If you were paying attention last week, you’ll recall from my newsy little post on Friday, that Pope Francis has charged Catholics with asking the Holy Spirit for “the grace to be annoying.” His words. Not mine.
“Today we can ask the Holy Spirit to give us all this Apostolic fervor and to give us the grace to be annoying when things are too quiet in the Church, the grace to go out to the outskirts of life. The Church has so much need of this!…So let us ask the Holy Spirit for this grace of Apostolic zeal, let’s be Christians with apostolic zeal. And if we annoy people, blessed be the Lord.”
I know what you’re thinking: Easy, peazy lemon squeazy, right?
Admittedly, that was my first reaction too.
“Yes!” I thought. “Finally a grace that comes naturally to me. I don’t even have to pray for this one.”
The more I mulled it over though, the more I realized I was making the same mistake as that infamous Sicilian.
You see, to be annoying doesn’t mean to be obnoxious or insensitive or the evangelical equivalent of a bull in a china shop. Those things are easy, peazy, lemon squeazy. At least for some of us. But to be a holy pain in the you-know-whatsis? To be a joyful, peaceful, effective, and utterly confounding witness to the Gospel? Well, that does require grace, plus a whole lot of hard work.
The pope already told us how to get the grace—implore the Holy Spirit. But what about the hard work? What practical things can we do to become the most annoying of annoying Catholics?
When the world thinks of Serious Christians, this is what it expects to see:
That’s not crazy. When you’ve bought in to the idea that the big bad Catholic Church exists for the sole purpose of raining on people’s happy parade, of course you expect those living according to her teachings to be all sour-faced. And of course you’re going to be equally baffled when you encounter Serious Christians who look like this:
So, be baffling. Make like Pope Francis and radiate the joy you’ve found in Christ. Smile. Laugh. Be merry. Mystify the world with the unmistakable light beaming through you and have a darned good time doing so.
2. Be Real
Smiling is important. But so is honesty. Life isn’t happy, happy, joy, joy all the time, and the walk of faith is a tad more difficult than a walk in the park. Struggles come. So do doubts and fears and gut-wrenching confrontations with our own weakness. It’s okay to admit that. In fact, it’s more than okay.
That doesn’t mean you should treat life like it’s one, big Oprah show, broadcasting your own and your family’s demons for every Facebook friend to see. But when you need prayers, ask for them. When you’ve screwed up, own it. When people struggling with their own marriages ask you why yours is so perfect, be honest and tell them it’s not.
Basically, just remember…
Seriously, just learn to be comfortable with your own humanity. Don’t invest all your energy in trying to hide your frailties and imperfections from the world. People will learn more from the real you than they will from the fake you. The real you is the one transformed by grace. It’s the one that reveals the face of Christ. It’s the one that brings unbelievers up short. Bring ‘em up short.
3. Defy Expectations
Want to throw someone outside the Church for a loop? Then say something interesting. Or intelligent. Or witty. Talk about craft brewing on Facebook. Mention in an off-hand way the funny joke Tom Bodett cracked on “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me.” Sing the praises of J.J. Abrams. Wax poetic about Manfred Honek or Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Talk about your organic garden. Condemn faceless corporatism. Speak out against drones. Or the death penalty. Or torture. Heck, just go watch Firefly.
See, the world loves boxes. And the box into which it puts committed Catholics has “Bitter Clingers” and “Illiterate, Single-Minded, Towing-the-Republican-Party-Line Boob” stamped on it.
Don’t let them put you in that box. Be the interesting, dynamic, well-rounded, whole person God made you to be. Find the good in the culture and celebrate it. Make people think. Make people wonder. Make people confront their own prejudices. Who knows where that confrontation will lead?
4. Know the Faith
Here’s where the rubber starts hitting the road. If you want to earn a slot on the list of World’s Most Annoying Catholics, you better know what “Catholic” means. That requires knowing more than the Creed. It also requires knowing the history of the Church and the reasons we believe what we do. It requires knowing the “why” behind the hard teachings—on marriage, contraception, chastity, and homosexuality’—and not being brought up short when the wicked of the world prosper and the good shed tears.
As another Pope once said said, “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15).
5. Share Your Faith
Laughing and smiling and NPR references will only get you so far in the evangelization game. You also have to talk about Jesus—about who he is and how he’s blessing you, instructing you, and stretching you in the day.
That doesn’t mean every conversation has to include the Four Pillars of the Gospel. But when you see a co-worker struggling, ask him how you can pray for him. Invite that childhood friend who just moved back to town to come to a talk at your parish. Share CatholicVote posts (and other great stuff) on Facebook.
And no, it doesn’t matter if half the people in your newsfeed have already shared it. For some of your friends, it will be the only non-baby picture they see all day. Don’t post for the choir. Post for those who haven’t yet heard the singing.
Regardless, whatever you do, just try to talk about Jesus like you talk about any other person in your life. You don’t have existential crises over mentioning your husband or best friend in a conversation. So don’t have one over mentioning Jesus.
6. Grow a Backbone
Sharing the Gospel isn’t all funny stories about what you said to Jesus after your morning rosary. It’s also having the hard conversations no one wants to have: Confronting your brother about his live-in girlfriend, challenging your marriage-weary daughter to go back to her husband, not politely backing down when someone at the gym misrepresents the Church’s teachings on homosexuality.
Yes, those hard conversations have to be handled with gentleness and tact. It’s not just about saying what needs to be said, but also saying it at the right time and in the right way. We do want our words to actually be heard.
But evil is happening all around us. And St. Michael isn’t the only one who needs to be wrestling demons.
Right now, people are dashing their bodies and souls against the loving laws of God. And if we just stand by, refusing to do nothing more than silently watch as they dash away, we may be universally recognized as “nice,” but come Judgment Day we won’t necessarily be recognized by the One who counts.
After writer Andrew Sullivan was diagnosed with AIDS, he was shocked when Pat Buchanan sent him a kind note, saying how very sorry he was to hear the news and promising to remember Andrew in prayer. At that moment, Sullivan came to understand that “Love the sinner, hate the sin” isn’t just a saying for many Christians; it’s a way of life.
Be that Christian.
Love everyone. Smile at the clerk in the grocery store. Visit the elderly neighbor up the street. Give to the poor. Talk to the homeless. Call your mom. Babysit your best friend’s kids so she can take a nap. Make a meal for the lesbian at work whose partner just died. Send a note of congratulations to your socialist cousin who just earned his Ph.D. Tell your pro-choice college roommate who’s struggling with infertility that you’re praying for her. Praise the hard work of the gay couple that runs your favorite coffee shop.
Gay, straight, rich, poor, young, old, liberal, conservative, stranger, family—it doesn’t matter. Do unto others. You know the rest.
As always. Last but decidedly not least. If you want to be a holy pest, you’ve got to pray. You’ve got to go Mass, go to Confession, say those rosaries, and have nice long one-on-one chats with God.
In all that, you’re not just giving Sister a run for her money.
More fundamentally, you’re giving God every possible opportunity to pour his grace into your heart and transform you from within.
In the end, for each of us, that grace will accomplish everything we can’t—not only making us the most annoying Catholics on the block, but also working a transformation in those for whom we pray, a transformation they won’t see coming, and which will at first annoy them beyond their greatest imagining.
But ultimately bless them just the same.
So there you have it. Eight easy steps to becoming an annoying Christian. There probably are more. Add them to the com-box if you like. Then, get crackin’. There is no shortage of people who need annoying in this culture of ours, and time is a wastin’.
There’s got to be a meme for that.