When I was in the process of converting from a vaguely Protestant, New Age secular spirituality of my own concoction into the fullness of the Catholic faith, I found myself having to explain my decision to lots of people.
Lots and lots and lots of people. Which, given my life before my conversion, was not surprising. In the course of those conversations, I learned a couple very important things about myself, my new faith, and people in general.
- If I didn’t know the answer to a question, and tried to act like I did, I found myself become very defensive. Someone asked me about the Church’s teaching on an all-male priesthood? I’d find myself getting irritated and snarky because at certain points on the road to my conversion, I understand the reasons enough to articulate them myself.
- It’s ok to say, “I don’t know”. Once I realized my annoyance with certain questions sprung from a lack of information on my part, I had to learn to say, “I don’t know.” At first, this was a horrifying prospect. What if the truth was revealed to be something horrible? What if it made no sense? What if it was ugly? My lack of faith in my new faith prevented me from being humble about it. It was a real demonstration of trust in God that got me to a place where I could say, “You know, I don’t know the answer; let’s go find it!” and not be scared of the answer.
- There will be some people who are not asking questions to learn, but rather to wound. Once I learned more about Catholicism, and learned to admit when I didn’t know jack, I really began to enjoy conversations about the “why” of my conversion. Most people were honestly curious about what I’d found so attractive in the Catholic faith to make me do a 180 in my life to join the Church.
- But not everyone. Once in a while, I’d run across someone who asked questions only to try and paint me in a corner, to create a “gotcha!” moment, wherein they imagined they’d disproved the legitimacy of either Catholicism or my conversion. Those were people whose hearts were not open, and no amount of honest discussion would satisfy. And, even harder than learning to admit when I didn’t know something, I had to learn when to leave a conversation.
I think about those three points a lot lately, what with the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the election of Pope Francis seemingly without an end on the horizon. I think how having this sweet, confusing, challenging man as our Pontiff has brought all the faithful more or less into the same position I was when I entered the Church. So, with the closest thing to “authority” I’ll probably ever have on a real topic of actual relevance, I’d like to present to you my three tips on weathering Francispoloza (do you like it? I just made it up. I’m not sure how it works).
- If you don’t know the answer to someone’s question, don’t get angry. When someone says to you, “So, I hear that Pope Francis is surveying all the world’s parishes about gay couples so the Church will start accepting them” or “I heard the Pope won’t evangelize atheists since they’re going to heaven anyway”, don’t get angry. Don’t get irritated. First, ask yourself, “do I really know the context of these quotes?” Lots of times, the sound bytes come from mainstream media outlets so antagonistic to the Church that you can almost discount them out of hand, which means one of two things: you can either explain how the statement was taken out of context or you can go to…
- …step two. Sometimes, the person comes up with something so sincerely believed and/or hoped for that you can’t just brush it off. It’s a question that demands an honest response. The divorced and remarried co-worker who says that he heard the Pope said Communion restrictions will soon be relaxed for people civilly remarried without an annulment is, in effect, standing in front of you with his soul naked, yearning for a return to the Sacraments. You can’t blow him off. But what if you don’t know what the Pope said in this case? What if you can’t accurately articulate why the Church prohibits divorced and remarried people from receiving Holy Communion? Someone who is honestly seeking answers will respect an “I don’t know. But let me find out what he said and get back to you”.
Then do it. Educate yourself. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to knowledge and articulation. Then share what you’ve learned with your friend. The Truth is never damaged by research.
However, sometimes you’re faced with a person who isn’t honestly seeking answers. Sometimes you’re faced with…
3…someone who is picking a fight. That person who, even after being gently corrected about the newest media misconception about the Holy Father’s words refuses to listen. Or seeks to engage you in an argument. Oh! It’s so easy to be drawn into their anger, so easy to pretend like Holy Mother Church depends on you winning this debate. For me at least, it’s such a struggle to master Pride and Wrath, and hearing someone trash talk Catholicism is just chumming the water. But I have to remember that this isn’t about me. Souls are not won by “winning” a debate, and no amount of argument or anger is going to open a heart to God. I haven’t been appointed the Pope’s personal Facebook Defender, and neither have you. Our Pope speaks the Truth in Love, and that’s not some delicate thing that needs a horde of thugs to protect.
So, if we take nothing else from Francispoloza, let it be a renewed sense of catechesis, the understanding that we can all benefit by admitting our ignorance, and making heartfelt steps to learn more about our Faith. We’re all converts, daily turning away from our selfishness and turning more toward God.