Stop. As catechists, we often are busy tending to the practical aspects of our ministry. We prepare lessons. Our gathering spaces, ordinarily shared by others, need to be set up anew each week. There are forms to be collected. Parents pose a multitude of questions. In the midst of the busy-ness, it helps to stop for a moment, center ourselves in the One who calls us to the vocation of catechist, and remind ourselves of the ultimate purpose for which we minister: the salvation of souls!
Look. Whenever possible, let’s set up the gathering space well ahead of time to enable our bodies, minds, and spirits to be present to the children and their parents, so that we can really see them. Observe families with eyes of compassion. Their very presence as children of God reflects God’s magnificent creation. Do families appear comfortable and have a sense of belonging? Does anyone feel marginalized due to a language barrier or from being newly relocated?
We can be observant as we’re out and about in the community. When we see our students and families, let’s greet each person by name and with a smile. After all, we are brothers and sisters in Christ wherever we go!
Listen to others as God listens to you. What is happening in the lives of our families? The “How are you?…I’m fine” exchange, while comfortable, is not always a statement of reality. Take time to engage in active listening, knowing that every story that is shared is an opportunity to connect with the story of our salvation in Jesus.
Sometimes active listening comes in the form of a knowing look or compassionate silence. The very act of being a loving presence is a powerful form of evangelization.
Sometimes active listening comes into play during conflict. Leading with a statement such as, “Help me understand why this [issue or point of view] is important to you,” is an effective way to begin the listening process.
The evangelizing catechist is mindful of the adage, “I may not remember what you said, but I do remember how you made me feel.”
In doing this, we enliven Pope Francis’ invitation:
to work for “the culture of encounter”, in a simple way, “as Jesus did”: not just seeing, but looking; not just hearing, but listening; not just passing people by, but stopping with them; not just saying “what a shame, poor people!”, but allowing yourself to be moved with compassion; “and then to draw near, to touch and to say: ‘Do not weep’ and to give at least a drop of life”. (For a Culture of Encounter, September 13, 2016)