On a recent Saturday morning I was walking the streets, praying the rosary. As I went along, I noticed four other walkers going in the same direction. On one side two women — one older, one young — both dressed “to the nines,” as the New York Irish say, were going door to door. On the other side, a tall older man and a young woman were doing the same.
At each house the owner would open the door a few inches and talk briefly, accepting or not, the leaflet they offered. As she came back to the sidewalk, I asked the second young woman: “Jehovah’s Witnesses?”
“Yes,” she answered. I then asked if door-to-door ministry yielded new church members, and she said yes. But, as if to say that was beside the point, she cheerfully told me that she was doing what God wanted her to do.
“The only way to save our world is to put God in charge of our lives,” she added.
I agreed that we humans had certainly made a mess of things. We parted, but not until she had pressed the leaflet into my hand, an invitation to attend a brief talk explaining why Jesus’ death is so important.
On another recent Saturday, I met a father and a young son from a Baptist church on a similar door-to-door mission. The father urged me to establish a personal relationship with Jesus. I assured him I was trying.
We are being outhustled in the streets. We are not there at all. Home visiting does not seem to be our thing. No question about it. This is difficult work, as anyone who ever tried to sell anything door to door knows.
In their heyday, during the 20th century, the Victory Noll Sisters always made home visits. When they were not teaching religion to public school children in the far reaches of the Southwest and elsewhere in the Midwest, East and South, they were going door to door.
The Missionary Catechist, the monthly newsletter of their activities, had many accounts of the fruits of their work. A report of one day’s work says that “doors were slammed in our faces 17 times,” but other doors opened.
There they found families who had fallen away and did not know how to get back to the church. They found children who needed to be baptized, to make their first Communion. They also found sick people who needed medical help or the sacraments.
When they were not visiting in towns and villages, they went to farmworker labor camps. There were some light moments. In one shack, Sister Agnes Rauschenbach and her companion found a big family with a daughter gravely ill with typhoid. While the doctor they summoned examined the girl, the local priest recorded the names of family members.
“The first child’s name was Adam,” Sister Rauschenbach wrote. “Father asked, ‘Where is Eve?'” One of the girls responded: “I am Eve.” Another child had the name of Cain. “Father then asked: ‘Where is Abel?’ Eve answered, ‘Here he is.'”
The priest could not resist saying, “‘I bet Moses is here, too.’ The big sister called in Moses, her youngest brother.”
In light of the above, a recent Sunday Gospel was about the Samaritan woman at the well, who, after meeting Jesus, went off into town and told the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. … Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified.” (Jn 4:29, 39).
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