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On Stepping Out of the Boat

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This article first appeared in the Summer issue of Marian Helper magazine. Receive a free copy.

"Our Church leaders have been saying that, as Catholics, we need to be prepared to put out into the deep and to step out of the boat — to be evangelists and to share and spread God's love for us," says Paula Marinoni, a real estate broker from Fayetteville, Arkansas. Paula shares how she found herself out in deep water and what she decided to do next.

You're a cradle Catholic. You say when you reached adulthood, you realized something wasn't quite right in parish life?

Much to my surprise, when I went to Kansas City to start a career and found a Catholic church to attend, I found it anything but welcoming. In fact, I couldn't get anyone to talk to me. For 10 years, nothing — except a lady told me once that she liked my dress and another time a lady turned around and asked me to move my purse, that it was in the way of her feet. I even volunteered to bring food for funeral meals, thinking that might be a way to serve and meet someone. One day I was out and came into contact with a woman who said that my name was very familiar to her. She finally realized, "Oh, you're on my Funeral Meals Committee!" I said, "Yes, and you have never called me in two years!" She said, "Well, you know how it is. It's just easier to call the people you know." (Boom, crash — bomb gets dropped!) I said, "But that's why I signed up, because I don't know anyone, and I want to help and meet other Catholics!"

In one parish that I joined, the long-time members were so territorial that any new person was considered an "outsider" and shunned, if not treated with hostility.

But instead of leaving the Church, you dug in?

Yes. When you say, "Here I am, Lord" and give yourself as a servant at His feet for whatever His will might be at any given time, then you will find that the Holy Spirit goes into overdrive. That's what I did. I said, "Here I am, Lord."

What I came to understand was that we have to first engage in evangelizing ourselves. Learn the faith. Wake up, listen, contemplate, and take action in whatever way we are able. We can't expect our priests to be able to do it all. We move forward in evangelization only when the treasure of the Church — you and I, God's children — hear the command of Jesus and step out of the boat and walk in faith.

Such as how?

Be an evangelist right where you are. Pick up the phone and ask a family member who may not be going to church anymore, "Hey, how about coming to Mass with me? I'll pick you up, and we'll have lunch afterwards." Or, if you see a pamphlet, a prayercard, or inspirational Catholic booklet, ask permission from the priest to order some to put out in the prayercard rack or in the Adoration chapel. For every person who picks one up and reads it, you will have made a difference. I've managed to give out over 21,000 prayercards and booklets in the last five years. I certainly don't say this to be prideful, but to just stress that anyone can be an evangelist, a witness to the richness of our faith. Also, volunteer at your parish.

And make people feel welcome.

Yes! Change has to start on the most basic level of parish life. Ask yourself if your parish is welcoming.

I think parishes need to have greeters at the main doors, especially on the lookout for new people. The exit of most Catholic churches is similar to that of a salmon run: "Stand back, they're coming through!" There needs to be an opportunity for people to talk to each other. Have an evangelization station with materials that can help Catholics grow in faith. Every parish needs a lending library because there are generations of us who were never fully catechized.

For me, I'll never forget the first time I was given the pamphlet Divine Mercy Chaplet for the Sick and the Dying from Marian Press. It was life changing. Thus, because I became a very vocal and active Divine Mercy promoter and pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy daily during the 3 o'clock hour, it has become eternally life changing for the many others for whom I pray. All this is the result of someone sharing a pamphlet with me.

So you sound like you've grown comfortable with stepping out of the boat.

I'm definitely not always comfortable — but I don't recall Jesus ever saying, "Go, therefore, and make of My Church the best kept secret of all time."

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Sonia - Jun 27, 2017

Thank you. I find this very helpful, and I am going to try to look for new people at church and smile. This makes sense to me as I have been actively trying to learn my faith now for a few years through Bible and small group studies and reading, and you're right -- I am meeting many more people at church and it is getting easier to step out of the boat. This Saturday I will even be joining a St. Paul Street Evangelization team that has just started close to the local Farmers Market where we will be offering the people who walk by free rosaries and Miraculous Medals along with information, and, if they accept one, inviting them to come to church (in a non-aggressive way -- out of love). Not something I ever imagined I could do until now. I see here how important it is for us to be welcoming to anyone who does take us up on our invitation.