by Joe Bollig
LEAWOOD — By all rights, Michael Shirley should have died in 2004.
That fall, he was driving to Prairie Star Ranch near Williamsburg to lead a men’s retreat for the Church of the Nativity Parish.
Outside of Ottawa, his car was broadsided on the driver’s side by a car going 75 miles per hour.
“When the emergency medical technician came to the scene, he asked, ‘Where’s the fatality?’ and bystanders pointed to me, standing eight feet from him,” said Shirley.
His car was totaled, but Shirley didn’t even have a scratch.
“Boy, you don’t know how lucky you are,” said the amazed EMT.
“Luck has nothing to do with it,” Shirley told him.
Shirley was able to get a ride to the ranch and give his retreat. Later that evening, he lay in his bunk, unable to sleep because his body was sore and his mind preoccupied by the day’s events.
That’s when he had his “encounter with God.”
“I helped you build your kingdom,” God seemed to tell him. “Now help me build mine.”
“That turned my life around,” said Shirley. “I was working and doing well, faithful and reasonably devout, but he got my attention.”
It was clear that God wanted him for full-time service to build the kingdom of God. Ever since that accident, and especially since he retired eight years ago, Shirley’s life has been focused on various evangelization efforts.
His most recent effort has him going door to door.
“I volunteered to head up the lay evangelization initiative at the Church of the Nativity,” said Shirley, who is a member of the Leawood parish. “We’ve been doing it for two and a half years.”
He leads a group of 10 men and women who go to people’s homes to talk with them.
“We just put out in our parish bulletin that we had people in the parish who were ready and willing to go out and talk with anybody that someone would like us to talk to — a husband, a brother, a son, a neighbor, whatever,” said Shirley.
“I went out to people’s homes, upon invitation, and made an effort to engage them with the parish,” he continued. “That doesn’t start with ‘You need to come to Mass,’ particularly if they are former Catholics. It starts with ‘Why don’t you come to a fish fry, why don’t you come to a men’s group, why don’t you join the Knights of Columbus?’”
He’s also made cold calls going door to door at Christmas and Easter in his neighborhood, asking, “What are you doing for Christmas?” or “What are you doing for Easter?”
People would reply, “Are you asking me to go to your church?”
Not necessarily, Shirley would say. He’d invite them to go to any church. But sometimes, he’d find an inactive Catholic, and later he’d see them at church.
Why does Catholic evangelization fail? It’s simple, said Shirley. Catholics simply don’t do it. Many Catholics think evangelization is more complicated than it really is. They are needlessly intimidated and think they don’t know how.
Actually, evangelization is something all Catholics can and should do.
“I think it’s actually pretty straightforward,” said Shirley. “Evangelization is sharing your faith with others to entice someone to Christ. It’s simply sharing your faith and telling people about your personal encounter with Jesus Christ and how much he means to you — and what he can mean to them.”
“It’s not complicated or particularly sophisticated,” he added.
“It’s just making yourself available to tell someone else about Jesus Christ,” he explained. “The first part is the personal relationship with Christ — the understanding that you need him.
“The second part is leading them into the church.”