In this Q&A, we hear from Ryan and Jill O’Hara about how they live their Catholic faith at home, in their marriage, with their children, in their friendships and at work. Ryan and Jill live in West St. Paul, Minn. with their four children. Ryan is a speaker, writer and the content director for Saint Paul’s Outreach, a Catholic ministry that helps U.S. college students to meet and follow Christ.
Q: My wife and I are trying to find more ways to center our marriage on God, day by day. What does it practically mean to you to “bring Christ into your marriage”? How do you do it?
Ryan: This has been a high priority for Jill and me for as long as we have been married. Patterns and habits come and go, like the seasons, but a practice that has been consistently helpful in centering our lives around Jesus Christ is praying together. Practically speaking it looks like reading one of the daily Mass readings together, usually the Gospel, and then sharing what strikes us, challenges us, or aspects of the reading that are confusing. Based on what we uncover, we each craft and pray out loud a brief spontaneous prayer. This helps to connect and apply God’s word to our lives, our marriage, our hopes, dreams and challenges. A simple 15-minute experience like this, a few times a week, significantly amplifies Christ’s presence within our relationship.
Jill: Praying for your marriage and your spouse, individually and together, can be a great place to start. Prayer opens your heart to your spouse and to the Holy Spirit who will inspire and lead you down the path of making your marriage Christ-centered. Have a conversation (maybe on a date night) where you consider God’s will and mission for you as a couple. What doors have been opening recently that may indicate God working out his purpose for the two of you? What areas of service do you share a heart for? What risks could you take together to engage in your faith life more deeply?
Q: In a secular work environment, how can I be a witness at work without hurting my professional relationships with those who might be hostile to the faith?
Ryan: A friend of mine ended up joining our Catholic couples group because she noticed a crucifix on the desk of one of her colleagues. The crucifix was like a welcome mat. It signaled to everyone who passed by, including my friend, that Jesus Christ and her Catholic faith were important to her. This visible sign set up a unique and safe opportunity for discussion about spiritual things at work.
Whether it’s a crucifix on a desk, a sign of the cross in the lunchroom or a simple offer to pray for someone who is hurting, it’s simply a matter of being willing to live your faith publicly. Are you the same person around the office that you are at Mass? If so, combined with a pinch of courage, intentionality and intercessory prayer, opportunities will arise and others will approach you, rather than you needed to wonder who around the office should I approach.
Jill: I would recommend a few keys areas to focus on when considering your witness at work.
First, how am I living as a witness of Christ in my actions and my words? We want to pique the curiosity of those we work with, leading them to ask us to “give the reason for the hope we have.” Once someone asks us about our faith or why we live or act in a particular way, we have an open door to share our faith and avoid the hostility that occurs when we “push” our faith on someone uninvited.
The most natural way to pique this curiosity is to exhibit an attitude of joy. I have seen, through experience, that an authentic joy, not falsely created by inebriation or illicit or prescription drug use, is so rare in the secular workplace, it cannot help but be noticed. We can foster this joy through our personal relationship with Christ and by cultivating gratitude for his generosity in our lives (even if circumstances are difficult, we can always be grateful for salvation and creation).
We can also pique curiosity with our speech. Do we avoid gossip, complaining and foul language in our workplace? Speaking kindly and positively will definitely stand out as unique in most workplaces and hopefully cause others to notice, and possibly ask, why and how you exercise self-control in these areas.
Q: I want to add more moments of prayer in my family’s daily life besides just grace before meals and prayers before bed. Do you have any suggestions?
Ryan: In addition to our own personal prayer throughout the day, every evening in our living room my wife and I (along with our four sons) take time to pray together as a family. We do this in two phases. The first phase is personal prayer time for the boys. We set a timer for ten minutes and the boys (and mom and dad) can choose to read something from the Bible or the lives of the saints, or if they are in a creative mood, use a Bible coloring book or journal. After the ten minutes are over, we pray night prayer together from the Liturgy of the Hours. Each of the boys has a part to play as we recite the prayer of the Church. This two-fold approach has helped establish prayer as a priority for each of the boys, while also helping them learn how to do it. In fact, it’s often in the midst of these ten minutes or just after as we share a snack that some of the best conversations about faith arise — all because we chose to give ten minutes every day, as a family, to God.
Jill: Make prayer a habit in family life, by looking for opportunities to pray “in the moment” for real-life situations. As you pull out of the driveway, pray for safety as you travel. When your child can’t find his favorite toy, ask for the intercession of St Anthony to help him find it. When your child shares a difficult situation with a peer at school, bow your heads together to ask the Holy Spirit for help and wisdom for your child in handling that situation. Before getting on the ski lift for your child’s first solo trip down the slopes (or before some other risky endeavor) pray that her Guardian Angel would go with her to protect her.
Q: Most of my friends are other Catholics or people who share my same values. How can I go beyond my personal bubble to meet others to evangelize? Or how can I evangelize among my current social circle?
Ryan: It starts with a smile. While many of our closest friends may also be committed Catholics, we do interact every week with perhaps hundreds of people who don’t have a strong relationship with God. A smile is the first step. Are you willing to welcome a stranger with a friendly face? A face that says “I see you. You matter.”
Second, is a willingness to not simply smile, but to engage in conversation. Are you willing to say hello to someone on the street or make conversation with the person in the aisle next to you?
Third, are you open, if the opportunity presents itself, to mention the name of Jesus or something related to God in that type of impromptu conversation? And finally, are you willing to tell the Holy Spirit, each day before you leave the house, “I’m available” and open your heart, mind and eyes to spiritual needs of the people (friends and strangers alike) that you encounter? When we are available to the Holy Spirit, friendly to those we meet, willing to engage in conversation and mention God should the situation arise, suddenly hundreds of opportunities show up to evangelize and I didn’t even have to go to the other side of the world or even a different part of town.
Jill: My favorite way to evangelize is by stepping out of my usual circles into situations I wouldn’t normally venture into or to practice being present and available in situations that I would normally move in and out of quickly, without much awareness of those around me.
How about visiting the grocery store in the inner-city neighborhood where your child goes to Catholic school, rather than the typical one in your suburban neighborhood?
How about looking up from your phone and just taking in the people around you while you are in the waiting room of the car service station or health clinic?
What about walking between destinations rather than taking your car and being open to encounters with the people you see?
Some of my most memorable encounters have occurred when running errands. I’ll park the car at one destination and walk to a nearby store that requires me to walk through a different residential neighborhood than mine. I have opportunities to wave at someone sitting on their doorstep, give a moment of attention to the little girl playing on the sidewalk alone, offer a word of encouragement to a boy learning to skateboard or even lend a hand to someone carrying a load. Each of those feels like little encounters with Christ.
When I take a step out of my comfort zone to encounter others outside of my typical social circles, I’m blessed both by the opportunities to be a witness to Christ in these environments, as well as what I learn about my own preconceived ideas and the challenges to the stereotypes I hold about people in these environments.