Welcoming faith

Jesus had a great way of approaching people. He fully assumed our human nature and became one of us in everything except sin. One of us -- so that we might become one with him. The Incarnation is the most profound act of divine hospitality. By taking our human nature upon himself, Jesus opened the communion of the Most Holy Trinity to human beings, and made it possible for us to share the life of the living God. By emptying himself, Jesus united humanity with God in an unbreakable and eternal bond.

But the power of the Incarnation isn't just metaphysical or theological: it is visible throughout the Gospels, most especially in the accounts of how Jesus interacted with those he met. Encounter after encounter, Jesus does not shrink back from proclaiming the fullness of truth. Yet, he always delivers the truth in the context of full embrace. "Zaccheus, I must have dinner at your house" came before the tax collector decided to pay back those he had cheated four times over. "If you knew the gift of God and who was speaking to you, you would ask him for living water" preceded "You have had five husbands, and the man you are with now is not your husband." In these instances and so many more, Jesus shows us that speaking the truth in love is possible only when the love comes first.

On the whole, people of all kinds were comfortable with Jesus, even if they were in deep need of conversion. Those who weren't trying to put on airs of sanctity seemed to feel that he would listen to them, that they mattered to him. Something about Jesus made them believe that just maybe they were worth more than they'd thought, more than other people made them think they were.

It's commonly said that Jesus met people where they were; that he continues to do so today. I guess I'm beginning to wonder whether those of us who are serious about our faith do that. I fear that inadvertently and unintentionally, we may not.

There's a sizable segment of devoted Catholics who have wisely chosen to reject worldly "values" and popular secular culture. They tend to associate with like-minded people, and immerse themselves in Catholic culture. They strive for authentic discipleship, and actively cultivate the virtues. They practice the faith conscientiously, and are worthy of admiration. Admiration, however, does not seem to be what they inspire among those who do not share their faith, or more accurately, those who don't share their dedication to the faith. But why?

I think there's an art to living authentic faith in exile. Jesus knew this from first hand human experience. He expressed it when he told his followers to "be in the world, but not of it." There is something about people who emphasize the second half of that instruction that makes others uncomfortable, something that is not conducive to spreading the Gospel or empowering others to trust God more deeply. Being labeled a freak doesn't indicate that you have attained a greater degree of sanctity than those around you.

Yes, the culture of the world we live in is becoming more hostile to Christians. Our best answer to that hostility, however, is hospitality. The way we live our faith should be as hospitable as the Incarnation was and is. We need to encourage one another to be our best selves in a way that welcomes others to join us. A person who meets us should leave wanting to be more Catholic, not wondering whether he or she is Catholic enough. If our faith is turning someone off, we ought to take a good look at how we might live it in a more attractive way. We should never withhold the truth, but the first truth we proclaim must be the love God has for us and calls us to give to one another.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.