Tuesday, December 21

Your Friendly Neighborhood Mormon

I was channel-surfing yesterday, a semiotically mindless guilty pleasure I like to enjoy from time to time over holiday breaks, and I came across an advertisement for a promotional video from the Mormons, something like The Joy of Christmas. Say what you will about the LDS, but unlike mainstream Protestants they're certainly not afraid of using images to get their point across; the commercial was chock-a-block with gauzy and glowing shots of a living nativity scene that could have easily come off a Catholic Christmas card. The LDS name wasn't mentioned explicitly until the end, when the words mormon.org materialized at the bottom of the screen, and a voice-over encouraged viewers to write to Salt Lake for details or "ask your Mormon neighbor for your free DVD."

I have to admit, I started laughing at that point. The image of someone stock-piling free DVDs in his hall closet to give out to inquiring next-door neighbors was just too much.

Last night, as my father and were sorting through the pots and pans to find the right bowl to serve as our pudding-basin for Christmas dinner (a very tricky task), I brought up the commercial. He said he probably wouldn't be surprised if the Mormons did give out videos to their parishioners that way. Those folks are intense. Theological divergences aside, maybe we Catholics could learn something from their zeal.

And I thought about it, and I think he might be on to something. It's a tricky business these days, proselytizing, and there's always something deep inside of me, perhaps a snarky, postmodern bit of me, which finds something inappropriately funny about going door-to-door with pamphlets. That's something Pentecostals do, or Jehovah's Witnesses (don't get me started on JWs), or girls in long baggy dresses with "Elder" on their nameplates. Oh, you'll just turn off people. Or freak them out. I know I probably would, but it doesn't mean other folks will. Maybe. Maybe not. I grew up with the model that you let them come to you, not the other way round, preach by example and not by words. It certainly worked well enough for my parish's RCIA program, with fifty catechumens a year, but we were a university parish and the circumstances were hardly universal.

Maybe it's not the method, but the spirit. If even a fraction of most Catholics were as willing as many Mormons to preach the Gospel with words or actions or just by treating their plain, ordinary, secular hard work as an opportunity for sanctification, we'd have something magnificent on our hands. And, I guess, there are far worse things that next-door neighbors stockpiling videotapes about the birth of Christ.

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