Far more than just a ‘visit’

As Pope Francis' historic six-day apostolic visit nears, consider what you could say as he departs for the Vatican Sept. 27: "The papal visit raised my level of confidence as a Catholic. Doors opened to share my faith, and I walked through them."

The following six-point plan (in honor of his six days with us) hinges on the 1 Peter 3:15 mandate: "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope." When the 24/7 media coverage of the visit starts, your friends, family, neighbors and colleagues will undoubtedly turn to you - possibly the only "serious Catholic" in their life - to "give an explanation."

If the 1 Peter 3:15 "mandate" gives you anxiety, take a deep breath. Evangelization isn't "about you" anyway. The Lord doesn't call the equipped. He equips the called, and you've already been called. The following challenges will prime you to be more available to others.

Pray

Begin (start today) praying daily for the Holy Father's visit. He faces a grueling schedule, to say nothing of the "principalities" and "powers" (Eph 6:12) that are set against the church. I suggest praying the Holy Father's monthly intentions (at apostleshipofprayer.org) as well as this suggested prayer from Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde: "O God the Holy Spirit, guide and strengthen Pope Francis to be the sign and source of unity within the church and incline our hearts to listen with the obedience of faith."

Fast

Begin (start Sept. 7 and end Sept. 28) a 21-day fast from one small thing you enjoy. There's no need to tell anyone about this little sacrifice. The absence of this small pleasure will help open up the needed space in your heart, so that you'll be more available to others. Offer it up for the Holy Father and his intentions.

Go to confession

Make a commitment to get to your nearest confessional before the pope's arrival Sept. 22. Schedule it now. If the Lord might allow you - as part of the grace of the apostolic visit to your backyard - to participate in dozens of encounters with (skeptical, curious or apathetic) friends, family, colleagues and neighbors, you owe it to them. Don't forego this grace.

(Re)Commit to the Margins

Not surprisingly, our Holy Father will visit inmates and the poor during his visit. Can you make room in your own schedule this fall - to make your own papal visit-inspired outreach to the margins of our society where the Lord has already called you or is calling you now? It may be time for you to roll up your sleeves with Catholic Charities (ccda.net/volunteer) or a parish ministry.

3 must-reads: Family, Serra and "Laudato Si'"

Set aside a few hours to review three focal points of the Holy Father's visit. Most of it will center on the World Meeting of Families, just days ahead of the Synod on the Evangelization of the Family. Brush up on Catholic teaching on the family at familiam.org, Catechism of the Catholic Church No.1655-1658 and 2201-2233, and St. John Paul II's letter to families, "Gratissimam Sane."

The pope's Washington visit arguably centers on the canonization of Blessed Junípero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Every one of us needs to pass a basic literacy test and be ready to talk about his life. Learn more at usccb.org or stjunípero.org.

Have you picked up "Laudato Si'," Pope Francis' blockbuster encyclical on the environment? If not, you still have time to read it prayerfully and be in a position to speak confidently with friends and colleagues. Read Bishop Loverde's reflection on "Laudato Si'" and other resources at catholicherald.com and arlingtondiocese.org/papalvisit.

Your testimony

The doors will open - it is only a question of whether we will be available. When the "So what do you think of Pope Francis?" question comes: 1) Offer a quick prayer to the Holy Spirit, calling to mind 1 Peter 3:16's "reason for your hope"; 2) Offer a quick prayer of thanks to the Lord for this opportunity; 3) "Do not worry about how or what your defense will be or about what you are to say" (Lk 12:11); and 4) Share your reason for your hope: "For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say" (Lk 12:12). What a privilege we have.

Johnson, a husband and father of five, is Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde's special assistant for evangelization and media. He can be reached on Twitter @Soren_t.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015