Here’s a battle I sometimes fight with myself: vacillating between exuberant repetitiveness about my faith, my conversion, how amazing God is, how I wish everyone I love would convert (for their own well-being and happiness!), how I wish every Catholic in the pews on Sunday (or all those who don’t really make it every Sunday) knew how jaw-droppingly, mind-blowingly awesome it is!!!
… and the other side of myself, the abashed, quiet, unoffensive, overly-interior and overly-sensitive person who doesn’t want to make people uncomfortable, doesn’t want them to be scared off by a Jesus freak, doesn’t want to tire people out by always talking about “God stuff.”
I wonder if you can relate?
Well, as much for myself, here’s a pep talk for all you on-fire-but-overly-sensitive types out there who might need a nudge of encouragement to KEEP SPEAKING THE LOVE AND TRUTH of the Catholic faith, even – or perhaps especially! – as we find ourselves in an increasingly anti-Catholic milieu.
1. Your non-religious friend might never hear about Our Lord or the Church from any other source.
In the public sphere, whether it’s at school, at work, at the store, on your Saturday kickball team or sitting with the moms at swim lessons, you might be the only Catholic some people will ever meet.
How many of our neighbors harbor a misconception about the Church, or about believing Catholics – that either we’re all little old Italian grandmothers, or prairie-skirted weirdos, or sexually repressed clerics from the 1950s.
No – we are vibrant, diverse, fully-engaged, articulate, THINKING believers. Non- and anti-religious people need to be confronted by the walking contradictions that are Catholics. (Never contradicting reality, the faith, or Truth. No, I mean contradicting the World and its false promises, its erroneous philosophies, its incoherent systems, and presumptions.
That might sound harsh, but it’s because I lived it! I suffered on a personal level from the brokenness the world sold me with a wink before I discovered the Catholic Church and the beautiful truths She teaches. Those truths (Truth Incarnate) have answered questions and provided a very different world-view.
I sometimes wonder… what if I’d been introduced to those truths earlier in my life, perhaps by an encounter with a credible, well-formed Catholic?
2. Your Christian neighbor needs to know that all Catholics aren’t ignorant about Jesus and Scripture.
All around me, I see outspoken and highly articulate Catholics… online. Amazing resources – old and new – are everywhere at our fingertips with which to build our own mental arsenal and equip ourselves to go speak. But how often are we one-upped in the public realm by bolder Evangelical Christians?
I don’t mean this to be accusatory, but simply as food for thought: Am I missing my chance to get the Catholic perspective into this or that Christian witness? Our Christian brothers and sisters also need to know that the Catholic Church has answers to certain problems and questions that Christians in protestant or evangelical communities simply cannot address.
Give them a reason to question their false stereotypes about ignorant Catholics who don’t know the bible, don’t have control over their appetites, don’t love the poor, don’t welcome the stranger, etc.
3. Your Catholic neighbor needs building up.
When I hear a bold and enthusiastic witness, I can’t help but be uplifted. Lord knows, there are many demoralized Catholics among our parish communities. Folks who’ve fallen away, but even those whom we know to be strong in their faith. You never know when someone might need the simple, personal boost of hearing your testimony.
“For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 11-12).
4. Your friend [sibling, relative, coworker] who heard you yesterday, last week, or last year is a different person RIGHT NOW than the last time she heard you witness.
I myself have experienced light-bulb moments. Who hasn’t? It can be a little bit embarrassing or exasperating to realize that what suddenly clobbers you over the head as true is something someone told you five or ten years ago, but this has certainly happened to me.
It helps me to be patiently optimistic that it’s never a lost cause when it comes to speaking about your faith. We simply never know when some new crack of consciousness will create an opening in the heart or mind of someone. A crack of grace through which new insights and receptivity can pour.
5. You need to find your own voice.
Speaking our faith is blessedly not a one-time affair. It’s a muscle. It’s even a way to work out our own clarities and arguments, discover our weak spots (so that we can sharpen up in prayer and study).
6. You never know who else might be listening and how the Holy Spirit will work once you simply open the door.
That’s right. Maybe the person you think you’re evangelizing is not actually the one who’s being evangelized. There might be some eavesdropping co-worker in the background who’d never directly engage, but who’s taking in what you say, and who now has something to ponder silently in his heart.
7. God is listening, even when no one else is.
We will account for ourselves at the particular judgment. “God has not called me to be successful. He has called me to be faithful.” – Mother Teresa.
Okay, okay, all the usual caveats apply: Be gentle. Be truthful. Educate yourself before uttering error.
Live it, before you start blabbing about it, speak the truth IN LOVE, and so on. But there’s an argument to be made that Catholics must stop cowering and hiding behind the erroneously attributed quote of St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.”
Does this become an excuse for not doing the uncomfortable work of evangelizing? For avoiding the white martyrdom of potentially seeming weird? Embrace the weird! He will reward you for proclaiming His Church.
I’m not saying we should only ever talk about Catholic stuff. But – the truth is – EVERYTHING is Catholic 😉 … what I mean is, nothing is off-limits to discuss from a Catholic perspective, even if it means being a little stealthy.
You can talk about truth and beauty and goodness, and, sometimes, you just leave it at that. Sometimes, you just let them see your joy. But – let’s stop making excuses for living our faith privately or only talking about our Catholicism in “safe” confines with other Catholics.
Scripture verses to encourage your bold voice:
Matthew 5:13-16 ~ “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Colossians 4:6 ~ Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Luke 14:34 ~ “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?”
Philippians 2:15 ~ That you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…
Mark 16:15 ~ And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”
Matthew 5:10-12 ~ “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”