Recently I was on a flight home one evening from a conference, and a man who was of the Baptist faith was sitting next to me on the plane. He was a construction manager. He seemed to want to chat about his faith and how he lived it, so I engaged.
I let the Holy Spirit lead me in this conversation. Was this a conversion opportunity to talk about my Catholic faith? Could I learn something from this man? I was open.
Through dialogue, I came to learn his father had been Catholic, but he turned to the Baptist faith which felt more biblical and true to him. I learned that this man also went on mission trips frequently to poor areas of the world including Ecuador, Brazil, and Poland and built homes and churches for these people with his construction talents. He stepped into their poverty and messy situations and reached out.
He also carried around a simple Scripture card (business card sized) that spoke to a few basic tenants of the Christian faith which he gave to people. He was very passionate about his faith and truly wanted to “tell all the nations” about Jesus and salvation. It really exuded from him.
Of course, the conversation didn’t turn me away from Catholicism, but did strengthen my faith. I found myself reflecting on all the ways Catholicism was richer through our emphasis on faith + works, the mass, theological revelation, the Sacraments, the saints, and our unique relationship with Mary.
But I also recognized that there are things we could do better as a faith. We could be more focused on Scripture in our daily lives. We could be more passionate about “telling all the nations” about Jesus. We could be more mission-oriented people that are focused on action and living the faith like Jesus did in radical ways.
Yes, some of us are mission focused, but many of us aren’t. This man really puts me to shame in terms of his active living of the faith in such radical and courageous ways. He took it a few steps beyond what most of us are comfortable doing. I really admired that. Ironically, his name was Frankie (short for Francis), and he really seemed like a living image of St. Francis of Assisi, which inspired me as a Franciscan.
So the lesson here is, sometimes when we meet people of other faiths, it’s not just a conversion opportunity. Rather, if we listen and engage, it can strengthen our own faith and help us see opportunities to live it more radically and fruitfully within our own vocation.
Be open! The Holy Spirit works in every encounter we have.