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St Peter Chrysologus
Archbishop of Ravenna, Doctor of the Church (entered heaven around 450)
Every time I write your name (even though it is quite beautiful, don’t get me wrong) I have flashbacks to your mother’s early days, when she and my brother (that’s your dad) were living in that log cabin in Wyoming (do you remember it?). The experiment in primitive lifestyles failed, but there was one happy result: you. And speaking of experiments, I was overjoyed to read your last note, since in it you ask for advice on “how to share my faith without appearing self-righteous or alienating my friends.” It is a worthy question, one which today’s saint is qualified to answer.
Peter was born in northern Italy and received an excellent and personalized education from the local bishop, who ordained him a deacon. Soon afterward, under obscure circumstances (some say the Pope was given instructions in a divine vision), he was made archbishop of Ravenna, on the northeastern coast of the Italian peninsula – the city where the emperor resided. He dedicated himself to eradicating the (abundant) remnants of paganism and reforming the lax morals within his diocese. He was marvelously successful, and one of his most characteristics tactics is the perfect solution for your own predicament.
You see, St Peter was an inspired preacher, so energetic that he would sometimes become sufficiently excited in the middle of a sermon or homily that he could no longer speak; he would just stand there, fuming with zeal, until the passion subsided. His many exhortations and talks earned him (much later) the honor of being named a Doctor of the Church (a Doctor of the Church is a saint whose “writing or preaching is outstanding for guiding the faithful in all periods of the Church’s history”), in addition to putting his diocese in order. What was his secret? He addressed himself to the needs of his audience. And that’s exactly how you can effectively speak about Christ and the Church without alienating anybody (except those who will be alienated no matter what you do – there will always be people like that). You have got to listen to the other people, to take a real, sincere interest in them as people loved by God, to know what their needs and struggles are, and present the teaching of the gospel in such a way that it meets those needs. That’s charity, that’s tact, that’s Christian evangelization.
One of the characteristics of his audiences that St Peter identified was a short attention span. For that reason, almost all his discourses are noticeably brief. You can see just from that rather humorous fact that he was much more interested in helping his hearers find and embrace the truth than winning a reputation for himself. If you follow his example (of sincere charity, not necessarily of brevity), you will give ample room for the Holy Spirit to do plenty of surprising work.
Devotedly, Your Uncle, Eddy