We live in a society were practicing a faith has become a little out of the ordinary, especially if you’re a young adult. It’s religious indifference rather than religious allegiance that’s mainstream. Most young Catholics who practice their faith aren’t blindly following cultural or family expectations, but have made a conscious decision. We’ve chosen to follow Christ, we know Him, and we love Him. We’ve got a reasonably good understanding of why the church teaches what she teaches and we’ve found it to be true. Even though faith is an important aspect of our lives, sometimes we struggle to convey this to our friends and family. We fall radically short of our call to evangelize; to preach to the fishes of the sea and the birds of the air; to be the salt of the earth, and light to the world. I want to talk about seven ways we might fall short, seven kinds of Catholics we don’t want to be. I’ll then offer seven antidotes; seven saintly or heroic figures we can turn to in prayer or for inspiration that can teach us how to share our faith without losing friends.
Have you ever been caught in the situation where you just don’t want someone to know you go to church? You might be an ‘Undercover’ Catholic. Perhaps a friend suggests having a Sunday morning coffee, you answer ‘I can’t I’ve got something on’ and awkwardly avoid saying you’re going to Church. As much as I say, you don’t want to be that person, I was an undercover Catholic for most of high school. I went to great lengths to avoid letting anyone know I went to church because I was afraid of being seen as uncool. The undercover Catholic will perhaps be very fond of the saying attributed to St Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times, when necessary use words.” But the Undercover Catholic interprets this as avoid saying anything about faith ever, and people will just see the things I do. By shying away from opportunities to share our faith we convey shamefulness about being religious and fail to share the faith at all.
The church has thousands of examples to remedy the short comings of the ‘Undercover’ Catholic. When people started idolising St Philip Neri he would do strange acts of humility, he would do things like shave half of his beard off before attending a social function. St Philip joins a number of other saints from the churches history who gave us the example of being fools for Christ. These saints remind us not to be too concerned with what others think of us. At the end of the day it’s only how we’re seen in the eyes of God that matters. The Undercover Catholic can turn to St Philip and ask him to pray for for the grace to overcome pride.
If we ever need further inspiration to be courageous and transparent about our faith, then we need look no further than the Martyrs. These men and women were killed because of their faith and we find them in every era of church history and even today. The Martyrs were prepared to stand with Christ not only in the face of ridicule but if it meant it cost them their lives. and it did cost them their lives. If we find ourselves in the pitfalls of the undercover catholic we can look to the example of the Martyrs and draw strength from there sacrifices.
The image to the right is what you’ll find if you google ‘Catholic Amish’ and it’s really a thing. There are several communities of lay people that have morphed to an Amish spirituality of the Catholic faith. Maybe it’s a genuine work of the Holy Spirit, but I doubt it. The Vocation of the lay Catholic isn’t to shy away from the rest of society, but to dive right in and transform it from within. There’s a real danger in becoming stuck in a Catholic Bible where you only associate with Catholics; where you only read, watch and do Catholic things; and where you receive your information about the world from Catholic sources. The consequence of this is that we miss out on what the world has to offer and the world misses out on eternal life!
The Antidote. Here are two antidotes, whose assistance is sure to cure any Catholic bubble tendencies: St Thomas Aquinas and Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati.
Aquinas reminds us of the value of engaging with opinions different from our own. In his famous writing, The Summa Theologica, Aquinas has a particular style, first he posed a question about faith, morality, or philosophy. Before giving his answer, he first gives alternative answers that have been or could be given. He explains why he thinks these other answers are mistaken and then goes on to give his solution. In forming and defending his own beliefs Aquinas carefully considered various different perspectives. Likewise by studying the writings of secular philosophers like Aristotle he greatly enriched the churches philosophical and theological tradition. If he had stuck only to Catholic sources for his knowledge, in the long run the Church would have missed out.
My second antidote is Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Something I really love about this saint is that he was so relatable, normal and holy. He played pool, climbed mountains and played pranks on his friends; he was a very normal guy. He was also a very remarkable young man who devoted himself to the poor and spent hours in the church developing a deep prayer life. Although Pier Giorgio died in his twenties, thousands filled the streets for his funeral because he inspired the people he came in contact with and transformed the culture he found himself in.
Aquinas reminds us to engage with the thinking of the secular world while Pier Giorgio inspires us to live out our faith in the ordinary world, and not in a Catholic bubble.
The captain negative Catholic is much quicker to say what you shouldn’t do rather than sharing what’s at the heart of the Catholic faith. For example, we might point out that our faith says we shouldn’t have sex before marriage, but that’s only one side of the picture. The heart of the churches message of chastity isn’t no to sex but yes to a free, total, faithful and fruitful love; we say no to a counterfeit love because we say yes to a greater love. If we’re always saying what you shouldn’t do or what we object to then we run the risk of portraying a negative and boring Catholicism. My experience of the Catholic Church is anything but boring. It’s a Holy Church full of flawed individuals making mess of living up to the call of its founder; it’s a vibrant faith.
The Antidote. Pope Francis has an infectious joy. This joy doesn’t just influence Catholics. It affects individuals across the world who wouldn’t ordinarily be interested in what a Pope has to say. There’s something about Pope Francis’ jubilant presence which wells up from his faith, and it’s contagious. If we find ourselves stuck in the negative we ought to take a page from Pope Francis’ book. And I mean that he literally wrote an exhortation on the ‘Joy of the Gospel’. Why not give it a read and catch some of that exuberant joy!
The Stuck on Issues Catholic reduces the faith to having particular stance on political issues. To be Catholic means to be pro-life, to be pro-family, to stand up for asylum seekers and so on and so forth. However, what society lacks isn’t the right stances on particular issues rather it lacks Christ. Individuals need conversion of heart to recognise and respond to the humanity of the vulnerable. It’s true that our faith compels us to be pro-life and stand up for the poor, vulnerable and marginalised. But it isn’t a stance on issues that are central to the Catholic faith, rather our focus should be Jesus Christ.
One of my favourite quotes is from GK Chesterton, he says “let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” I think this captures the heart of the Catholic faith; and that is falling deeply, passionately and courageous in love with Christ. Yes, faith is also an intellectual pursuit; and yes, faith calls us to pursue and stand for the common good; but at heart it’s about love. Chesterton was among other things, a journalist. Consequently he spent a great deal of time commenting on societal issues. He didn’t let those issues become his faith nor were they the only thing he talked about. His influence and interests were vast, he produced both fiction and non-fiction; hard hitting and light hearted content; fantasy and comedy, and writings which shed light on everyday life as well as faith life. Chesterton’s example is that of a man with deep, colourful, and diverse love of Christ, and we ought take a page out of his book and let that love shine out of our lives too.
Earlier this year my housemates and I we’re getting ready for a wedding, somehow or another the conversation steered onto the topic of monstrance. We all happened to be Catholic, and were getting ready toattend a wedding at a church where someone had seen a beautiful monstrance. The conversation wouldn’t have been out of place were it not for the hairdresser who was thoroughly confused, “What’s a monstrance?” she asked. It took three attempts before someone was able to explain it to her. I think the first time someone said something like, “it’s where the Blessed Sacrament is taken from the tabernacle and exposed for adoration, outside of holy Mass”. There weren’t many words in that sentence that made sense to our hair dresser. Catholic jargon is useful within the church but it’s really unhelpful when we’re talking to people who aren’t already on the same page as us. We need to be sensitive to the needs of others, and consider what topics and vocabulary will be relevant tin a converation.
In the Acts of the Apostles we read a famous speech of St Paul given in the areopagus an ancient Greek court, a hub of culture and dialogue, and a place of religious worship.
St Paul says, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown God.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you…” (Acts 17-22-23)
Notice that before preaching, St Paul has taken time to immerse himself and learn from the culture he is trying to impact upon. He speaks in their terminology. He speaks to their spirituality and experience. He starts from the common ground of the unknown God and tells of the God known to him. St Paul’s example reminds us to be sensitive to those around us, to their experience, their way of understanding and the words they express themselves with.
If we spend more time sharing what we think and, telling the world what it needs, than we do listening to the thoughts of others, then we’re in a fair bit of trouble. We run the risk of misunderstanding the needs of society, misrepresenting the opinions of others, or just not thinking before we speak. Speaking more than listening can be a sign of self-absorption and a lack of respect for the opinions of others. While listening more can help us understand more, appreciate the nuances of problems, and share things that are more valuable when we do speak.
Instead of a person to look up this antidote is a piece of art.
A friend of mine sent me an article about a sculpture Pope Francis blessed on a recent trip to the US. Sculptures of Synagoga and Ecclesia were commonly found on the outside of medieval Churches. Synagoga on the right portrays Judaism; she holds the tablets of the law slipping from her hands as well as a broken staff and has a snake over her eyes. Synagoga clings to the things of the old covenant, blind (by sin) to them pointing her to the covenant of Christ. Ecclesia stands confidently holding a chalice and the cross. She represents the new covenant of Christ. Rather than a blindfold she is crowned with the kingship of Christ. To the Jewish community this has comes across as ‘we think you are blind, sinful and stupid.’ It was seen as anti-Semitic and hampered relations with the Jewish community. It was placed outside churches to call Jews to conversion; in many cases it had the opposite effect.
In comparison, we have this modern interpretation. We see Synagogia and ecclesia sitting down as equals. Synagogia shows her Scrolls and ecclesia shows her scriptures. The mutual respect is notable. Both maintain their own traditions but invite the other to see and experience the Wisdom of the other. I’m not sure of Pope Francis motives in making an unscheduled stop to visit and bless this statue. But I suspect he sees this as a great example for us to follow; one which encourages us to dialogue respectfully with those of different faiths.
Nobody likes hypocrisy, especially religious hypocrisy. If we identify as Catholic, a religion which teaches love and self-sacrifice then people ought to experience self-sacrificial love from us. If people instead experience pride and judgement then we undermine the message of the Church. In short, we ought to practice what we preach. That said, being Catholic doesn’t mean we’re living saints, but it means we ought to try. And hopefully if we’re trying to live the faith sincerely we’ll portray the church as a place that transforms sinner’s hearts.
Our final example to turn to is Mother Teresa. Mother Theresa is known worldwide for her kindness and care for the poor. She’s also remembered as a courageous and strong woman who didn’t shy away from an opportunity to speak her faith and convictions. She spent her life following Christ by serving the poorest of the poor and encouraging other to do so. She would share her faith in Christ and love of the Church whenever she had the opportunity, and she had credibility doing this because people saw that she lived what she spoke of.
This is the key to evangelisation. The best way for the Church to evangelise is to have churches full of saints, of people who have fallen in love with Christ and allow Him to transform them. Our friends and family are able to see that we’re normal, but there’s something different burning inside of us. The joy that comes from living a life with Christ is infectious and intriguing. Our lived example gives our words credibility. And so we find the truth of the saying ““Preach the Gospel at all times, when necessary use words.” Of course it is necessary to use words, but the work of sharing the faith is constant, it calls us to at every moment live a life worthy of the Gospel.
Eliza McKay is a Youth Ministry Worker at Catholic Youth Ministry. Eliza is like a ray of sunshine on an otherwise cloudy day. There are many aspects we could highlight, perhaps her vast knowledge, her striking good looks, or her profound humility. Perhaps she’s better described by her hobbies. Eliza enjoys long walks along the beach and quiet night in, pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. Perhaps Eliza is best summed up by this quote from Mother Theresa “In all my years of missionary work I have never found someone as phenomenal as Eliza, if I was only half as holy as her I would be lucky, people really ought to listen to what she has to say.”