OUND UP WITH THE CELEBRATION OF EASTER is the reading of the Acts of the Apostles. It’s fascinating to me to read, year after year, about the initial fervor and drama of the Christian way. Among the most evocative episodes in the book is the scene wherein Stephen debates people from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, & Asia—folks from all corners of the world. Stephen’s words were so persuasive that the people “could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke” (Acts 6:10).
How do we reconcile that scene with our personal experience? Surely, we all know people who have heard the Gospel message but who have not been overwhelmed by it. Think of the Millennials who were raised by good, faithful parents but who have grown apathetic toward faith. Think of all the students who graduate from 8 or 12 or 16 years of Catholic education only to drift away from the Church. Think of the many catechumens & candidates who come through RCIA but fade back into oblivion after Pentecost. The faith was taught to them, but it wasn’t well received. How do we deal with this reality when we compare it to Stephen’s experience?
We ought not to feel inadequate if our children or friends or classmates have not swooned over our evangelatory efforts. It is a teaching of the Church that we receive grace only insofar as we are disposed to receive it. This helps to explain why it’s not possible to force faith upon anyone. Faith must be accepted. The closed doors of the hardened heart must be broken open if faith is to find a home. No mere man has the power to throw open the doors of another person’s heart, no matter how charming his rhetoric.
There are, however, tools one can employ to aid the process of conversion. The most compelling things in the world are Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, which philosophy dubs the “Transcendentals.” These three ideals transcend the things of earth and represent the universal aspirations of humanity. Every human heart longs for that which is true & good & beautiful. Nothing we experience in life is more compelling than truth that is taught clearly, goodness that is demonstrated sincerely, and beauty that is revealed intimately. These things can make stiff hearts supple, better disposed to receive the wisdom and Spirit of Christ.
There is something appealing about truths that are systematically laid out for us. There is something heartwarming about goodness that is freely given. There is something vital about beauty that is recognizable in art & music & architecture & liturgy & life.
While we cannot force faith upon others, we can strive to teach the truth clearly, demonstrate sincere goodness, and live life beautifully. By doing these things well, the witness of our very lives can become a convincing sign of the Kingdom.