Thanksgiving dinner – where many generations gather around the table in gratitude each year – is a prime opportunity to evangelize to non-practicing Catholic family members or to those who embrace no particular faith.
Taking time away from the rush of preparations, refilling of drinks and basting of the turkey, admittedly, could introduce an uncomfortable level of stress that many of us want to avoid.
Still, Thanksgiving Day is a perfect chance to re-establish family bonds and offer friends and family an example of living one’s Catholic faith, says Katie Dawson, director Parish Evangelization and Faith Formation for the Diocese of Orange.
“In the hustle and bustle of the holidays I want to make a meaningful connection with each person – my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews,” Dawson explains. “I want to be the one person in their life that they can have a good conversation with; cultivating a meaningful relationship with them is the first step.”
Creating that connection often requires mere curiosity about the other person, she adds. For example, a meaningful discussion with her 12-year-old niece begins by asking about who her friends are and which teacher is her favorite.
“I don’t want to come away from holidays having gone just a quarter-inch deep with my nieces and nephews,” she notes. “It takes real intentionality on my part to think ahead of time about who I going to talk to and what questions will lead to a meaningful conversation.”
One of Dawson’s favorite opening questions for family members she hasn’t seen in a while is, ‘What is keeping you busy lately?’ and ‘What’s the best thing that’s happening in your life right now?’ she says. “It’s good questions that set the table for an evangelical moment.”
Once rapport is established, Dawson says, evangelizing efforts can proceed successfully, provided one is open and caring rather than agenda driven. We earn the right to be heard through our own listening.
“So, my expectation is that if I ask good questions, at some point the person I’m talking to will ask me a question. Then I want to say something intelligent and meaningful and not formulaic.”
Rather than using Thanksgiving as the chance to order our nieces and nephews to stop cohabitating with their lovers and get back to church, for example, she says we must share our own authentic and meaningful experiences of God’s presence in our lives.
“Pope Francis said that it should greatly concern us when others are deprived of the consolation of faith,” Dawson says. “As adults we know that our relationship with God is a great source of strength, solace and comfort.”
While many people perceive religion as all about the rules, we faithful Catholics know that rules are not the defining reality of our faith. “God loves each of our family members beyond measure and we need to immerse ourselves in that reality and love them with that same kind of love.”
Indeed, Dawson says, our actions speak louder than words when it comes to bearing witness to others.
“What strikes me is how important it is for us to be ourselves properly aligned – focused properly on our own lived experience of God, and joy, and the delight that God wants us to experience,” Dawson notes. “We show them the gift God is in our lives and by doing so we take on the heart of God for them.”