Eleven years ago I sat with my wife at the edge of the baptismal font with our hands on Ryan’s back, along with the priest’s. Three dunks later he was a child of God. It was no small journey. He, like St. Augustine, was a philosopher. His questions flowed like an endless stream over late night beers. He became our dear friend, though we knew he might never become a brother in Christ.
It wasn’t until Holy Thursday that Ryan willed to believe in God. While listening to the Nicene Creed at Mass, he allowed grace a small opening when he asked himself, “Do I believe that? And if not, what do I believe in?” His walls of resistance fell, one after another, as the creed went on, “Yes! I believe in God the Father almighty. …Yes! I believe in the resurrection of the body! … Yes! I believe in the forgiveness of sin, too! …Yes! I do believe!” Two days later the waters of baptism rippled with yet another convert.
Five years later Ryan fell in love with a beautiful Taiwanese Buddhist woman. During their engagement they were praying together before a statue of Mary. About to give up on their conversations about Christiani-ty, Ryan prayed in the quiet of his heart, “Mary, should I be trying to bring her into the Church? Should she even become a Catholic?” A voice filled his soul with a loud and loving, “Yes!” He started weeping. When he noticed that she had been weeping as well and asked what was wrong, she said, “I asked Mary if I should become a Catholic and she said, ‘Yes!’”
Last weekend we got the rare honor of being “grand-godparents” to Ryan and Elizabeth’s baby, Ambrose. The chances are that with parents like that, Ambrose’s grandchildren will enter the baptismal font some day as well. It was one of those rare moments when I got to see the ripple effect of faith—and the impact that talking to an agnostic philosopher about Jesus over a few beers can have on generations of people.
The early Christians had no strategic plan. They tried their best to follow Jesus, love the poor, and share the faith with their friends. They could never have guessed what ripples would come from each of them. (I wonder what nameless early Christian saint I can attribute my family’s faith to. I’m sure I’ll get the opportunity to thank him or her someday.) They could never have guessed that by building small faith communities they would bring down an empire and set a chain of events in motion that would end with over 1 billion Christians 2,000 years later, and would civilize the world, starting the hospital and university systems, preserving the classics from barbarian raids, starting the largest social service provider on earth (yup, we did all that!), and, in short, building a civilization of love based on human dignity.
It’s easy to get distracted and distressed about the problems in the world. Society is ever drifting into violence, war, sexual immorality, waging war on the family…the list goes on. While it’s important for Christians to engage the culture war on every front, it’s not as important as Christians taking their agnostic philosopher friends out for a beer, listening, loving and leading them to the One we are trying our best to follow. History has proven that such simple acts can bring down an empire in just a few hundred years.