An atheist meets Theos

We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do. — Bl. Teresa of Calcutta

Once while I was on retreat, a monk told a “conversion” story to some visitors who happened to walk in while I was sitting in the front room reading. Here’s the sum of what he said as I recall it:

A lot of our ministry here is offering an oasis of peace and prayer for people frazzled by the world. There was a woman who used to come to the pond by the monastery several times a week, and just sit there quietly staring. Once when I was walking by her I said, “Good morning.” She said, “Good morning. You’re probably wondering why I come here so much.” I replied, “Lots of people come here for reasons we don’t know. But God knows.” She said, “Well, no disrespect intended, but I don’t believe in God. But my husband died a few months ago. I live nearby and have driven by here for years. For whatever reason I felt pulled to come here after he died to allow myself a place to grieve. It’s so peaceful here. Is that okay?” I smiled and said, “Of course.” And I continued on my way.

She kept coming over the next weeks, and then one Saturday she walked into the retreat house and asked to speak to a monk. She said to the guest master that she’d been coming here to find peace with the world and realized, after almost six months, that she had just come to believe in God … She’s Catholic now. She says what drew her in was the sense on the monastery grounds that all was right with the world and she felt a strange sense of hope. But, she said to the guest master, “what really tipped me was a monk who stopped to speak to me one day. I somehow sensed in the brief time he took to talk to me that I was loved unconditionally. I made the connection in the moments after he walked away — maybe that’s what ‘God’ means. Then I was in.”

I had no idea. But that’s usually when God does His best work through us [the visitors laughed]…

I was told when I worked at a hospice run by the Missionaries of Charity that Mother Teresa had a saying, “A saint is one in whose presence it’s easy to believe in God.” I’d say that sums up the best evangelizing strategy Christians have.

+ + +

All of this has great relevance for the preaching of the Gospel, if we are really concerned to make its beauty more clearly recognized and accepted by all. Of course, we will never be able to make the Church’s teachings easily understood or readily appreciated by everyone. Faith always remains something of a cross; it retains a certain obscurity which does not detract from the firmness of its assent. Some things are understood and appreciated only from the standpoint of this assent, which is a sister to love, beyond the range of clear reasons and arguments. We need to remember that all religious teaching ultimately has to be reflected in the teacher’s way of life, which awakens the assent of the heart by its nearness, love and witness. — Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium

8 comments on “An atheist meets Theos

  1. n.o.s. says:

    From the teacher to the student from the students to their peers. P.B.W.Y.

  2. Jennifer says:

    “A saint is one in whose presence it’s easy to believe in God.” I love it! “No one has ever seen God, but as long as we love one another God remains in us and his love comes to its perfection in us” (1Jn4:12). I am reminded that St JPII believed that every encounter with another person is providential. What ample opportunities we have each day to joyfully and radiantly and often serendipitously share God’s love in the most unsuspecting places just by being willing to be channels of His love! What great joy it brings our loving Father when we bring Him to others. Win win. Awesome! Thanks for the turbo-charge, St. Tom!

  3. tararoddenrobinson says:

    Hi Tom,

    What a wonderful post! I serve as a volunteer for the Abbey Foundation of Oregon which supports the Mt. Angel Abbey. It’s sometimes hard to explain why monasteries are important in the modern world. Thanks for providing a beautiful testimony to what can happen when people visit.

    With love and gratitude,

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