LA Congress is the largest gathering of Catholics in the nation. Somewhere between 30 and 40,000 Catholic catechists, youth ministers, and DRE’s come together for sessions, training, prayer, and more in hopes of furthering their ministry.
Life Teen’s booth in the exhibition hall became something of a home for anyone who passed by. Along with a few staff members, the Mesa mission team was there on mission not to just sell Life Teen resources and programming, but to love each person who came in to the booth. By soul to soul contact we didn’t just share the heart of Life Teen, but our own hearts with every person we spoke with. Simply by our availability, the Lord opened the doors for many great conversations and moments of prayer.
The Lord works wonders in our availability to His will. It was this availability that led to an encounter I don’t imagine I’ll ever forget.
On Sunday afternoon I caught word from one of the Life Teen staff members that there were a group of non-Catholic Christians outside protesting not only the Congress, but the Catholic Church as a whole. Apparently these people were not the happiest of sorts, yelling at almost every Catholic who happened to walk by.
When I heard about this, I immediately knew there was an invitation being offered to me. The Lord blessed me with an intense joy at the thought of engaging these people in conversation and the chance of showing them His Love.
The booth was slow. I was available. And I said yes.
Maria accompanied me for the excursion, telling me she would likely remain silent to prevent herself from speaking in anger. We both knew that we wanted no argument or debate, but to engage these people in peace and love. As she said this, I realized that I was going to need a lot of grace for this encounter.
As we approached the four men who were just finishing a “conversation” (I use the word loosely), I smiled and let them know that I wasn’t approaching them to argue or debate, that I simply wanted to get to know them. For the sake of brevity, we’ll suffice it to say they’re reaction wasn’t the most pleasant or calm.
After introducing myself and offering my hand (they refused) I asked them what they were there to say. It wasn’t long at all before their anger and rudeness made perfect sense for me. These men preached of a god who is more than a little ticked off at the world. They preached of a god who we must fear, a god who does not love us, a god who in condemning and vengeful. Not only did their god despise the world and it’s people in general, but particularly the Catholics.
As they yelled about all of the “heresies” of the Church, I made it a point to try and bring the conversation back to the basic issue at hand: that our God is Love (1 Jn 4:8, 16). By the grace of God and Maria’s intercession I was able to maintain my composure and witness this Love, not in an abundance of theology or apologetics, but in how I tangibly loved these men. I did not lash out in anger, I did not raise my voice, and I did not refuse them their dignity as son’s of our Father.
Rather than preach a God who is Love, these men experienced that Love. I know I did not prove my point in the most rigid theological arguments or the most eloquent words. And it was apparent that the hearts of these men were quite hardened. I believe though that the Lord works in the witness of His Love. Whether these men come to know the fullness of truth in His Church or not, the Lord was at work. If not in their hearts, absolutely in mine.