I often wonder why I became a Catholic-Christian. Sometimes I am stumped for an answer, or find it hard to articulate just what it was that drove me knocking at the Church's door. No doubt there were influences along the way. Here's the story of two particular friends who complementarily influenced my decision to become a Christian and, ultimately, join the .
Andy was my best friend growing up. He attended the local Presbyterian church in Doylestown. He never preached Jesus to me or anything, but I always knew he was active in his church's youth group. Andy had his church friends and his secular friends, and they didn't mix too much, though we did occasionally get together to play football at Fonthill. They were all pretty cool, I guess, though were that kind of "Christian cool," like, going to Christian concerts and mission trips and not smoking or drinking but playing sports and acting like regular people otherwise. They were ok to hang out with I guess, but in all honesty I felt more comfortable with our non-church friends. But they all had values, for sure.
Andy was a kind of model of what was good for me. We got into all kinds of trouble (we once drive-by paintballed the school and got chased by the janitor in her truck, had drag races, stole intertubes and built a raft and sailed down the delaware, etc.), but he was always reaching out to people who weren't popular, and going against the grain when it came to peer pressure. He didn't talk much about Jesus, but I sensed he was trying to live a good life, but not in a generic be-a-good-person kind of way, but modeling after someone's life in particular. He was following a different kind of way, as if there was an afterlife we were preparing for, as if what we were doing in this life counted for something. He was always accepting and forgiving, and even when I shafted him or treated him bad, he never held it against me. I was curious about his faith, I guess, but the youth-group thing kind of turned me off--I knew Andy thought it was cool but I didn't--and if that's what being a Christian was, I didn't want any part of it.
I had another friend, Brian, who I ran cross country and track with. He went to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the local Catholic grade school, til 8th grade, I think, then went to Lenape and West. He had a lot of brothers and sisters who were older than him, and his parents were pretty old. He also had a pool, and lived across the street from Andy.
Brian was a junior when I was a senior, and I convinced him to spend the summer after my graduation hiking the Appalachian Trail with me. It was a great adventure. I don't ever remember Brian sharing anything religious or Christian with me, though I knew he was Catholic. I didn't know what a Catholic was then, really, only that it seemed to be like this exclusive club. It was made up of Christians who maybe didn't care much about Jesus or being good or anything like that, but could always fall back on their special status with their membership card or whatever. I once badmouthed the local Catholic church while I was in the car with my dad ('Everyone goes there,' I said with disdain) and he harshly reprimanded me for my lack of reverence. I didn't know what it was about Catholics, but I didn't like them because I was secretly jealous of not being in their club.
Brian's mother was a pious woman. She had pictures of the and the and Jesus and Mary all over the walls, the St. Christopher sticker in the car, the crucifixes over the beds, the rosaries, all of it. I couldn't tell, but it seemed like she was really into the Catholic Club thing, like it was a nationality or something. I was secretly fascinated, and would ask her about the Catholic stuff, and she delightfully indulged me. I wanted to be part of the club, and she knew it.
Andy gave me the general model for living and believing in what was Good. Brian (and his mom, moreso) gave me the specific (intellectual and theological) backbone for putting my general faith in a specific context, and, subsequently, in a particular community of believers. I think both are important.
We don't live in a vacuum. Everyone comes to faith through the influence of someone or something in their lives that affects their experience; faith comes alive through experience. Experience isn't everything, but I do think it's important. I have been influenced by others and, hopefully, I have influenced others as well to come to have a personal relationship with Jesus. I have learned from Andy that living by example can have powerful effects, and from Brian's mom that those pious devotions can sometimes spark enough curiosity in someone as to incite belief.
Never underestimate your influence.