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.