By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Thanksgiving can be pretty tough if your family isn’t even on the same book, and your book is the Bible.
Just ask the Bible Geek.
“I have two brothers who left the church. I have two sisters-in-law who couldn’t be more different in religious and political beliefs. Thanksgiving can be a lot of fun,” said Mark Hart, a leader from the Life Teen national youth ministry program, based in Mesa, Ariz.
Hart spoke to more than 400 teens and 100 adult volunteers Nov. 16-17 at the 2012 Kansas City Youth Conference.
The theme of the conference, “Radiant Joy,” matched the Life Teen theme for this year, and was expressed the afternoon of Nov. 17, when droves of Catholic teens from the conference hit the neighborhood around St. Patrick Parish for some door-to-door evangelization, but not without some practical training as well as some inspiration from Hart about reflecting the love of Jesus so much that you dare to bring him to others.
“When you share your faith, you are a bright light,” Hart told the teens. “When you are in the dark, light is life.”
Hart told the teens that he knew, for an absolute fact, without knowing any of those teens personally, that there is someone in their lives — friends and family — who need that light.
“That doesn’t mean you are there at the Thanksgiving table, and you say, ‘Uncle Larry, I rebuke you!’” he said.
“But you have to love people enough to speak the truth to people in their darkness,” Hart said. “How much would you have to hate a family member or friend not to introduce them to Jesus Christ. Not sharing my faith? That’s hatred.”
Hart told the teens of the story from the Gospel of Luke when four men carried a paralyzed man to Jesus, found that the crowd was too great to get inside the house where Jesus was preaching, climbed up the side of that house, tore an opening in the roof, and lowered the paralyzed man on his mat to Jesus.
“When you stop to consider, how much love did they have for (the paralyzed man)?” Hart said. “Look at how much faith they had. And faith gets God’s attention. It is a big deal.”
Faith still demands “carrying” other people to Jesus, Hart said.
“Do you have four people who love you that if you were paralyzed by sin, they would pick you up and take you to Jesus?” he said. “If you don’t, then you need to do something about it.”
And one thing that a disciple of Jesus must do is to be that person who leads others to Jesus.
“It doesn’t mean you do this so that you can get into heaven,” Hart said. “It means you do this so that everybody gets into heaven.”
Hart told his own story of his own family which was church-going and observant, but not particularly on fire as he was during his teen years.
In fact, he said, his father would glower at him, tell him he was a “fanatic,” for singing the “Alleluia” too loudly at Mass.
But Hart said he continued to pray for his father and be an example of the joy of Christ.
Today, he said, nobody in church sings the “Alleluia” louder than his Dad, “and he has a terrible singing voice,” Hart said.
“It took 20 years,” he said. “How long and how far do you want to go to carry your friends and family to God?”
And friends and family are just the beginning, Hart said.
“Do you have the courage to ask a waiter or waitress to say a prayer with you?” he said.
“You can lead countless people to heaven.”
As for Thanksgiving, Hart said his mother always tells him, “Mark, be nice.”
“Keeping peace just to make Mom and Dad happy at Thanksgiving, that’s fine,” Hart said. “I ascribe to a different philosophy — Don’t be nice. Be Catholic.”