Last Saturday, I had the unexpected pleasure of encountering my favorite teacher from high school. I was caught completely off guard by the chance meeting, but more so by the immediate reversion to my seventeen year old self. The meeting was joyful and awkward by turns and after parting, left unsaid was the one thing I have wanted to say to him these last twenty years. That was simply, “thank you.”
Because of this meeting, I have spent the last few days thinking back to my high school years- something I try not to do generally- and reviewing just what it was about this person that had such an impact on me. He was my English teacher, so of course, the fact that he inspired in me a love for literature and especially writing is an important part of why I am sitting at this computer at this moment. But the one memory that surfaced that becomes pertinent to this blog is his quiet witness to his Catholic faith. The fact that I went to a public high school and yet even know that this teacher is Catholic is, in itself, noteworthy in today’s increasingly secular society.
He expressed his Catholicism with a subtle pride but not in an in-your-face “I need to convert you” sort of way. His witness was remarkable in the small practices that he undertook without apology or shame. The tuna fish sandwich packed for a Friday trip to Boston during Lent, the reference to his Rosary beads as a means of praying for a sunny day for Graduation. These make an impact on a girl seeking to define the role of faith in her own life. Furthermore, this example shows us just how remarkable the day to day practice of our Faith can be.
While many people will question what good abstaining from meat on Fridays or clicking a few beads on a Rosary does for our faith life, these practices can be very powerful. The efficacious Grace that we receive through prayerful observance aside, the witness of a solitary tuna sandwich in a city of fabulous restaurants; the quiet proclamation that Our Blessed Mother is available to us to intercede on our behalf in the seemingly mundane requests for good weather speak volumes to those who are watching. Comfortably and confidently practicing our faith within the context of our lives, our jobs, our daily travels can send out ripple effects that we may never become aware of. These practices are what make up our Catholic culture and what set us apart from the rest of the world. They allow us to focus on God in this increasingly ADHD world. They provide rhythm and order to our days, our years. But also, they evangelize. When practiced with joy, quietly, in an unassuming way, they testify to the fact that God is the center of one’s life; that religion is not just for an hour on a Sunday morning, but it is a thread that weaves together the tapestry that tells the story of a life.
As Catholics, we have so many practices available to us to deepen and enhance our faith journeys. Pausing during our work day to pray the Angelus at noon, saying grace before a meal in a restaurant, wearing a crucifix or holy medal as a reminder of our faith, and yes, abstaining from meat even if you are the only one doing so are all very quiet ways we can witness our Faith to the world around us.
I don’t think my teacher’s primary objective was to witness. I think he was simply unafraid to live his faith in front of his students. He was simply being himself and his faith is a part of who he is. This, I believe made his example all the more powerful.
So my challenge to you, gentle reader, is this: Be not afraid to live your faith. Have the self-confidence to quietly go about your day and practice your faith as you would like to. We are all called to evangelize. That does not mean that we should all pass out Bibles and Catechisms on street corners. Nor are we all called to give retreats and conferences and write books or become priests and religious sisters. What we are called to do, however, is live our faith; practice it. I am guessing my teacher would be shocked to learn that I even remember these acts of his, but I do. They helped to fertilize the fledging seeds of faith that had been planted by my Baptism. One never knows the effect one can have on another person’s life. In this, the Year of Faith, may we be inspired by these words attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use words.”
Have you ever encountered someone whose unassuming faith made an impression?