Not many people find our front porch unless they are looking for it. We live in a rural area, and our driveway is almost 500 feet long. So when I opened my front door that morning and found an elderly African-American gentleman standing there, Bible in hand, I was pretty sure I knew what was coming.
“I Don’t Meet Many Catholics Like You”
A visitor, courtesy of the local Kingdom Hall.
Walter was in his mid-seventies, and had been a Jehovah’s Witness for fifty years. Like me, he had experienced a rejuvenation of faith in his mid-twenties, and had left the Methodist church in which he had been raised in order to fully embrace “the truth.”
“Have you ever thought about what God expects of you?” he asked kindly.
“Oh, all the time!” I responded. “My husband and I are Catholic, and it took us both quite some time to find the way home.”
The conversation turned warm and personal as I asked about his wife, to whom he had been married over fifty years. “Do you know, Walter, that the Church teaches that the family is the ‘domestic church’ because it is a reflection of the kind of love God has for us? God gives us a human family and a Church family because, in His heart of hearts, He is a family Father, Son and Holy Spirit!”
“My goodness!” he exclaimed. “You certainly are strong in your faith. I don’t meet many Catholics like you.” We chatted some more, and Walter told me that he gets up every morning at five to study the Bible for two hours. He has fifty-three translations of the Bible in his study.
“Wow! Two hours every morning! I wish I could say that,” I admitted. “With two small children, some days I have barely enough time for a few verses and a quick prayer over the kitchen sink… And do you know what gets me through those days, Walter?”
He blinked. Clearly, the conversation was not going according to the script. Finally, he managed a weak, “No, what?”
“The fact that the Lord strengthens me with His own Body and Blood in the Eucharist, that He has given His mother to pray for me in heaven, and His Church and the sacraments to guide me when I lose my way in the world.”
Taking Direction from Above
Walter was back a week later, booklet in hand. “Oh, something from the Watchtower?” I asked casually. He smiled. “I wanted to give you something to read.”
I knew what it was, and decided to up the ante a bit. “I’ll tell you what, Walter,” I said. “I’ll take what you give me, if you will take something I have for you.”
His eyes clouded with suspicion. “Well, that depends on what it is,” he said guardedly. I ran upstairs to my study, intending to find a pamphlet on the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Then I felt the strangest catch in my chest, as though this was not what God wanted me to do. My eyes fell on my short stack of With Mary in Prayer, which had recently gone out of print. The publisher sold me the remaining stock, but I had less than ten copies left. Briefly I argued with God. “But, Lord… I have so few of these left. He probably won’t even read it! Are you sure?”
He was. Sighing, I picked up a copy and took it downstairs. “Walter, I have something very special here there are only a few copies of this book left in print, and I’d like you to have one.”
“You wrote this book?” the shock was plain on his face.
I nodded. “But I don’t want you to take it unless you are really going to read it.”
He gently pulled the book from my hand and placed it in his oversized Bible. “Why did you write a book about the mother of Jesus?” he wanted to know.
A Dinner Invitation
“I wasn’t always Catholic,” I reminded my visitor. “In the beginning, it was difficult for me to understand why Catholics honor Mary the way we do. Actually, it wasn’t until I became a mother that I really understood it…”
“How mothers operate differently from fathers. Fathers worry about college tuition; mothers worry about milk money. Fathers look to the “big picture” stuff, protecting the family from the cold realities of life. A mother’s love is in the details. And so, when Jesus came to earth to make us children of God, it wasn’t enough to restore us to His Father He had to give us His mother, too. All the millions of little things that a mother carries in her heart Mary understands those. So she will intercede for me as no other human being can, because she is the one closest to the heart of her Son.”
Walter soon left, and I found myself returning again and again to our conversation in the quiet moments. Why had I not done more to “defend” the Catholic faith, to convince him that his faith did not have a foundation he could trust? Why didn’t I pull down my own Bible, and show him verse by verse how his exegesis was faulty, his belief system a sham? There was a time when I would have done just that but somehow this time, I sensed this was not the approach to take.
Maybe I’m just getting soft in my old age.
Maybe I’m not as sharp as I once was.
Or maybe I’ve just learned through painful personal experience that people are better able to hear truth when they aren’t on the defensive. “This is how all men will know you are my disciples,” said Jesus, “that you have love one for another.”
And so, instead of sending Walter away with an anti-Watchtower tract, I gave him a blessing and an open invitation for him and his wife to dinner. Who knows if Walter will ever trudge up my long driveway again? This much I do know: If he does, the Hound of Heaven will meet him half-way. And His mother will be close behind.
© Copyright 2006 Catholic Exchange
Heidi Hess Saxton is a regular contributor to CatholicExchange.com and Canticle magazine, and a graduate student of theology at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, Michigan. She and her husband Craig are adoptive parents of two foster children and one recalcitrant Border Collie. For more of her writing, go to http://heidihesssaxton.blogspot.com.