As I write this column I am less than one week from walking into Ocean City, N.J., where myself and another friend will have completed our walk across America. This is very exciting for us, as we have done our best for the past five months to bring the Gospel to the streets. For this article, I have chosen to reflect on something that I have learned from this walk in faith.
This journey has undoubtedly been the most difficult journey I will ever take in my life (I am very confident in this). It is a journey that has seen many ups and downs, literally as we walk the highways and figuratively, in my physical, emotional, and spiritual life.
Many people have walked for a cause. Whether that be a three, five, or 3,565 mile walk, many have done their best to raise awareness for something they thought was important. The cause that we chose to bring to the streets was for the young people of the world - asking them to turn their hearts and minds away from the MTV/Hollywood mentality, turning now to Jesus Christ in prayer. We spoke at churches, schools and youth gatherings along the way, as well as on nation-wide radio, and news stations throughout the journey, trying to bring this message of faith to a world in need of their loving God. We simply did our best. And as Mother Teresa always told her sisters, giving our best is all our God really asks.
Many people ask us what we have learned on this journey. I always answer the same way: I have learned yet another facet of evangelization. We knew that we wanted to share this cause with many and all who we met along the way. This was a major factor of the walk. And as I said before, we did our best. We spoke to both large and small audiences as we passed through their towns, in their churches, schools and gatherings, asking people to enter into this relationship with a God who loves them more than anything. And with that, we really thought that this was going to be the only way we were called to evangelize. We were wrong. It became very clear as we started walking that our Lord was asking us to bring this message, literally, to the people on the streets. But it did not happen how we thought, as it surely never does. We learned early on that beginning a conversation with someone about our Lord was something that, for most, made them simply stop listening. We did expect this to a certain degree, however, we knew that there had to be a better way. And that better way was to stop talking and start listening.
Soon enough, through this listening, we started seeing a pattern. Almost every time we were in a conversation with someone they would ask us what we were doing. Our response was always the same, "walking across America.” The conversation NEVER ended here, as we were always asked why.
Many Christians today have this idea that Jesus and his apostles stood on street corners screaming at the top of their lungs to "follow Him." This I do not believe was the case. If we look at the scriptures, Jesus always knows the person's name, or life situation before he directs their eyes to salvation. So often times today we are approached by Christians who take on an attitude that in order for them to preach the Gospel they have to scream it as loud as they can until someone listens. What I have learned is that in taking the Gospel to the streets (as we are all called to do in many different ways) I am the one that is called to listen. It does not simply consist of me shouting at someone from a street corner at the top of my lungs. Taking the Gospel to the streets is a process, a process where we not only speak, but first have to listen. A process where we get to know peoples’ names and genuinely be interested in what is going on in their lives.
In a week, I will no longer be walking 15-20 miles a day. But just because I will not be walking the highways, does not mean that I will not continue to give my all in bringing His name to the world... and in giving my all, I now know that it requires much more than just words. Whether you have been called to be a priest, religious, teacher, doctor or public speaker, our Lord will continually present you with many opportunities to listen to those He puts in your path. Be open to those moments, allowing your ears to bring the Gospel to the world.
Jon Leonetti is a Catholic radio host and speaker, providing keynote presentations and parish missions in churches, schools and conferences across the country. You can find more information on Jon at his website: www.jdleonetti.com