by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
This past weekend, I was in St. Louis for the annual meeting of the Order of Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem from the North Central Region of the United States that has members from North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas. It is an international Catholic and primarily lay order, whose mission is to help preserve the important Christian sites in the Holy Land, assist the Christians living in the Holy Land, and encourage each other to grow in holiness and the practice of our Catholic faith.
One of the guest speakers was John Mozeliak, who is the director of baseball operations for the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals have had a dreary season. I had many suggestions that I wanted to offer him on how to improve the Cardinals for next year.
Mr. Mozeliak is a serious Catholic who participates in daily Mass. The subject of his talk was not about running a major league baseball franchise, but the importance of his Catholic faith for his personal and professional life. He shared how his faith helped him navigate the ups and downs of being a leader of a complicated business enterprise that is under a lot of public scrutiny by its passionate fans. In other words, there are a lot of people, like me, who have a lot of suggestions on how he should do his job!
Mr. Mozeliak talked about how his faith was a source of peace and strength for him. In his professional responsibilities, he travels frequently. Mr. Mozeliak treasures the fact that wherever he travels domestically or abroad, he can always find a Catholic church and participate in Mass. He likes the fact that no matter where he is in the world, he can experience being spiritually at home.
If someone asked you —“Why are you Catholic?” — what would be your reply?
While at World Youth Day in Lisbon, I had the opportunity to actually try to articulate my answer to that question during a 10-minute Uber ride. The driver was a young man in his early 20s.
Our conversation began with some of the usual small talk. I asked him if World Youth Day had been good for business. With more than a million young pilgrims in Lisbon, it complicated the life of a driver. Portions of many major streets were closed to auto traffic in order to accommodate walking routes for hundreds of thousands of pedestrians. At the same time, it was an economic windfall for an Uber driver because there were thousands more people who needed a ride.
He was impressed by the number and youth of the pilgrims. He asked me why we had all descended on Portugal. I asked him if he was Catholic. He responded that he did not have any religious affiliation. I asked him if he believed in God. He replied rather emphatically: Yes! He was convinced there must be a God. To him, it was obvious that the world, the universe, the cosmos did not just happen by chance. He believed that there must be a Creator.
I commended him on his wisdom of realizing that there must be a God, who fashioned the world and the cosmos. I told him that as Christians, we believe that this Creator of the Cosmos seeks to have a personal relationship, a friendship with us. We believe in a God who offers us the opportunity to share in his divine life. We believe in a God who humbled himself to become a tiny embryo in the womb of Mary and was born into humble circumstances, and his name is Jesus. Jesus experienced completely our humanity, even suffering and death. However, Jesus defeated death by rising from the dead. Jesus is alive!
The driver was listening carefully and really appeared to be trying to understand. He asked: “If Jesus is real, why is there still so much suffering?” I replied: “Jesus did not promise to protect us from suffering. However, Jesus told us that we would never be alone in our adversities. Jesus will be with us, and he will bring good forth from evil, life from death.”
I told him how I had seen this in my own family life. I shared about the tragedy of my father’s death and yet how my mother trusted that God was still with her and could bring good out of evil.
He asked me if I had ever met Jesus. I said: “Yes! I met him today in this special prayer, the Eucharist. I told him that I speak with Jesus every day, but, more importantly, I try to listen for his voice that speaks through the Bible and in silence. I shared that Jesus brings me peace, even in the midst of struggles, and strength in difficulties.
My ride was over. I promised to pray that my young driver would meet Jesus!
St. Peter exhorts us: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pt 3: 15).
You never know when the opportunity will arise to share the gift of your Catholic faith with another. I encourage you to think about how you would respond if someone asks you this week: “Why are you Catholic?” Whether you are a baseball executive or a bleacher fan, an archbishop or parishioner in the pew, we should be ready to give an explanation for our hope.