Category Archives: Evangelization

Faith: “Personal” Or “Private?”

The words “personal” and “private” may cause confusion at times.  Not everything that is personal needs to be private, although some things are.  In fact, some personal things are actually supposed to be quite public.

For example, a marriage is a very personal, intimate relationship, and spouses keep certain aspects of the relationship very private.  The marriage relationship itself, however, is quit public.  Even so called “private weddings” still require public licenses and witnesses to be valid.  Christian spouses are supposed to be public witnesses to the relationship between Christ and his Church.  So, a very personal relationship is also meant to be a very public one.

One’s annual income is generally considered to be personal information that is also private.  It comes across as rude to inquire about someone’s income.  When asked, “How much do you make?” one might respond, “I’m sorry, that’s personal.”  What is really meant, however, is, “That’s private.”  One’s name is also “personal” information, but we tend to freely divulge it when asked, so it becomes both personal and public.

Privatized religion is a strange phenomenon, especially where Christianity is concerned.  It makes complete sense that one’s religious beliefs are personal, for if one’s faith in God does not impact one’s person, there is little point to it.  This, I believe, is at the heart of why many try to make a distinction between “religion” and “relationship.”  Religion is often branded as impersonal while a relationship is assumed to be personal.  The reality, however, is that religion can and must be quite personal.  The whole point of the Christian religion is to be personally transformed by God.  Yet, the Christian religion is not meant to be “private.”

Christianity is meant to be lived in full view of the public.  The Christian is to be a “city on a hill” not a “light hidden under a bushel.”  Certainly, Christianity is personal.  It should transform a person.  But, if one’s Christian faith is always private, that is a problem.  At some point, many Christians bought into the idea that being open about one’s faith is taboo.  Somehow, the very public proclamation of the Gospel became a “private” matter not to be broached in public.  “Go and spread the Gospel” became “Don’t offend anyone or draw any attention.”  This happened despite the fact that Christians were told from the beginning that their faith would offend many people and that it was supposed to draw attention from the world.  Political correctness has overruled the Great Commission for many Christians.

Now, I can certainly understand why some Christians in certain times and places might keep their faith somewhat private, at least from the powers that be.  For two thousand years many Christians have had to face death and torture for being Christian.  Nevertheless, many of them gave (and still give) their lives rather than recant their belief.  That which is deeply personal need not be private.

I have heard people say things such as, “I don’t go to any church and I don’t want to talk about religion.  My God and I do just fine together.”  My reaction is, “If your faith is such a wonderful thing, why horde it for yourself?  Why keep all of that great stuff hidden from everyone?  That seems like a selfish thing to do, especially if you claim to be a Christian.  Why not tell people about your wonderful God?  Why not proclaim what you believe, why you believe it and what difference it makes to you and to the world?  What are you so afraid of?”

Finally, the Christian faith is about community.  In a community, people give, share and exchange things and ideas.  Christianity is not about isolation.  The idea is to have a relationship with Christ and then share the benefits of that relationship with others.  Christianity is not a private “security blanket” to be clung to like the Peanuts character Linus.  Christianity is a treasure to be freely distributed to others in word and in action.

So, by all means, have a deeply personal, Christian faith.  Just don’t keep it private.  Share the joy.

Witnessing To Friends And Family

An interesting point was made at the deacon meeting I attended last week.  The question was raised as to whether or not a newly ordained deacon should continue to attend his home parish or move to the parish where he was assigned as a deacon.  It was noted that, although some deacons continue to attend their original parish, it can be advantageous to move entirely to the parish of their assignment and develop new relationships there.

Some men have been at their parishes for a long time and people know them quite well.  In some cases, this dynamic may actually hamper their ministry as a deacon.  Since people know them so well, they may have difficulty taking them seriously as an ordained minister.  This is similar to the phenomenon Jesus referred to when he said that a prophet is not accepted in his own town.  People are often more accepting of a minister when they know him only as a minister and not as “that guy we grew up with.”  Jesus encountered this reaction when people who knew him said, “Who does he think he is?  Isn’t he that carpenter?”

The same principle may apply to anyone who tries to witness to friends and family members about spiritual matters.  It can be hard for friends and family to look past the person they know so well and receive the message being delivered.  On the other hand, the opposite may be true.  When a person’s life has turned around for the better, friends and family members may be the most amazed and impressed at the difference.  Or, like the Prodigal Son’s older brother, they may resent the spiritual awakening of a family member.  Only God knows the hearts of people.

Some people readily accept input from family members while others bristle at the thought of a family member offering any advice at all.  Parents of adolescents often experience the frustrating sentiment that “if Mom or Dad says it, it must be wrong.”  Adult children of aging parents frequently find themselves at a loss when Mom or Dad “won’t take any of my advice or even entertain any of my suggestions.”  The aging parent may be thinking, “You are still my child, so who are you to tell me what to do?”  Longstanding sibling rivalries may cause brothers and sisters to regard each other with skepticism.  Family dynamics such as these affect more than just communication about spiritual matters.

So, when we have friends or family members that we wish were more open to the message of Jesus Christ and his Church, we must not be discouraged when our witness has no apparent positive effect on them.  First, we do not know how the message is being processed in their minds and hearts.  Secondly, the message may need to come from someone outside of the family.  Personally, my return to the Church was prompted by people I had never met.  My family cared for me, influenced me and prayed for me, but nothing they said to me triggered my reversion.  God used the voices of people outside of my family for that.  It had to be my decision to come back to the Church.  I decided to be Catholic because Catholicism is true, not just because my family is Catholic.

Like a new deacon who must go and create new relationships as a deacon, we must allow our friends and loved ones to experience new people and new places.  God has a plan.  God knows who we need to encounter and when we need that encounter.

What can we do for our friends and family to help them find Christ and his Church?  Love them.  Be available to them.  Listen more than we talk.  When we do talk, speak the truth in love.  Be ready to answer their questions and hear their complaints without judgment or criticism.  Be patient.  Let God do His work.  Pray for them.  Specifically, pray that God will give them encounters with people that awaken their hearts and minds to His truth.  Sometimes the last person one needs to hear from is a family member.

Reaching Out To Our “Christmas & Easter Only” Churchgoers

I’m excited about something we’re doing at our parish this Christmas.  One of the men in our men’s group has been able to procure low cost copies of Scott and Kimberly Hahn’s book Rome Sweet Home.  Hundreds of these books will be gift wrapped and given to people at Christmas Mass.  The plan is to also give more of these books away at Easter.

There are so many people that only come to church on Christmas and Easter.  This book may help some of them appreciate their faith more.  Listening to the stories of converts is a great way to avoid taking the Faith for granted.  Cradle Catholics often lack zeal and knowledge about their own Catholicism.  Many are “culturally Catholic” with little or no sense of the historical, spiritual, life-giving power of Christ’s Church.  It can be very enlightening to hear the logical and spiritual reasons for actually wanting to become Catholic.  There are thousands of people and hundreds of families in our parish.  We hope to get at least one book to most of these families.

The book was written by a married couple.  They take turns describing their path from anti-Catholic, Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism.  Scott Hahn has become one of the most respected biblical scholars of our day.  It is refreshing to hear the perspectives of both Scott and Kimberly as they explain their individual struggles as well as the challenges the journey presented to their marriage.  I highly recommend the book to Catholic and non-Catholic readers.

So many Catholics are drifting away from the Church or going through the motions of being Catholic without really being in love with Christ or his Church.  My prayer is that, by reading what people go through to find their way home to Catholicism, many Catholics will realize how good it is to already be home.  Then they will have more desire to invite others home, too.  I also hope non-Catholics will read the book and be inspired to make the journey home.

Teaching Children To Fly: Parents As “Flight Instructors”

As a flight instructor, it is important for me to be aware of and make use of the four levels of learning.  It is equally important for me to set an example for my students.  The attitudes and behaviors I exhibit will impact the type of pilots my students become.  Flight instruction has similarities to parenting.  Parents are the primary instructors of life in general, and of the Catholic Faith in particular.

The first level of learning is “rote.”  Rote learning is the ability to repeat back something from memory.  I can tell a flight student how to turn an airplane.  “Apply coordinated aileron and rudder with slight back pressure on the yoke.”  If the student can repeat that back to me, rote learning has taken place.  However, this does not mean that the student can properly turn an airplane.

Next is “understanding.”  Why will the airplane behave a certain way when the student applies coordinated aileron, rudder and slight back pressure?  The student must gain an understanding of the aerodynamics of flight.  Why must the ailerons and rudder be coordinated?  What will happen if they are uncoordinated?  Understanding is a higher level of learning.  Yet, the student may still not be able to properly turn an airplane.

“Application” begins when the student is in the airplane and actually attempts to turn the airplane.  When the student can perform turns well, the level of “application” has been accomplished.  It is possible to turn an airplane without understanding aerodynamics.  However, it is preferable to have a learning process that promotes understanding prior to application.

“Correlation” is the highest level of learning.  When the student can properly perform turns while climbing or descending, for example, then correlation has been achieved.  The student has taken the skill and incorporated it into more complex maneuvers and situations.  Turning the airplane has become “second nature,” and the learning has been “transferred” to other maneuvers.

During the learning process, the instructor must instill good attitudes in the student.  If the instructor is casual or noncompliant with safety concerns, for example, the student will not learn how to be a safe pilot.  The instructor must exemplify the “culture of safety” expected from all pilots if the students are expected to be safe pilots.  An apathetic, careless instructor tends to produce apathetic, careless pilots.

Parents are the primary instructors of their children.  This includes the Christian Faith.  For example, parents must teach children certain prayers (rote), what the prayers mean and why they are praying (understanding), how to pray (application), and how prayer affects all aspects of their lives (correlation).  In order for children to adopt a “culture of praying,” they must also see their parents praying.  The parents set the example just like flight instructors.  Parental attitudes and practices regarding the Faith are very important in teaching the Faith.

One thing I quickly realized as a new instructor was that teaching is the best way to learn.  Before I could teach a lesson to a student, I first had to teach myself.  I had to make sure that I personally had achieved the highest level of learning with each lesson before teaching it.  It would be no good for me to explain to my student how to perform a maneuver if I could not properly demonstrate the maneuver myself.  It would not be helpful to insist that my student learn FAA regulations if I myself did not know the FAA regulations.  I needed to constantly be teaching and re-teaching myself in order to remain proficient as an instructor.

Parents must teach themselves the Faith if they expect to teach the Faith to their children.  Parents cannot rely solely on the Church or Catholic Schools to teach children the Faith.  If parents are “stuck” on a lower level of learning, they will not be able to teach their children effectively.  For example, if parents only have a rote level of learning of the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Rosary or the Mass, they will not be able to take their children beyond a rote level.  Children will not gain an understanding or be able to apply those things to their lives in meaningful ways.  The Mass and prayers may become meaningless rituals that are shed by the children as they seek meaning in the world beyond their families.

When parents accept their responsibility as teachers of the Faith, everyone benefits.  The children learn their Faith in meaningful ways that transfer to real life.  The Church and the Schools are better able to pastor and teach the children that already have a fundamental grounding in the Faith.  The parents learn and strengthen their own Faith by teaching it.  Families grow closer as they learn and explore the meaning of their Faith together.  Love, compassion, empathy, discipline, togetherness, all the things families crave are realized in living the Faith genuinely.  Society benefits from having faithful, ethical Christians that are able to live and apply the love of Christ.  Everyone wins when parents learn and teach the Faith to their children.

Parents do not need to have degrees in theology to teach their children.  There are plenty of reputable resources available through books, CDs, DVDs, the internet and Church programs.  All it takes is for parents to claim the responsibility and step up in faith.  One resource I have found is a series of DVDs for children called “Brother Francis.”  My three year olds love them and I have learned from them as well.  Just start with the basics and build upon them.  Teach yourself.  First and foremost, pray for the grace to be the loving Christian your children need to see and follow.  Any parent with children of any age can do that!  Teach your children to soar on what Pope John Paul II called “the wings of faith and reason!”

Regarding Catholics And Sharing The Faith

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!

A Powerful Testimony

This is an awesome testimony.  He acknowledges that although God’s grace can and does operate in other churches, an honest search for truth will move one beyond those settings to the fullness of Christianity.  We should never “settle” in our search.  We should always be growing in faith and holiness and expanding beyond our zone of comfort.  God’s truth is always worth the cost.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxDumU0TSrY

 

Do What You Can, Let God Do The Rest

One thing I learned from being a pilot and a flight instructor is the importance of composure.  Keeping a cool head is the best way to prevent bad situations from becoming worse.  Panic tends to make one impulsively “do something even if it’s wrong” or “freeze up” and do nothing at all.  My father, a retired airline pilot, tells lots of flying stories.  He told me of a flight crew caught in some nasty weather.  Noticing that the rookie copilot was looking rather frightened and intimidated, the veteran captain said to him, “Relax, we’re either going to make it or we’re not.”  They made it.

I had some of my own flying moments to contend with.  I had an engine failure in a single engine airplane once (once was enough).  My emergency training (and some prayer) helped me nurse the airplane to a safe landing at the airport.

Then there was the time that my twin engine airplane’s door popped open in the middle of winter.  It could not be closed while in flight due to the airflow over airplane.  I could not simply land immediately because we were in the clouds and had to fly an instrument approach to a nearby airport.  One of my passenger’s gloves blew out the door, and I could barely hear the air traffic controllers over the noise of the wind and engines.  It also got very cold very quickly.  We eventually landed, closed the door and took off again.

On another occasion, I was flying in the clouds with a friend of mine when we noticed we were losing electrical power.  The drive belt for the alternator was slipping leaving us only battery power for our radios and electrical instruments.  When the battery went dead, we would have no navigation instruments to get us out of the clouds and to the airport.  By conserving battery power we made it with little time to spare.

The spiritual application of all this is that there are some things we can control and some things we cannot.  We must focus on what we can do without panic.  I cannot, for example, convince everyone to be Catholic.  What I can do is talk about Catholicism and live the Catholic Faith.  I don’t even want to convince anyone to be Catholic, because I don’t want them to do it for my sake.  I want people to be Catholic for the sake of Jesus Christ.  Although I would love for everyone to have access to all the graces of Christ’s Church, the Holy Spirit must be the One to warm people’s hearts and convince them of the truth.  If God can somehow use me in that process as a humble servant, so be it.

It is up to me as a Christian to model the Christian life as best I can and to be ready to give an answer to those that ask me the reason for the hope that is within me (1Peter 3:15).  In the Sacrament of Confirmation I also took on the responsibility of defending the Catholic Faith.  I became a knight of the Church.  However, even God does not force the will of people to accept truth.  I cannot expect to do so either.  This is actually quite liberating.  The Holy Spirit knows where people are on the journey, not me.  I need not focus on being successful, only on being faithful and speaking the truth in love.