The Sanctus prayer, or the "Holy, holy, holy," which is sung in Mass during the Eucharistic Prayer, is my personal favorite. As I prepare for the upcoming holiday season, one particular phrase from the Sanctus helps calm my nerves about getting together with family, friends, and/or co-workers who may not share my Catholic faith. That phrase is, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord," and it helps remind me of what I am called to be [a blessing], even if others at the gathering act hostile toward my faith and my church.
The holiday season starts with Thanksgiving. It is a national feast day recalling the three-day celebration that the Mayflower Pilgrims had with the Wampanoag Indians who had helped them survive that first grueling year in the New World. Some of the Pilgrims, known as "Separatists" back in England, came to this country in search of religious freedom as well as economic opportunity. As Catholics we also have spiritual forefathers who came to the New World for religious and economic reasons.
About a hundred years before the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth, Catholic religious orders began sending priests to the New World to administer the sacraments to the Spanish and French explorers, and to teach the native people about Jesus Christ. Hindsight being 20-20, we can see that the intentions of the Europeans – missionaries included – were not always pure, and that the results of their efforts were sometimes a mixed bag. If you read any history about our Catholic forefathers, however, you will discover that many truly came intending to be a blessing to the natives, and that they often endured great hardship and martyrdom for their efforts. The story of one Spanish Jesuit, Father Eusebio Kino, especially captures my imagination.
Fr. Kino was an Italian-born missionary during the late 1600s to early 1700s. He ministered to native tribes in what is now known as the American Southwest, founding 29 missions in 25 years and traveling thousands of miles across desert wastes. Following the standard Jesuit plan of evangelization, Fr. Kino would first come into a native village with armed guards and request permission to live among the people. If permission were granted, he would move into the village and spend the next several years learning the native tongue. After he had learned the language and the customs of the tribe and had gained their trust, he would begin to share the Good News.
Fr. Kino's plan of spreading the Good News is one we can emulate when gathering with the potentially hostile natives of our own tribes this holiday season:
- Enter peaceably, but armed with the knowledge of the truth of the Gospel, and be capable of defending yourself and your faith if necessary.
- Send your ears to the gathering before your tongue. Listening before talking builds others up and paves the way for trust.
- Finally and over time, your actions will open the door for you to share the Good News. When that door opens, don't get on a soap box; simply share the blessings of the faith life as you know them from your personal experience.
St. Francis, founder of the Franciscan order which sent hundreds of missionaries to the New World, gave some of the best advice on how to be a blessing to others: "Preach the Gospel wherever you go; if necessary, use words." In other words, at holiday gatherings, seek to be a blessing by your actions. Help with the cooking and cleaning. Get up a game of ball with restless young natives and give their mothers a break. Realize that, since few families, neighbors, or co-workers are completely united in their faith lives, holiday conflicts are inevitable. Also realize that, just like our Catholic forefathers, your own motives for interacting with the assembled ‘tribe' will be mixed. Consequently, your results will be mixed too, but don't sweat it. Just keep reminding yourself, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."