One at a time. It’s a common phrase I have to use with my kids, whether it’s when they grab all their toys at once or shovel food into their mouths.
It’s also a phrase we commonly use as adults. “I’m taking things one day at a time” is often heard interchangeably with “living the dream,” especially when life becomes difficult and sarcasm sets in.
Certain we’ve seen things become difficult, especially for the Church. This past year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called for a National Eucharistic Revival, citing the 2019 Pew Study which found that only 30 percent of Catholics believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
To this end, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., commenced this revival in our diocese with Mass and a procession on June 18, where a 1st class relic of Blessed Carlo Acutis was also be present. Blessed Acutis died in 2006 at the age of 15 and notably had a great devotion to Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist, so much so that he created an online exhibit of all the Eucharistic miracles in the world (www.miracolieucaristici.org). The diocese has a physical version of this exhibit available to be loaned to parishes and schools.
Recently, I was able to bring a portion of the exhibit to a local festa for public viewing. Apart from the nostalgia of smelling like grilled sardines and enjoying a bowl of favas guisadas — like my dad and I would always get — festas are always interesting times to people-watch and talk. Throw in an exhibit on the Eucharist and you double the fun.
Some would view the panels, which depicted several Eucharistic miracles, and move on. Others would linger and talk.
There was an aunt explaining to her niece who Blessed Acutis was. A fallen away Catholic asking questions about a book. A Catholic and non-Catholic discussing together. A woman sharing that she still believes. A very nice man talking, and talking. And of course, pockets of time with no one there.
The tricky part about evangelizing is that we can be tempted to approach it like consumerism. We want big results, fast. What’s the silver bullet? What’s the full proof plan or strategy? How can we get more people in the pews? How can I get my family back to church?
Being there with the exhibit, through the ebbs and flows of foot traffic, reminded me of the daily Mass readings, specifically the reading from Acts 16:11-15. In it, St. Paul went to Philipi in Macedonia and sits by the city gate to pray. While there, he encountered a group of women and spoke the Gospel to them. Acts shares that “one of them, a women named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, a worshiper of God, listened.”
One person listened. One.
That seems extremely unsuccessful. One person in an entire city? And St. Paul is considered to be one of the most (if not the most) successful evangelists of all time?
Yet, Acts goes on to say that as Lydia listened to St. Paul, “the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying.” Afterwards, she and her household were baptized.
All the Lord needs is one person truly to listen and He will move in their hearts as He did with Lydia.
I would argue that this is what made St. Paul, and many other saints throughout the ages, successful at sharing the Good News. While on various occasions they may have spoken to crowds, they truly evangelized and mentored individuals one person at a time.
It’s not a bad rule to put into practice. It can be overwhelming to consider how to bring more people to church. But one person? That can be more manageable.
I’ve shared before how I pray with my son when I put him to bed. The other day, he was particularly nervous as the next day he would be visiting his future kindergarten. After I read him a story, talked and prayed with him, my wife put him to bed. Meanwhile, I took our two-year-old daughter for bedtime. In the process I asked her if we could pray together for her brother, and so we did. Our two-year-old stood there and prayed for her brother.
She was my “one person” that day.
Can sharing the Good News with someone else be hard? Certainly. That’s why I started with my five- and two-year-old.
Does it take time and effort? Yes. For instance, while the pandemic greatly exacerbated a decline in Mass attendance, that decline was already occurring before the pandemic. Similarly, it will take time and effort to turn this trend around.
Can it be awkward? Absolutely. Just ask the guy who went to a festa to share about the Eucharist while eating favas.
But imagine if all of us who already are in the pews were each willing to build a relationship with one other person, share the Good News of Christ with them, and invite them into the community.
And, conversely, imagine if we don’t.
Will the next generation have faith? Well, that in part depends on us. We can’t afford not to act; to not try.
If we want to see more people have a relationship with the Lord, if we want to see revival actually happen, if we want to see more people in church, then commit to reaching one person. Then, someone else.
One at a time.
Anchor columnist David Carvalho is the senior director for Faith Formation, Youth, Young Adult and Family Life Ministries for the Diocese of Fall River. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.