Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Do's and Don'ts of Evangelization and Apologetics

Q - I was asked if our understanding of Mary is a necessity for our salvation. My quick response to that question is that Jesus alone is the way to salvation. However, a friend went into details of explaining how Mary is an integral part of the holy family and that we need to hold her in high regards to understand the beauty of our salvation (That's a very short randition of their explanation). After this I felt like the people who asked the question were not understanding what he was trying to say and were about to form misconceptions in their minds. So, I reitterated that Jesus's sacrifice is the way to salvation.

So, how do we present an explanation without underpresenting the truth of the Catholic Church while also not pushing someone away by saying something along the lines of "The Catholic Church is the only correct religion, and your religion is not adequate."

Because ultimately, by saying, "As Catholics we believe" we give the listener an out. They can just say to themselves, "well I'm not Catholic so I don't have to believe that." However, if we say, "The Catholic Church has the fullness of truth and you need to recognize it" then we are pretty much guaranteed to chase the questioner away from the Church for a long time.

What do you think is the best way for us to present answers to questions without chasing away the listener or undermining the truth of the Catholic Church?

A -
Thanks for the question. Here is what I would do, starting with a list of Do's and Dont's in evangelization (sharing the faith) and apologetics (defending the faith).

  • listen to the other person. It is more important that you really understand where they are coming from and try to meet them at that place, than it is that you find the perfect answer to a supposed question. Nobody likes a one-sided conversation.
  • remain calm.
  • trust that God can work in your inadequacies, because that is all we have to offer.
  • try and find common ground to build upon.
  • speak the truth - but for the right reasons. The best reason to speak the truth is out of a genuine love for the other person and their welfare.
  • be kind. As St. Peter says - "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear." -1 Peter 3: 15-16
  • ask probing questions. Try to find out not only what they believe, but try to guide them to where you want them to go. This is called the "Socratic Method" of dialogue. It asks probing questions in order to guide the other person into the truth. Peter Kreeft has written numerous books using this method and they might help you get used to using it.
  • be as charitable as possible. Try to always think about the good of the other person.
  • build on the faith or goodness the person shows you. We are not in the business of tearing others down.
  • ask if they have any prayer intentions and then ask if they want to pray for you right then and there. It can be a powerful witness to pray with someone.
  • try to win an argument. Archbishop Sheen once said "Win an argument, lose a soul." I agree.
  • allow the conversation to wander from topic to topic. Stay on one topic until you exhaust it.
  • get upset. Your emotions might boil, but allowing someone else to see frustration, anger, etc. won't help.
  • allow your pride to get the best of you. Even if it seems you have no answer, know that the Church does or that you need to continue to grow in knowledge. Humility is a gift.
  • speak about what you don't know about. "I Don't know" is a great answer. But, follow that up with an invitation to get together again and talk after you do your homework on the subject.
  • give up hope.
  • over-explain yourself. Too much of a good thing is still too much.
  • use too much churchy lingo. Try and explain and define your words and phrases - even basic ones you might assume others know (e.g. faith, hope, love, grace, salvation, savior, prayer, etc.).
In your particular case, here are some suggestions.

It isn't necessary to always preface your conversations with "as Catholic we believe" or any other such thing. If it is true, it is true for all.

Now, that being said, your personal witness is still a powerful tool to use in evangelization.

Speak the truth. For instance, a simple phrase such as - "Mary plays an important role in my spiritual life, just as she did in Jesus' life" - can spark a conversation. Then ask questions. For example, a part of a conversation you might have:
-Do you believe Jesus makes mistakes?

-What role do you believe Mary played in Jesus' life?
---I guess pretty important, she was his earthly mother. But, she was just a normal woman.

-I would say she is more than "normal". She bore God in her womb. That isn't what you consider "normal" is it? (this could only be said with a big smile).
---No. I guess you are right. But, what I mean is, she isn't any better than you or I. She still needed to be saved.

-I agree. She is a creature who needed salvation. So, by nature she isn't any better. But, by grace she is. No other woman was chosen to carry God in their womb. What a great gift, wouldn't you agree?
---Certainly. But again, her soul was no different.

-Wasn't it? Grace isn't something that just works on a body, it works on a person - body and soul. So, grace entered her entire person by entering her womb. This is why the Bible says she was "full of grace." I don't know how else could she be "full of grace", do you?
---I certainly don't
We can see this conversation is presenting the truth, but in a non-offensive and non-triumphalistic way. We do not beat anyone up with our truth, nor do we avoid it. We present it out of love and kindness, but with probing questions, it also helps the other person take hold of it for themselves.

I find this one of the best methods of evangelizing others. But, practice it. It doesn't necessarily come naturally.

We should not downplay the role of Mary and the Saints in our spiritual lives. Here is a bit more on that.

I hope this helps. Please let me know how your evangelization efforts are going sometime in the future.

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