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‘‘If they ask, they don’t want to give it to you.” That is what my great-grandmother always said. What she meant was that someone who really wanted to give you a piece of cake would just put a slice in front of you without asking if you wanted it. That philosophy may have worked well for the tight-knit ethnic community I grew up in. But the truth is that most people expect to be asked--and more than once!--before they decide to accept whatever is being offered.
A few weeks ago, I got a call from our college junior. She was discernibly upset, and sounded rather down. As it turned out, something had happened at a cast party for the one-act play festival in which she had been a director. At the party, she observed a few friends she thought cared about virtue and character smoking marijuana. What’s more, they offered some to her. Nadja had no problem refusing to partake, but she did have a problem reconciling the actions of her fellow students with how they otherwise presented themselves. She just couldn’t get her head around why anyone with talent, brains, and a desire to do the right thing could be so casual about taking illegal drugs.
In the course of the conversation, I have to say that I felt sorry for our daughter. People who make the right choices these days are increasingly marginalized by their peers. They aren’t exactly written off, just patronized as “cute” in an antiquated way. In other words, the values by which they live their lives are respected from a distance, but disregarded up close because they are considered largely irrelevant.
As we kept talking, it occurred to me that in the absence of a personal relationship with God, illegal drugs, overindulgence in alcohol, and casual sex could seem like reasonable pit stops in the pursuit of happiness. Life without faith is pretty empty and meaningless. People or substances who might help you forget just how empty you felt would be welcome distractions from the bitter reality that kept biting at your heels.
I asked Nadja about what it was like when a “friend” offered her marijuana. She said that she believed the offer was sincere and made in the context of friendship; it was not pressured, and there seemed to be no potentially negative personal judgments attached to her response either way. Then I asked if she thought that we offered Jesus to people in the same way: in friendship, without judgments, pressure, or guilt of any kind. The phone went silent. In that moment I think we both decided that Jesus needed to be offered more frequently and more broadly.
During Holy Week, Nadja told me that she had sent an e-mail out to most of the people she knew at college. Here is what she said:
I would like to extend an invitation to all of you to come to any or all of the services this weekend as part of Holy Week/The Triduum/Easter. I am inviting friends of all religious backgrounds not in an attempt to proselytize, but simply to offer the chance for a spiritual experience. There are Catholics, non-Catholics, Christians and non-Christians, practicing and non-practicing members of various faiths, and those who do not belong to a faith group in this e-mail list. All are invited, and all are welcome. I do not know how many of you were able to see the work of the Buddhist monks when they were here the other week, but, even though few of us here are Buddhist, it was moving and beautiful; you could feel the spirituality. It is in that spirit that I invite you all to join me at any or all of the Masses and services at St. Patrick’s Church. I will be at many of them. If you are not practicing Catholic or Orthodox, simply refrain from taking Communion. You needn’t know all the words, and can follow along in terms of sitting, standing and kneeling fairly easily. I know we are all busy with final papers, exams, studying, etc. And those things are important. However, we are more than temporal beings. The services over the next four days are the most spiritually moving of the year in my faith, and I would love to share the experience with any of you.”
For some reason--or maybe none--we are reluctant to invite people to faith in Jesus Christ. We hold back even though we know that without an offer, there can be no acceptance. But as St. Paul wrote in Romans 10, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” While preaching is probably the last thing anyone wants to hear in a social setting, a sincere invitation--even if refused--is still valued for what it is: an act of love and friendship, an offer to share what gives you life. As my great-grandmother also said, “Go ahead, ask! All they can do is say ‘No.’”
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 author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.