I have a framed, printed blessing hanging in my home, a gift from a religious sister in Ohio many years ago. It begins with these words: “May you be steadfast on your journey, powered by the message of love and the command to serve. May you wear the Gospel on your sleeve.”
Now, I pass by that blessing every day and frankly, don’t often pay much attention to it. But on one occasion recently, I stopped to consider those words: “May you wear the Gospel on your sleeve.” To “wear something on your sleeve” means, of course, that your emotions are obvious, that your belief about something is well known to others. But what does it mean to wear the Gospel on your sleeve?
Well, first, it’s good to emphasize what it does not mean. It does not mean that you become obnoxious about your faith, that you insert it into every conversation or activity throughout the day, that you seek to impose it upon everyone you meet. I think most folks are turned off by that kind of zealot; they’re the crusaders we desperately try to avoid at cocktail parties and parish picnics.
Pope Francis has often spoken against this kind of proselytism. “In front of an unbeliever, the last thing I have to do is speak,” the Pope has said. Instead, “I have to live consistent with my faith, so that my testimony awakens their curiosity,” the Holy Father explains. Only then, he says, is it appropriate to speak and explain.
“To live consistent with my faith.” I think that’s what wearing the Gospel on your sleeve is all about. How do Catholics live their faith publicly? By attending Holy Mass every Sunday and receiving the sacraments faithfully; by raising their children in the Church and instructing them in the faith; by accepting the teachings of the Church and living them in their personal and public life; by keeping the Commandments of the Lord; by generously sharing their blessings with others and serving the poor.
All of these things are included in the life of a faithful Catholic, and if we live our faith authentically, it will be a magnet with irresistible force, drawing others to Christ and his Church. This is how we live as children of God in the midst of our fallen world, as St. Paul urges us. (Phil 2:15) And this is how we “wear the Gospel on our sleeve.”
Something to think about: Do you know some Catholics whose practice of the faith is truly attractive to others?