Hey there, did you hear what the pope said now?
Have you ever had someone see you coming and begin a conversation that way? If people know you’re Catholic, I bet your answer is yes, of course.
Pope Francis yet again set the secular press (and world) on fire last month, with news of the release of a documentary showing the pontiff expressing his opinion on the need for same-sex civil unions. As problematic as that is, it didn’t take long for both the media and social content creators to take liberties and proclaim that the pope was now endorsing gay marriage.
It seems that most people want to talk to you about Catholicism whenever there’s controversy. Believe it or not – there is some good you can make of this. Let’s look at the Pros and Cons of suddenly becoming a spokesperson for the Church.
First, the cons:
- Confusion and more confusion from Rome – With the aid of the internet, it seems there is a fresh controversy, leading to unanswered questions, almost every month from either the Vatican or a member of the Church’s hierarchy. This can end up putting you “on the spot” more than you would like.
- Silence from your priest, pastor and/or bishop makes everything seem worse – For a variety of reasons, many priests, pastors and bishops not only remain silent in the face of Church controversies, some appear to be downright inaccessible when these situations arise. This silence can create a vacuum, and in that void we have to deal with our next bullet point.
- Non-Catholic and even Anti-Catholic forces craft narratives – Nothing new here, but unfortunately when someone who does not have the Church’s best interest at heart spouts off, misleading statements and half-truths tend to grow legs, plaguing the faithful for years afterwards. Why does this matter? Well, many Catholics today are regularly exposed to hostile secular and social media voices and rarely encounter friendly, authentic Catholic voices. This can lead to the following point.
- You suddenly feel all alone, as if you’ve been left behind enemy lines – we think peer pressure is a phenomenon that only afflicts our kids, but it is a real and life-long problem. We just call it something else when we reach adulthood, like politics or groupthink. Bottom line, we have a universal need for acceptance, so we never escape peer pressure. This is especially hard for Christians because by nature, the Church has always been a counter-cultural movement.
Fear Not – Now for the Pros!:
- You are never truly alone. Jesus tells us He is with us always. He doesn’t lie. If you’re feeling alone, remember the Good Shepherd is never far behind, calling for you to remain close to Him. In scripture, in prayer, at Mass, in the sacraments and in Adoration, we find Him and are nurtured by Him.
- You now have an open opportunity to discuss the Catholic worldview and theology. Most Catholics shy away from evangelization because they think it means beating people over the heads with a Bible. In reality true evangelization is never forceful and never brutalizes others because it’s done with love and charity. You also don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The Catechism and the saints that have gone before us are clear about how special and life-giving our faith is. One of the reasons the Gospel is so counter-cultural is because our culture doesn’t look very far beyond its desires of the day. Jesus came for us, taught us, healed us, fed us and then died and rose for us so we could be happy forever, not just today.
- You get to participate in the Great Commission. Spreading the Gospel was Christ’s final order for the entire Church, not just a suggestion for the Apostles. In a non-threatening and generous way that is unique to you, you now get to proclaim that Gospel! Keep in mind, the Gospel means good news for a reason. When it was first announced two thousand years ago, the world was all about pursuits of pleasure and power. Civility was in short supply (just like today) and people didn’t put a lot of faith in their futures. Jesus interrupted all of that and He’s still doing it today. Playing your part when you find yourself in a “Catholic conversation” can be as simple as sharing how He has helped you in your life, or describing the peace He brings to you, or how His words guard your heart and mind and keep you going when life throws obstacles in your path. And then offer to help answer questions.
- You get to do what the Church does best! Despite all its buildings, campuses, operations and assets, the Catholic Church can’t properly evangelize, it can’t meet people where they are and help them get closer to God unless its members – you and I – care enough to show up, stand up and speak up. Growing the Kingdom of God has always been, and always will be, a retail effort: Person to person.
- You have advantages the Apostles and early Church Fathers never had!: Once Jesus left the Disciples to the work of evangelization, they got busy. All they had was their own words and some courage from the Holy Spirit, but the early Church took the developed world by storm. So if you feel unprepared for the task of defending your faith, breathe deep and take inventory of your available resources – resources the early Church fathers never even had!
Bible – the Bible as we know it today wasn’t assembled until the late 300s, A.D. That however, did not stop the Church’s growth beforehand. Also, it was centuries later that the Bible became widely disseminated. Today you have access to it in your pocket, on your phone, at anytime! There are several scripture Apps available today. My current favorite is Laudate, where you can access daily Mass readings, Saint profiles, prayers, Versions of the Rosary, Chaplets, podcasts and much more.
Catechism – In the 1500s, as a response to theological errors being spread, the Church published “a formulary and method for teaching the rudiments of the faith”, called the Catechism. It breaks everything down for easy consumption. Get a copy, first for your own edification, and secondly to help bring perspective and clarity to any Catholic discussion. I say it’s an invaluable accompaniment to the Bible for understanding what the Church teaches, and why. It contains wisdom from many saints, prior popes and “Doctors of the Church”.
Internet – There is not a question of the faith that has not already been asked. And there is not an answer to those questions that cannot be accessed today via the internet! I always recommend starting with an amazing website by an organization called Catholic Answers. It’s easy to remember, just type Catholic.com. They also have a free App you can download. On that site (or App) you can search key words from any question you receive (regarding Church teaching or Church history) and within milliseconds have an abundance of ammo to answer it completely. Praise God! There are other sites as well that I have found to be great resources, but to keep things simple for this article, Catholic Answers should be your “Go To”.
There is not a question of the faith that has not already been asked. And there is not an answer to those questions that cannot be accessed today via the internet!John C. Connell
Catholic News – Regarding up-to-the-minute current events, EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) brings the Catholic world to your fingertips. When asked about the latest “rumors” on what the Church teaches, what the Pope said or what Catholic things are happening around the world, the EWTN website or app can be a threshold to all answers and clarifications. Through them you can also access other notable Catholic news sources like National Catholic Register, Catholic News Agency, ChurchPOP and EWTN Pro Life Weekly. Aside from EWTN, I also like both LifeSite News and the Vatican News.
Parish – The early Church members met in a Temple corner or in someone’s home. Today you’ve got parishes in almost every city. Need to find one? Type “Catholic Church near me” into your search browser, or download a free App called Catholic Mass. It uses your position to show where all available parishes are, along with Mass and Confession times. I love it.
Clergy – When the Apostles first started preaching, all they had were each other. They were both the first priests and Bishops. That was it. Today, if you need to consult with a priest, there’s your parish for starters. Then there are the priests at surrounding parishes, and finally you can also find many clergy active on social media. These days we technically have access to an army of the ordained!
One resource we do have in common with the Apostles is the Holy Spirit Himself.
What was the difference between the Disciples being depicted as frightened and confused before the Lord’s resurrection and being courageous Evangelists throughout the known world after His Ascension? It was the Holy Spirit.
It is the Holy Spirit that converts, not us. Our only duty is to be faithful, loving and to tell the truth. With the help of the Holy Spirit, Catholics have been helping to the bring the light of the world, to the world, for two thousand years. With that kind of track record, we can have every confidence that He will show up for us as well, the next time we are asked about our faith. You plant the seed, and He will take it from there!