Unanswered Questions from Theology on Tap

Last week I had a great time in Cleveland speaking at a Theology on Tap. I was asked to talk about, “Proclaiming Christ to a Pagan World”. There were so many questions I didn’t have time to answer them! So I said I’d put them in a blog, and behold, I am a man of my word.

What is a good way to talk about Jesus to a friend who has fallen away from the Catholic Church?

I think that would depend on why he or she fell away from the Catholic faith. A doctrinal issue? A moral disagreement? Apathy? All of those might require different approaches. But the one thing in common would be a witness of love and joy. I don’t think those kinds of situations are usually changed because you can argue a point effectively. If you are frequently sharing (and showing) how Jesus has given you an abundant life, that is the best “conversation starter” to get to the heart of why your friend might no longer be into the Catholic faith.

As a young mother or father with a quickly growing number of young children, your priority is to your family. However, to what extent and in what ways are you called to evangelize during that stage of life? 

Holy families are a powerful means of evangelization! I love sharing with strangers that I have seven kids. They always react in shock: “Did you say seven!?!” I immediately reply, “Yeah, it’s awesome!” That makes them even more in shock. So many of them expect me to joke about how I have no time or my life is crazy. Too many times in society we treat marriage or family like a punchline. Another example: I have a t-shirt that says, “I Love My Wife”. Someone came up to me, laughed, and looked at the back of my shirt, expecting some kind of joke… but there is nothing there. I just actually love my wife and I’m not afraid to wear a t-shirt that says so. I think one good way to evangelize is to not play into the negative, anti-life and anti-marriage stereotypes that are common in society (like “marriage is the end of freedom”, “kids ruin your lives”, etc.). Our priority is to our family, but there is not a conflict between family and evangelization when we realize that the witness of a holy family is a powerful way to share the Gospel.

How do we evangelize as Catholics? Isn’t a lot of what you discussed common b/w Christians without the “weird” stuff of Catholicism? (Mass, pope, priests, rosary, etc.)

I assume this question is because I talked a lot about sharing Jesus but didn’t mention things like Mass, pope, etc. It’s a great question! Since we all read the same Gospels, I think the initial proclamation of the Good News is very similar among all Christians, whether they be Catholics, Evangelicals, Baptists, etc. We proclaim Jesus Christ, Son of God, who became flesh and dwelt among us, died for our sins, rose for our salvation, seated in glory and calls us to be His disciples. I think it is important that we “claim” this message as Catholics and not avoid talking about Jesus because we fear it sounds too “Protestant”. The saints of the Church had been proclaiming this message for over a thousand years before our family became divided. A significant difference between Catholicism and many other Christians is how we encounter Jesus and what it means to follow him. Many of our Protestant brothers and sisters focus on the personal relationship—”me and Jesus”—the kind of faith community you join is optional. (BTW, there are thousands of different Christian denominations in the US, so forgive the generalization!) Catholics see the Church as an integral part of experiencing Christ, especially through the sacraments, intercession of saints, apostolic tradition and authority, etc. So as a Catholic I would share how Jesus Christ has changed my life and how I’ve been transformed by the sacrament of the Eucharist, or how my understanding of how to follow Jesus has been beautifully shaped by the writings of St. Theresa of Avila. The focus is still on Jesus, but my witness brings in the elements of my Catholic faith.

How do you get your “regular” Mass attendee to become more involved in parish life beyond the “minimum”. 

They have to fall in love with Jesus. We do the “minimum” when we think we are a part of an organization. We do more when we realize we are a part of a family. I think we need to do a better job of proclaiming the love and mercy of God and witness to the joy of following him—the kind of things Pope Francis so beautifully expressed in Evangelii Gaudium. One way of showing that love to the “regular” attendee is to change the attitude that is prevalent in many parishes: people are there for us. We sadly often rely on people coming to our faith communities because they are obliged to. What are we doing to help those who come to our Church? When we start serving others, just as Christ did, people will respond by getting more involved.

How do you recommend dealing with discouragement when efforts to evangelize make no perceived change?

Humility. Success or failure isn’t up to us—conversion is a work of the Holy Spirit. We need to be open to sharing our faith with others, but He is the one who is doing the “heavy lifting”. And remember that people turned away from Jesus. Seriously, if people wouldn’t listen to the Incarnate Word, why do you think they would all listen to you? When Jesus told the parable of the sower and the seed, it was the minority of those who heard the word that ended up bearing fruit. It’s more like playing baseball than taking the SAT. People who hit 1/3 end up in the Hall of Fame! So I might humbly lower your expectations, and don’t blame yourself if it doesn’t seem to work. (I mean, it might be your fault, but I’m assuming your not a jerk that tells everyone they are going to hell.)

How do you continue to get back up in times of weakness? 

Cling to His mercy! I think this is so important and one of the great examples of Pope Francis. He often talks about being a sinner and forgiven by God. Though this is tough to admit, it is a great way to evangelize. If people see us as “super Christians” then we become untouchable, and they wonder why God loves us but not them. St. Paul said, “His power is made perfect in weakness”. The difference between a saint and a sinner is that the saint got up after he or she fell. It is all about clinging to His love and mercy that never comes to an end.

I hope that helps! If you have more questions, or if I didn’t understand what your question was actually about (I had a hard time with some of the handwriting), feel free to ask in the comment section and I’ll try my best to respond.