Friday, August 29, 2003

Sharing the Faith

Catholics seldom share their faith. We seem almost embarrassed to talk about it. I worry that most Catholics are so ignorant of their faith, that they are afraid to speak up for fear that others will make them look foolish. It is our responsibility to spread the gospel and evangelize. I believe most every sincere Christian who honestly seeks the truth would love to be Catholic if they understood what it was. All we need to do is wipe away the misconceptions and explain the truth. I have heard many converts claim they would have been Catholic a long time ago, but they never met a Catholic who could explain and defend their faith.

Every day, I see friends, neighbors and acquaintances who are active in other Christian communities. They are well educated, have a sincere love for Christ, yet they do not share in the fullness of the faith as we Catholics do. I know it sounds presumptuous to say we Catholics have the fullness of the faith and others do not, but one can reasonably reach that conclusion after delving into the rich history of the Church. I would love to share this faith with others, but I don't know how to go about doing it. You see, I am very shy by nature. I have a difficult time bringing up the topic of religion to an acquaintance. Given the opportunity, what would I say to them if I had just one chance to convince them to become Catholic?

The most difficult thing about this process is where to begin. I can't just knock on my neighbor's door and say, "After all these years of discussing the weather over the backyard fence, I would now like to share my Catholic faith with you." Why not, you ask? I just can't seem to make myself do that. Sure, there could be souls at stake, but I am weak. I have been taught to be humble, to be respectful of others and their ideas. I have been taught that religion is a personal thing. I don't want to do anything that would be offensive or upsetting to others. I don't want anyone to think I am presumptuous, even if I am!

All of these insecurities can render me ineffective. I have taken the position that I must lead my life in such a way that will earn the respect of my neighbors, hoping that they will see something in me that they will seek out. Trouble is, nobody knows that my lifestyle is strongly influenced by my Catholic faith. I justify my silence by telling myself that this is the personality God has given me. If God wanted me to preach, he would have made me more outgoing. He would have made me more eloquent. Truth is, I am much better at putting my thoughts on paper than I am at expressing them in conversation. For that reason I have elected to write these little articles in my spare time, hoping at some point, to compile them into something that will make sense to someone.

Not long ago, a former resident of our small town wrote a mystery novel set in our community. Although the storyline was mostly fictional, it contained many familiar characters to those of us who grew up here. Surnames were changed, but little else, and often the portrayals were not flattering. The book was very poorly written, full of inconsistencies and logistical errors. Yet, somehow this man managed to get his work published, perhaps on the strength of his reputation in another field. When word of this book spread around town, everyone wanted to read it. This continued despite the fact that most everyone who did read it thought it was terrible! Maybe someday, these things I write about my Catholic faith will be read by others in this community. Maybe someone will be curious to see what a local boy wrote about, and a seed will be planted. I hope the reaction to my writing is more favorable, however.

I have successfully shared my faith with others. This usually happens when the other party or some unusual circumstance leads into the conversation. The strangest example occurred at my place of work several years ago where a roll of pink tape lead to an ongoing email discussion with a professor of theology at the Moody Bible Institute. A contractor I'll call Dave, was doing an installation which required the use of Teflon pipe tape. (Teflon tape is used to wrap pipe threads before assembly.) All the Teflon tape I had ever previously seen was white in color. Dave had pink tape.

The course of conversation took some bizarre turns. All of this occurred about the time that Evangelist Jerry Falwell was speaking out against a children�s television show called the Teletubbies. One of the Teletubby characters (I think his name was 'Tinky Winky') was pink and carried a purse. Falwell criticized the presence of this character on a children's show because the character appeared to be gay, at least in the eyes of Jerry Falwell. I noted the unusual color of the Teflon tape and wisecracked that Jerry Falwell might jump to a conclusion about the Dave's sexual preference based upon the unusual color of his tape.

Dave happened to be an Evangelical Protestant and a follower of Jerry Falwell. Dave asked me what I thought of Falwell. Not knowing where Dave stood, I tried to indicate respectfully that I thought Falwell's remarks about the Teletubbies might be a little extreme. In the course of the conversation about Jerry Falwell, I mentioned that I was Catholic. Dave perked up as though he was well prepared to challenge Catholics.

He immediately asked me why so much of what the Catholic Church teaches is not in the Bible. Caught somewhat off guard, I replied that while not every thing the Church teaches is explicitly in the Bible, nothing the Church teaches is in conflict with the Bible. I explained that the Church predates the Bible as we know it and that it was the Bishops of the Catholic Church who determined which of the early Christian writings were inspired by God and therefore, included in the Bible. Dave wasn't buying that, so I asked him for some specific things he believed the Catholic Church taught that were not biblical.

We discussed several common Protestant objections to Catholic theology, including Mary's perpetual virginity and the reference to Jesus' "brothers" in the Bible. I explained how the original Greek word translated to brothers in English, could include extended family such as step-brothers or cousins, and in fact, there was no word specifically for cousin. We briefly discussed the necessity of Baptism and its cleansing of the soul. Dave was unwavering. With our time together growing short, I asked him to give me an opportunity to write down several of his most pressing questions about the Catholic Church, and I would respond to him in detail by a Fax. He left me with two: (1) Why do we pray to Mary instead of going directly to God and (2) Where in the Bible does it say to pray for the dead?

I could tell Dave had been taught how to evangelize Catholics. These are two common objections to the Catholic Faith that are often raised to make unprepared Catholics squirm. I wanted to answer his questions thoroughly and respectfully. Opportunities to share our Catholic Faith do not come often. This could be a life altering experience for Dave and his family -- literally a matter of (eternal) life and death!

Apologetic resources are plentiful today in books and on the Internet. Apostolates such as Catholic Answers, St. Joseph Communications, and EWTN have an abundance of information available to anyone seeking Catholic truth. I consulted both of these and others in preparing my answer for Dave. (I won't post my reply to Dave here but anyone can go to and find answers to these questions.)

In the weeks that followed, Dave sent me a couple of essays by contemporary Protestant authors and asked me to respond. I did and faxed them back to Dave. I found out later that Dave had a friend with whom he was sharing my answers. This friend was a professor of theology at the Moody Bible Institute. Eventually, Dave put me in touch with the professor and we began to correspond directly by email.

Our dialogue went on for several months. We touched on many aspects of Catholic theology. I used the Bible and simple logic to back the Catholic position. I saved copies of our correspondence and hope to share it with others someday. As I look back on it now, there are things I would say differently, but overall, I think I held my own. I shared several audio tapes with him, including some by Dr. Kenneth Howell, a convert to the Catholic Faith who became an author and speaker for St. Joseph Communications. After the professor wrote a critique of one of Dr. Howell's tapes, I requested his permission to share the critique with Dr. Howell, with whom I had also corresponded. I don't know whether the two of them had a subsequent conversation. At about the same time, the professor ended our correspondence saying he did not have the time to continue our talks.

All of this happened after an 'off the cuff' comment about pink tape. It didn't require me to take any special initiative. I didn't have to knock on anyone's door, or steer the conversation. If we prepare adequately and make ourselves available, the Holy Spirit will take care of the rest.

I have always wondered why the professor suddenly terminated our conversation. Perhaps he thought I was a lost cause. Maybe he got scared. Maybe he really didn't have time for me. I don't know. The last time I spoke with Dave, I asked him how his friend was doing. He said he hadn't seen him in quite a while. In my final message, I asked him to pray for me and I offered to pray for him. I will continue to do so, and I hope he remembers me also.