A few months back, I went out to dinner with a few friends and friends-of-friends. It was a mixed group of both Catholics and non-Catholic Christians, and at some point we got onto the topic of prayer. We began comparing different forms of prayer, but as our conversation continued, one of the mothers present began to appear visibly more agitated. Finally, she just burst out, “Prayer is personal, and we should all just keep it to ourselves. You’re all just being very judge-y towards those of us who aren’t as holy as you!” We were all immediately brought to silence and quickly changed the subject.
The mom’s comment continued to bother me for the rest of the night. Had I been judging her? Definitely not consciously. I didn’t really know that much about her prayer life. I had shared a bit about my spiritual life, but I’d never intended to compare it to others. The conversation had always seemed very positive to me, and I had enjoyed learning about the different approaches to prayer embraced by the different moms.
Once I felt confident that I had never attempted to judge the other moms, I began to consider the other comments. Was prayer just personal? Well, in one sense, of course it was. It was my prayer after all. The prayers I prayed alone were personal, but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t share them. I regularly shared insights I had gained while meditating on the Scriptures. On occasion, I talked with my friends about how my prayer life was improving based on new or altered prayer forms. I shared the books I read, and the reflections I made. My personal prayer was mine, but it was also mine to share.
At the core of this other mom’s argument was the idea that our prayer was meant to be private. It was supposed to be done behind closed doors, and that’s where it was supposed to stay. Prayer was not a public matter. It was not supposed to be shared. It was not meant to be imposed on others.
But I had never intended to impose my faith on the other moms. I was not trying to convert the non-Catholics, or accusing the other Catholics of not being as holy as me. Yes, I want to be holy, but I still think I have a lot of work to do. I didn’t see this dinner as primarily an evangelization opportunity; it had been a socialization event. I had gone to enjoy myself, to share stories, to enjoy communion with other moms. But that still left me wondering: Is faith really meant to be private? Am I not supposed to evangelize?
I have had well-meaning Catholics argue that evangelization is just for the priests. That’s why they give homilies. They are meant to be the great evangelizers, not us. We’re just supposed to practice our faith in private, or inside the church walls at the most. The priests are the ones who are supposed to be spreading the Gospel.
But that’s just not the Gospel truth. That idea is just not biblical. Sure, the Apostles were all priests, but there were also plenty of non-priests who were missionaries and evangelists in their own neighborhoods. There was Stephen, a deacon (and therefore not a priest) who was martyred for proclaiming the faith in the public square and in the synagogue. There was Lydia, a female entrepreneur who also opened her home to the early Church. There were Priscilla and Aquila, a married couple who served as missionaries under St. Paul. Even the male missionaries, who were most likely priests and bishops, were not preaching in churches as you think of them today. They preached in the synagogues, yes, but they were also preaching on the street corners, in peoples’ homes, in the public square. Clearly, no one thought that the faith was meant to be a private matter.
And why should it be? Think about the Gospel message. Jesus Christ came to die and rise again to new life so that we might enjoy eternal life with God in Heaven after we die. This is good news for all people. This is a promise that speaks of eternity. No wonder people wanted to share it. Everyone needs to hear it. And deep in the human heart, everyone wants to hear it. The promise of eternal life and love speaks to the deepest longings of the human heart, something we cannot do on our own, but only through the power of God. So no, preaching the Gospel message is not just for priests at the pulpit. It’s for every Christian who truly believes. Because if you believe in the Good News- the fact that Jesus Christ came, died, and rose so that we might have eternal life- why wouldn’t you want to share it with the world? It’s the best news anyone will ever get.