For the Heart…
I was in the hospital lying flat on my back in my pajamas on the exam table, with the nurse clutching her clipboard standing over me. We were awaiting the doctor who was going to give me the anesthesia to knock me out before the full examination began. I was already a religious in my congregation, but not yet a priest. My pajamas were not black with a white collar. Something on the chart must have said, ‘religious or seminarian,’ because I did not offer that information. It was one of those rare moments where I was not in a particularly talkative mood. Then the nurse, without looking up from her clipboard, stated off-handedly,
‘I do not go to Church because there are many hypocrites in it.’
‘Yes,’ I answered trying to sound encouraging, ‘we do not always live up to the Christian standard. That is why we need Christ. You should go to Church.’
There was a pause.
She replied, ‘I do not go to Church because I do not like the priest there.’
‘Priests are human too,’ I said. ‘However, I do not go to Church because of the priest, I go because I need Christ. You should go to Church.’
She said, ‘I feel the work I do here as a nurse to help others requires a great deal of idealism.’
‘Absolutely,’ I said, ‘but we all need the strength to persevere in the good we are doing. We need Christ. You should go to Church.’
At that moment, the doctor walked in.
At times, you have to seize opportunities to share the faith [here]. Other times, it seems to happen even when you are not looking, or are even uninclined, to do so. Granted, the Roman collar can be a conversation starter, but I have observed that it happens to lay Catholics when people learn that they take their faith seriously.
Questions arise. Answer them.
We should not be surprised that people have questions. As St. Augustine famously wrote, ‘You made us for yourself, and our heart is restless, until it reposes in you.‘[ii] Society has tried to persuade people that we are just fine without God and his Church. However, numerous such impromptu conversations have convinced me that people cannot easily shake their need for God.
I believe, however, that it is very important how we answer the questions if we want to increase their receptivity to our message.
We must be humble. The goal is not to win an argument, appear morally superior, or even look intelligent. It is to encourage others to draw closer to Jesus Christ and his Church. We are merely the messengers. Our Lord is the message. Stick to the message.
Ask them questions. Seek to understand their perspective. This not only helps you give better answers, it also shows a genuine interest in their viewpoint.
We do not have to pretend that the Church is perfect to defend the fact that she is holy, that is, founded by Jesus Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit. We, the Church’s children, are sinners. Our weaknesses show our need for a savior.
We should present what the Church teaches honestly in a language understandable to our listener. We should not leave out the difficult aspects of the faith. The truth has a power of its own.
We must answer the question asked. However, we are not obliged to let the person frame the question in such a way as to paint us in a corner. So, for example, if they start with, ‘Why do you hate homosexuals?’ You could respond, ‘We do not. Perhaps a more precise question would be, ‘what is the purpose of human sexuality?’’
Despite the fact that some answers can be somewhat involved, learn to be brief and to the point in answering. Let them ask follow-up questions to avoid giving an unsolicited lecture. Each subsequent question is an invitation to keep speaking on the topic.
More importantly than any particular conversational strategy is to entrust your conversation, and its fruits, to the Holy Spirit. Say a small internal prayer asking for ‘help’ once you realize that the conversation is turning to the theme of faith. In the end, only God touches hearts. We are merely instruments.
As the doctor entered the room, I was impressed that despite his certainly busy schedule, he took the time to engage me in casual conversation. He wanted to get to know me, and obviously help me relax. He too realized I was studying to become a priest, and made a comment or two on the subject. However, as he injected me with the anesthesia, which began to take rapid effect, his question came:
‘So, why can’t priests get married?’
I gestured to my arm, to say, ‘You wait until now to ask me that question?’
I remember him sheepishly smiling.
Then, I was out.
Fr. John Bullock, LC
[i] Link to ‘A Starbucks, a Tip & a Rosary’ blog post.
[ii] St. Augustine, Confessions, Kindle Edition, Book 1, p. 4.