Last month did you forget to go fishing?

At the end of my February article, I gave a homework assignment. At this point it looks like I need to give an extension because my phone has been silent! The homework assignment was this:

When you go to Mass on the weekend, make it your personal intention for that Mass to ask the Lord Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to place in your heart one person who you no longer see or rarely see at Mass. If the Holy Spirit places in your heart a name, I invite you to contact that person and reconnect with them. Simply tell them that their name came to your mind and heart and you want to reconnect with them. Then call me at 605-716-5214 x235 or email and let me know how it went.

Making connections with one another is how we begin to build up a bridge of trust which opens the door for further conversations about things that truly matter — a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and his church.

Sherry Weddell, in her book “Forming Intentional Disciples: the Path to Knowing and Following Jesus,” outlines five thresholds of conversion: initial trust, spiritual curiosity, spiritual openness, spiritual seeking and intentional discipleship.

Weddell writes, “Without some kind of bridge of trust in place, people will not move closer to God.”

I remember several years back I was visiting with a young couple about the baptism of their son. They were seeking baptism for their son, but were not active in their Catholic faith, in particular the Sunday celebration of Eucharist. I rarely saw them at Mass. My initial conversation with this young couple did not go very well. As a matter of fact, they almost got up and walked out of the rectory.

I was simply too hard on them, laying down the guidelines and obligations they have as parents in raising their child in the Catholic faith. I just kept hammering home to them their obligation to attend Sunday Mass and demanding some reassurance that their child would be raised in the Catholic faith.

At one point during our meeting they had had enough and started to collect their belongings and move toward the door. I had been too harsh. But for some reason, as they walked toward the door, the husband looked at me and asked, “Did you ever know Father Dale Kutil? He married us.”

I said, “Of course I knew Father Dale Kutil.”

I began to share some stories of Father Dale and the three of us laughed together. I shared with them an experience I had right before he died of cancer. An amazing thing happened as we shared stories about Fr. Dale. They began to unpack their belongings and return to the couch and we finished discussing the baptism of their son.

Father Dale became this “bridge of trust” that led this couple a step closer to God and, hopefully, a more lively Catholic faith. After the baptism, I received this note from that couple: “Father Mark, thank you for reaching out to us and being part of our son’s baptism. It was a beautiful, meaningful baptism and God has blessed our family in so many ways. We are very fortunate. Thanks again for sharing it with us.”

I learned a great deal in this encounter with this young family, discovering how important it was to first build a bridge of trust if my desire was to bring them closer to Christ and his church.

Weddell indicates that non-practicing Catholics and former Catholics do not have a bridge of trust in place which would enable them to retrace their steps. She cautions us to avoid such things as defensiveness or coming across in a judgmental or critical way when visiting with people that seem to have a nominal practice of the Catholic faith.

This was the trap that I fell into with this young couple. Because I came across as judgmental and harsh, instead of drawing them closer to Christ and his church, I started to drive them away at a time when they had made a step forward by seeking baptism for their son.

Father Raniero Cantalamessa, in an article titled “Christ Yesterday and Today,” writes:

“For the clergy it is easier to be pastors than to be fishermen — that is, it is easier to nourish those who come to the church through word and the sacraments than it is to seek out those who are far off in cultural environments that are very different. The parable of the lost sheep is reversed today: 99 sheep have gone off and one remains in the sheepfold. The danger for us is to spend all our time nourishing this one remaining sheep and not to have time — also because of the scarcity of clergy — to seek out those who are lost. The contribution of the laity in this situation seems providential.”

I’m inspired by the words of Father. Cantalamessa, which are an echo of Jesus’ words to Peter and Andrew in Matthew 4:19 NAB: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Being a person of great hope, I ask that you use that homework extension and seek out the 99, build a bridge of trust with them and lead them to a closer walk with Christ and his church.

And if you are moved by the Spirit, please take a minute to report back to me. I would love to hear how your fishing went!