By Amber Kinloch
Do you struggle with sharing the Faith with others? I do. Thankfully, a priest I know addressed this issue in a homily. He outlined a simple process for dialoguing with people about the Faith when they challenge you or raise a weighty issue. Here it is.
Instead of answering a person’s challenge directly, Father (working off the assumption that these are random people he doesn’t know well) asks them to tell him about themselves. Who are they? What do they do? Where are they from?
Unlike priests, we laypeople are probably more likely to know something about the person who approaches us. Maybe they work in our office and notice the Miraculous Medal we wear, or they’re an extended family member we see once a year. In this case, we might not find it helpful to implement Father’s strategy exactly. However, we can apply the underlying point, i.e. lead off in a gentle way.
Two people with guns whipped out are not in a good position to negotiate. By holding back and making an effort to treat the other person kindly, we defuse tension. Likewise, their response gives us a chance to discern whether they are genuinely interested in conversing with us. (There are people who will just want to bash you over the head with their opinion on a given issue before walking off.)
Say that you find yourself alone at a table with a distant relative at a family reunion. They comment on the Miraculous Medal you’re wearing and drop some remark about Catholics being Mary worshippers. Instead of answering that question outright, you might say you find Mary’s life an encouraging model for us, and then ask who inspires them and why. You deflect the attack, show an interest in them, and ask a question that will give you some insight into who they are.
Father said he follows up by asking the person more pointed questions. What specifically is bothering them? He said often it comes down to a single issue, e.g., the Eucharist or the Church’s stance on abortion.
He also cautioned his hearers to actively listen. Don’t sit there thinking about what to say in response. Instead, focus on understanding what the other person is saying.
Maybe that person who accused you of Mary worshipping was raised in a strict Calvinist household where images of the saints were considered a form of idolatry. Or maybe that woman who voiced support for abortion had one a decade back and is carrying a load of hidden guilt and shame. Always be compassionate and give the other the benefit of the doubt.
When you do respond, keep it simple. Father suggested saying something like: “I’m sorry you disagree with the Church about this issue. *Pause* But the Church says…”
You might also seek to find common ground, e.g., “Can we both agree that we want fewer abortions?” It is not an easy thing, at times, but at least try.
Do avoid hammering the other person over the head with long-winded arguments. Now is not the time. Remember, you’re still working to gain their trust.
#4: Follow Up
As Father pointed out, too often we just let people walk away, interiorly relieved that the conversation is over. Don’t. Instead, offer to do some research and talk with them again.
If they accept, try sending them something to read on the relevant topic. This way, you have something specific to discuss at your next meeting instead of just their opinions vs. yours.
Above all, be charitable. It’s not about winning a battle (an argument). It’s about winning the war, i.e., a soul for Christ.
For further reading, check out this article by Catholic Answers.
Amber writes from the bunker of her living room. There she hunkers down with her laptop and a blanket while keeping an eye and ear tuned in to the activity of family life. Music set on loop keeps her energy flowing as she muses on the deeper happenings of ordinary life and what food to restock the fridge with.