In a moment when she was not expecting to be asked to evangelize, Kathryn Swegart relied on the advice of St. Peter.
Life was as usual that summer day as I walked down our hill and past a little red house at the corner. A new neighbor lives in the old house, paint peeling off the clapboards, and the porch lined with potted tomato plants. Maggie lives there by herself. I have chatted with her, commenting on her Brooklyn accent and little dog named Wacky.
Wacky is a scruffy mutt with a broken tooth and a fierce way of barking aggressively at strangers.
“Don’t pat him,” Maggie said, “He might bite.”
I stepped back and noticed a bumper sticker displaying a cross.
“Oh, you are a Christian,” I commented.
“I am a born-again Christian,” she replied.
“I am a Roman Catholic.”
“I used to be Catholic.”
And so it began.
Maggie was a fallen-away Catholic who did not believe in confessing to a priest, purgatory, and praying to saints. Our conversation was cordial. Maggie had many questions. Why confess to a priest when I can go directly to Jesus? Where is the word purgatory found in the Bible? Why pray to saints? After all, they are dead.
I answered her in a matter-of-fact manner, pointing out that the word trinity is also not in the Bible. For that matter, the word bible is not in the Bible. I pointed out other historical facts. First-century Christians believed in all things Catholic, including the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. For several hundred years, there was no Bible. The faithful relied on oral tradition.
Maggie had a quizzical look on her face. All this was new to her.
Admittedly, my presentation was not perfect. I fumbled for the scriptural reference to Jesus conferring on Peter and the Apostles the power to loose and bind sins. My defense of purgatory could have had more clout. I did follow the advice of St. Peter.
Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence. (1 Peter 3:15-16a)
I was not the first Catholic Maggie engaged in conversation. Many years ago, she stood on the Coney Island boardwalk, Bible in hand, to evangelize all who would listen.
She reflected on that experience. “Catholics were the hardest to evangelize.”
We came to the end of our chat. I hoped it was the first of many. I bid Maggie adieu and glanced at Wacky. He stopped barking and seemed to trust me, just a little bit. I took that as a good sign.
Copyright 2022 Kathryn Swegart