I’ve been pondering the reasons why Catholics tend to be so reserved when it comes to sharing the Faith with others. There’s no way I can determine all the reasons, but I think I can pinpoint some of the obstacles. When we know what stands in the way we have a better chance of knocking down those walls. Interestingly, these reasons for not sharing the faith also relate to why many Catholics leave the Faith when approached by more evangelically-minded church goers.
1) We are not generally taught to share our faith as individuals. Occasionally, we may have a missionary priest speak as a guest at a Sunday Mass. There will be stories of efforts to help people abroad along with an appeal for support. We typically give the mission our financial support and prayers and that’s it. Done. Spreading the gospel is what missionaries are for, right? Why should I as an individual ever have to open my mouth about my faith? We don’t see each other witnessing the faith, so we don’t perceive such behavior as the norm. We think it falls on a select few to openly share the Faith.
2) The Catholic Church used to have lots of big families which kept the pews filled with new, baby Christians. Why bother sharing the Faith with others when our numbers increase automatically? The large, Catholic family is less frequent these days for various reasons. Nevertheless, the same God that said, “Be fruitful and multiply” also said, “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.” We need both reproductive and evangelical increase in numbers.
3) We can’t share what we don’t know. There is a basic level of knowledge about the Faith that the average Catholic is woefully ignorant of. Woe unto us if we don’t know the information. Woe unto us, not just woe unto the clergy. Each and every Catholic is responsible for knowing the Faith through self study. We don’t have to be theologians or Bible scholars, but we have to know what we believe and why we believe it. No school teacher ever expected students to learn without doing their homework. Why do we think the clergy alone can magically teach us everything we need to know from the pulpit? Do your homework, Catholics! Read the Bible. Read the Catechism. Read Catholic books. Watch DVDs. Listen to CDs and audio books on your way to work. Look up information on reputable internet sites. Stop the excuses and learn your Faith. We are told to “be ready to give an answer to anyone that asks about the hope that is within you.” The idea is to “be ready.” If someone asks you a question about your faith, be ready with more than a deer-in-the-headlights expression. Being ready requires forethought and education. If you don’t know the answer, look it up and get back to the person later.
4) Fear. Ignorance of the Faith contributes to a lack of confidence about sharing the Faith. We are afraid to speak up because we don’t want to reveal our ignorance. Everyone has some degree of fear about taking the spotlight. Every soldier experiences fear, but the ones with some training can at least form a plan of action. Again, know your Faith. You’ll still have some fear of speaking up, but at least you’ll have something to say.
5) We’re polite and politically correct. Never talk about religion or politics, right? You might offend someone or start a big scene. The problem is that most Catholics don’t know enough to simply say, “No, that’s not really what the Catholic Church teaches,” or “Here’s why the Catholic Church teaches that.” You don’t have to have big, hostile arguments with people or long, drawn out discussions. You simply need to plant some seeds. People are fed a ton of misinformation about Catholicism by the media, by non-Catholic Christians and even by confused or “former” Catholics. It can have a big impact for an informed Catholic to gently and charitably offer a seed of accurate information. Give people something to think about. Speak the truth in love and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.
6) We’ve bought into the spirit of Relativism. Why should I spread “my truth” when “their truth” is just as valid as what I believe? All truth is relative, right? Wrong. Jesus told us to go make disciples for a reason. The reason is that Jesus proclaimed himself to be “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Jesus is not simply a way, a truth or a life. If you don’t believe that, there’s ultimately no reason to be a Catholic. Don’t sit there in Mass reciting the Creed and then claim that “all truth is relative.” Again, we’re afraid we might offend someone who believes differently than we do. Are you going to serve Jesus or relativism? Make a choice. You’re allowed to be smart about this. No one is saying that you have to run through your work place screaming, “Convert to Catholicism or die and go to Hell, you heathens! And I don’t care if you fire me!” Scripture tells us to “be as wise as serpents but as harmless as doves.” Be tactful. Be kind and loving. Be sensitive. Be discreet. Be quiet when necessary, but at least “be ready”. Don’t be a relativist.
7) Our personal, spiritual growth and conversion is stunted. Conversion and holiness is an ongoing growth process, not a one-time decision. When we feed our bodies poison, it can stunt our growth, make us ill or even kill us. The same is true in the spiritual life. Garbage in, garbage out. Sharing our faith isn’t even on our radar because we are too occupied with everything else, much of which isn’t worthy of our precious time. How many hours do we spend being indoctrinated by television, video games, the internet, etc? How much effort do we put into pleasure-seeking activities? What would happen if we replaced one hour of television per day with one hour of prayer and reading about the Faith? Maybe we would actually have something of substance to share with others.
8) We love lots of other things more than we love Jesus. Even our lifestyles are often not a good witness for Christ. What engaged couple is hesitant to tell others about their love? Their priority is evident. If we really love Jesus we will have a desire to introduce him to others. Catholicism is all about a relationship with Jesus, but so many Catholics don’t even realize it. No wonder other Christians often accuse Catholics of having “religion” but “no relationship with Christ.” In many cases, the shoe fits. We will not be able to fully appreciate and share Catholicism, the fullness of the Christian faith, until we fall head over heels in love with Jesus and forsake our idols in life. Jesus has to be our first love. That’s what it’s all about, folks! Catholicism! Learn it, love it, live it and share it!