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A Faith Adventure: Evangelizing a Family Member

April 9, AD2017

I recently had a conversation about our faith with a fallen-away Catholic family member. This situation is exactly what the New Evangelization is all about. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: “In a special way, the New Evangelization is focused on ‘re-proposing’ the Gospel to those who have experienced a crisis of faith.” The history of our conversations consisted of three brief sessions (this one included) initiated by her, of about five to ten minutes each – and started over two years ago! This meager progress either shows patience on my part, and/or a lack of interest on hers.

Why Did She Leave?

She had left the Church at a young age out of disinterest and later in life joined Protestant organizations.  That is typical I am sure. I think back to my own relationship with our Lord and can see a similar story. I was raised in a small (for the times) Episcopal family – just two children. This may seem to be an overly large number to those who work to reduce the “toxic” growth of population in our “enlightened” modern society. But, in my early life, this was small compared to the ideal American family size. Many things in society have changed since then, but, the reasons people leave the Church, have not. According to the Pew Research Center (aptly named for our purpose), the top generalized reasons are: Disenchanted/don’t believe and not interested/don’t need religion. Or, in my case and my family members case: “I didn’t get anything out of it”.

The specific details on any individuals leaving vary, but these reasons all conform to an understanding that American Christianity did not connect Jesus Christ with those individuals as He wished. Fault can be apportioned as you see fit. It is a rejection by human beings that must be overcome, or if you prefer, a failure of a very human church to meet the needs of people. Any combination of fault placing theories is possible.

What to do Now?

With some understanding of a person’s background, how do I go forward now? I am not a street smart, start a soup kitchen kind of person. I haven’t the zeal of someone carrying a sign in public that quotes John 3:16. I don’t have a degree in theology. What I can do is try and answer questions about our faith and ask questions that will point her in a direction that will create more interest. This approach is all I have but is the one we are told to use by Saint Peter in 1 Peter 3:15 when he wrote, “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet does it with gentleness and reverence.”

There was a weak request by her to attend Mass with me, but this never worked out because of her requirements of the perfect Sunday, a perfect time of the day, and the perfect parish to attend. This lack of perfection I cannot correct. I am left with talk and hopefully reasoning.

The most important thing to remember in any conversation concerning the Catholic faith is to be truthful. In order to appreciate and want to know truth Himself, truth in all way must be honored. The typical statement that all Christians believe the in same thing came up. This is true in part. The sameness offered is that we all believe in Jesus Christ and in the Trinity. I acknowledged that is basically true and mostly true, but, there are differences in doctrine, actually dogma, that separate us dramatically. One big example I offered is the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

This is Where Truth Comes In

I had to admit that denial of the real presence is probably one of the greatest obstacles that must be overcome. Without faith and a belief that God created the material world and us, it is a fantastic claim. A claim that disregards science alone, and disregards human experience unless that experience has included miracles. To recognize the truth that it is not believable without faith is important. But how is faith understood?

I offered John 6 as the best understanding of this teaching. After feeding the five thousand with five loaves and two fish, the next day on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus told the assembled crowd who had followed Him, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Of course, from a non-believers perspective, the answer to many not close enough to Him to even have a partial belief in Him said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

This is where faith comes in. The bible tells us in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The assurance comes from knowing Christ and having faith in Him. Faith in what He tells us that contradicts our understanding of things material. Faith that He created those things and has dominion over them and powers beyond them.

Faith: That is Where We Are

This answer has to ruminate for now as we live miles apart and conversations about the Catholic faith like these come up spontaneously. But, I am all ready for the next round when I will answer the statement that the Catholic Church makes things up. A reference to any doctrine is not declared in the Bible “alone”. A strong and never questioned belief in the Trinity will provide that path to truth as that concept is not explicitly declared in scripture.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

H.L. Duncan is a senior citizen widower in his 8th decade of life (70s) who was married for 36 years to his only wife Jill. He lives on 40 acres of the Great Basin Desert in an owner built solar powered home. He has three children who have left the nest and are now too far away. After an Episcopalian childhood, his teen years brought on the disease of agnosticism with occasional bouts of atheism. He entered the Church in 2010 and says he has felt at home ever since. His working life included Forest Fire Truck Driver, Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa building schools, Motion Picture Cameraman in industrial films and while in the U.S. Army, production assistant to a Producer in Hollywood, Professional Still Photographer, Photo Lab Technician, Postal Service Letter Carrier, Computer Systems Analyst in business and government, Computer Consulting, Owner of an Internet business, Web site creation. His educational background is mostly self directed reading and experiential but does include; A graduate of the London School of Film Technique, London, England, AA degree in Business Data Processing with an additional course in accounting, Seminars and technical classes. He now spends his days in local parish church work and Right to Life groups, Internet conversations with new friends and old enemies of the Church.

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  • Utah rose

    I agree that one of the problems is the Church isn’t the center of our lives like in the fifties. Our church was within walking distance, on the corner and w e participated in everything. That said, my sister left the church and my brother is lukewarm at the best, don’t gusts nit the whole answe. Both our daughter and nieces have left the church., all our atheists though they were brought up in the Faith, and I think some of that is due to faulty religious training in the 70s and 80s, but if I could go back in time instead of leaving that to the Church, we should have done this ourselves. At the time I was also away from the Church due to what I saw as a love in liturgy and tepid homilies, so I too was at fault. Therefore I didn’t show a good example. I think that is the key. My parents were devout so I eventually came back. So now I’m praying for all to come back. The Holy Spirit pushed me back . Since we don’t see each other much, waiting for that opportunity, praying, and leading a Catholic life is dome times the only thing we can do.

    • Your story is familiar. The value of intense immersion into Church life experienced by your family members, is that it can lay a foundation for later use. I left Christianity as many now still do, in my teens. That very early, sketchy understanding of Christ stayed with me. It’s value became powerful enough later in life to turn years of boring Sundays into constant gratefulness that my parents immersed me in that life. Their outstanding legacy amidst two very broken lives.

  • ericdijon

    I like your perspective, “I am left with talk and hopefully reasoning.” I am sympathetic to your situation since we both know that the bible alone lacks thorough explanations for so many things among all biblical faiths. I consider and maintain that it is centuries of talk and reasoning that more fully describe the articles of any faith. Think about what early Christianity was like without doubt and heretical assertions and questions…during its first few hours. We fail to give St. Paschasius Radbertus proper recognition. Little doubt existed throughout the first nine centuries of the Church concerning the true presence. As you wrote, Jesus informed us in the Gospel of John that he is the living bread. Ironically, it seems that initial “Christian” controversy concerning true presence only first arose in the 9th century when St. Paschasius wrote about the Eucharist, “correct in every particular.” Before that, acceptance was never significantly questioned. Centuries that followed led us to the Catholic dogma of Transubstantiation adopted in 1215 by the Fourth Council of the Lateran. Still, centuries later, you are working it into conversations with a fallen-away Catholic family member. I think you are doing a good work here.

    • My faith was awakened by reasoning. I have come to realize that to ignore the deep thought that comes from our faith, is to misuse a capacity God has given us. We were made to think. Not made to blindly follow the dubious pronouncements of anti-religious gurus – tenured or not.

  • Larry Bud

    No, you don’t need a degree in theology, nor do you need to carry a sign. In fact both of these things can be counter-productive or off-putting.

    But you know, I was talking wth friends just yesterday, and mentioned that I’d be going to Easter sunrise Mass. And instead of showing interest, the friends – to a one – started ranting about how they didn’t attend church, had no need for church, and on and on. They weren’t ranting “at me”, they were just ranting.

    Knowing that some of them are ex-Catholics, I can truthfully say that the fault here lies largely with the Church itself. Parishes used to function as social hubs in the community. When all your friends were Catholic, and most of your social activities were Catholic, you didn’t simply walk away when you experienced your first crisis of faith. The subtle peer pressure of the social network kept you around.

    But those days are gone. The Church really doesn’t care who stays and who goes. As long as the folks with the theology degrees can hang on to their jobs, that’s all that matters. And folks with theology degrees don’t organize picnics or carnivals or dances. They see themselves are above all those so-called “people in the pews” and insist that “bible study” and “theology on tap” are what is needed. But clearly, they are wrong.

    Providing “defense of the faith” is not the issue to be addressed. It’s that Catholic parishes have become dreadfully uninteresting places.

    • I love potluck dinners and pancake breakfasts for the social aspect of our faith. God bless the KofC. Our parishes are also victims of our modern American lifestyle. We don’t live as close in miles or close in family life as before. Easy transportation and electronic devices have tended to separate us from the close, in person, dependence we had on each other. Take away the cars, TV, the computer I am using now, and replace them with horses, conversation, get-togethers, and books. It was a different life that relied on community to nourish the soul.

  • Mark McCann

    Struggling with faith and explaining the Catholic faith to others is challenging to say the least. I can relate to those who have struggled with Catholicism as well. My struggles weren’t with the teachings, but rather with the way the “people in the pew” understood and lived out their faith. Sometimes it was more important for them to “jump through the hoops” than to have a genuine relationship to the One who saved us from our sins. I’ve since learned that the constant of my Catholicism is up to me. it’s a journey I’m walking every day, and i know i can use all the help God can give me. Thank you for sharing your story!

    • I also struggle, with an imperfect church. Not the doctrine, but ordained leadership (even at the highest levels) that sometimes resembles the laity you describe.