The reverb of my Jewish friend’s skepticism was bouncing through my brain as I drove away from Starbucks. “As a Jewish rabbi, I’m trying to understand why you would ‘go on mission’ to Italy which is already a Christian country. The Catholics already have it covered.”
Even more mind-boggling was the fact that I’d reached out to him for fundraising ideas. Think about it: A Protestant and a Jew discussing how much it would cost to share Jesus in Catholic country. Sounds like a joke. Which my friend was quick to point out.
I felt pretty ridiculous driving away. But, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a divine moment. A bridge had been hoisted as we drank coffee together. A bridge I could only hope to duplicate thousands of times in Italian espresso bars.
His unfiltered bewilderment mixed well with the probing question of a young Persian student who is currently living in Milan. He asked, “So, is it your desire to come to Italy and get all the Catholics saved?” This friend was half my age but full of wisdom and intelligence. His tone indicated the same skepticism I’d heard from my rabbi friend.
Then, yesterday I accepted the invitation of another friend to attend Friday morning Mass at the Catholic Church up the sidewalk from where I live downtown. This friend was Catholic and they knew about my plans to be a missionary in Italy. And, they were good friends with the Rector, who was leading Mass. And, he knew what I was preparing to do.
“We are so excited that you’re here,” my friend whispered to me as the service began. Then I joined them in a lovely Advent service. My friend pointed me to each reading and prompted me for each movement with grace. Then, when Mass was concluded I hitched a ride with my friend to Grandy’s to join about a dozen Catholics for breakfast.
The questions my rabbi friend and my Persian friend asked came to my mind as I laughed with and engaged personally with these warm, inviting strangers. I felt honored to be taken in so kindly. My friend paid my bill. And it really was such a delightful time.
I’d received a book in the mail a couple of months ago by Dr. Scott Hahn, called “Evangelizing Catholics”. I chose this title to add to my research pile because the author had converted from the Protestant faith to Catholicism. And, this book intrigued me because it was told from a unique Catholic perspective. I hadread through some of his books in my hope to steer clear of authors who operated from a narrow, us-them mindset in their view of the Catholic religion.
We were talking about books we’ve read over breakfast and I asked if they’d ever heard of Hahn and his books. Everyone had heard and read his stuff.
“Which ones have you read,” I was asked.
A fresh tinge of worry surfaced. “Evangelizing Catholics,” I replied. I thought, With as nice as they have been I hope I don’t build a wall. Then my friend saved me the embarrassment.
“I think that many Catholics should be evangelized,” he said with a serious expression. Then he asked if he could borrow that book when I was done reading it.
Just like that he shattered some of my Protestant suppositions. A devout Catholic friend was passionately agreeing that many Catholics should be evangelized. He went on to explain how the traditions have become mere rote for scores of people, and their religion is strictly cultural rather than sincere.
That’s when I knew I have a good reason for going to Italy. I don’t have to consider myself a Protestant peg in a Catholic hole. I am not going to save Catholics. I couldn’t save a person anyway.
What I am going to do is build bridges just as I had done here over breakfast. I was going not as a Protestant but as a disciple. I was not going for the sake of initiating the Catholics but rather the Uninitiated. I was carrying the light of Christ into a place where tradition had lost its heart for many.
Let the bridge building continue.