They Know I’m Catholic, Right?

I gave a talk Sunday morning to the men’s club of a large Atlanta Methodist church at the request of an old friend.  When he asked me to speak to this group several months ago, I responded with a question which I would ask him repeatedly every time we got together: “They know I’m Catholic, right?”  I engage one-on-one with people of other faiths almost every day and always enjoy the dialogue, but this was very different as I would be going on their turf to deliver a talk.  I let nagging self-doubt creep in and began to regret my commitment over the last several weeks.

I speak to groups fairly often and this should not have been a big deal, but speaking to a large group of Protestants was pushing me way out of my comfort zone.  How would they respond?  Would they ask me questions I couldn’t answer?  Would they start quoting scripture and maligning the Church?  What if they insulted the Blessed Mother?  Would they criticize Pope Benedict?  What would I do?!

My friend tried to reassure me with what he thought were encouraging words:  “Don’t worry; most of them are former Catholics.” Good grief!  Not only was I speaking as a Catholic in a Methodist church, but I was speaking to a group of former Catholics who had left the Church.  How nice.  It would be just my luck if everyone there had lingering issues which they would love to take out on me.  Then I had an epiphany a few days before I spoke and remembered three important things:

  1. I needed to stop worrying and start praying.  I needed to give up my fear and anxiety to the Lord, trust in Him and ask for strength and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
  2. This was an unbelievable opportunity to share the joy of my Catholic faith with my Christian brothers…many of whom were once Catholic.
  3. I know my friend and he would not put me in a negative situation like the one my overactive imagination had cooked up.  I needed to have faith and trust in our friendship and his good intentions.  I needed to avoid giving in to unfair stereotyping, which I would resent if it was directed at me.

Before I share with you what happened at the talk, let’s take a brief time out and reflect a little on giving witness and ecumenical outreach. Do you recognize that I just illustrated the fear and anxiety many Catholics feel about sharing their faith?  I have heard countless times that we must be careful here in the “Protestant South.”  We may get questions about the Virgin Mary, or why we have priests hear our confessions or why we pray to saints.  There is a fear that they could pounce on us by using Scripture to attack our beliefs.  My caution to all of us is that a fearful and insecure Catholic often becomes a quiet Catholic, but Jesus expects more from us.  If we only share our faith and witness with other Catholics or worse, keep it to ourselves, how will the Church grow and spread Christ’s message of love?  “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:37-38).

In my professional life, I encounter new people every day.  Since my conversion to the Church in 2006 I have been very open and transparent with others about my faith.  In all of my numerous encounters with people of different faith backgrounds, I have had very few negative experiences.  I find people to be curious about Catholicism, not adversarial.  I am not naïve and I recognize there are people who have strong negative feelings towards the Church, but they may be doing so out of misguided intentions, misunderstandings or a lack of know.

We have an opportunity during these encounters to explain our Catholic Faith, dispel the rumors and refute the myths.  So many times in these conversations I have observed that we are more aligned than either of us realized and that often language and misunderstandings are the biggest barriers to agreement.  But, first we must know our Catholic Faith before we can explain it to anyone else: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame” — 1 Peter 3:15-16.

Now, back to that talk at the Methodist church.  The prayers worked and the Lord gave me the peace and strength I needed.  The group could not have been more kind or welcoming (is there a lesson here?).  I actually felt very comfortable when I rose up to speak and trusted in the Holy Spirit to convey the right words.  I started out by sharing my faith journey into the Church before launching into a talk titled “Priorities and a Life Filled with Meaning” where I outlined my life priorities and the practical actions I was taking to ensure that I stayed on the right path.  They heard quotes from saints and popes and lots of Scripture and Catechism references.  I hoped they would see me as a father and husband struggling with the same things they did and how keeping my focus on serving Christ and putting Him first in my life kept me on the right path.  The audience applauded loudly when I finished and many of them came up after to say that I really connected with them.  They asked for a copy of the talk which I was glad to provide them.  Many others asked if we could have coffee in the weeks ahead to discuss why I was so joyful about my Catholic faith as they were eager to learn more.

I didn’t do anything extraordinary and I am not a particularly gifted speaker.  The Holy Spirit worked through me, a Catholic, to reach these Protestant men in their church on a Sunday morning.  Many of us will likely have numerous encounters in our lifetimes with people of different faiths.  We are blessed as Catholics to possess the truth and the fullness of the faith.  All it takes is our willingness to share our joy, a little courage, humility, transparency, and prayer to give a powerful witness for our Lord.  Consider the words of Frances Fernandez from In Conversation With God:

On our part we are called upon to be good channels through which His grace will flow and to facilitate the action of the Holy Spirit in ourselves, in friends, relatives, acquaintances and colleagues…If our Lord never gets tired of giving His help to everybody, how can we who are only instruments ever become discouraged?  Once the carpenter’s hand is firmly placed on the wood, how can the tool ever have any reservations about doing its work?

Are we willing to let the Carpenter work through us today?

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  • Thank you, Randy.

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  • Cooky642

    About a year ago, I had extraordinary conversation with an Evangelical Protestant in the middle of–of all things!–the grocery store. He was evangelizing another patron, and I lingered over my product choice to listen. When the other patron left, I congratulated him on having the courage to witness in the middle of the store. He asked what church I went to and, when I told him, immediately made a statement attacking Catholicism. (Expect no less: it’s all they’ve been taught!) It was all I could do not to laugh out loud since we had just had a homily on the exact verse he misquoted. Instead, I gave him chapter and verse (so he could look it up later), and quoted the whole verse for him which “pulled the teeth” of his attack. We stood there talking for over an hour. Since then, when we run into each other at the store, we stop to ask how each other is doing. I did not “convert” him–I didn’t intend to (wrong time and place). But, I did give him something to think about. Perhaps I’m the only Catholic he’ll ever know. Or, just maybe, someone, somewhere, will be able to build on my relationship with him to bring him to conversion.

    Btw, the verse was Matthew 22:32. See if you can guess what his attack was.

  • The real challenge is fellow Catholics. Here’s a comment from an article my wife’s cousin (in fact several of them have posted similar comments over the past few months and they are all Catholics). They read Catholic Exchange articles on my Facebook account. She wrote, “I haven’t read one I even remotely agree with, and further it reminds of Glen Beck in his same way he likes to ignite fear. I prefer my faith to be all encompassing and embracing life. I don’t base decisions on fear, rather all that life has to offer. I think after reading this last article, I will just call it quits when it comes to any Catholic Exchange.”

    The real challenge for Catholics is not so much convincing or converting Protestants, it is convincing fellow Catholics that what the Church teaches is correct. That abortion is wrong, that contraception is wrong, that we must receive the Sacraments and that really believe that is the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist we receive. A MAJORITY of those calling themselves Catholics don’t even believe what the Church teaches. When we can win back those Catholics, then we will have a fighting chance to win back the rest of those who call themselves Christians.

  • Sharon

    Perhaps Randy should post a copy of his talk, “Priorities and a Life Filled with Meaning” on this site. Thanks for sharing our faith with our Protestant brethren, Randy.

  • drea916

    @Mark- AMEN!!!!

  • GaryT

    prayer to and intercession of the saints?