How Catholics are failing to communicate truth—and how to fix it.

black-and-white-man-person-eyes

Someone very dear to me—”Joe”—often shares this tragic story:

While speaking with a female friend one day, Joe learned that she had been unwed and pregnant years prior.  She had been scared and horrified.  Her boyfriend had said, “You know what you have to do.”  Her mother had told her to go through with an abortion.  She was scared.  She was too afraid, however, to approach Joe—a faithful Catholic, because of how he had demonstrated his utter abhorrence of, and vocal opposition to, abortion.

In sum: While communicating his anti-abortion views in some of their past interactions, Joe’s demeanor had actually acted as a repellent against the very woman in his life who needed a pro-life friend.

She had the abortion.

Dear Catholics, do our neighbors and friends view us as anti-abortion, or are we seen as pro-life?  The distinction matters—gravely.

During a recent episode of his radio show The Counter Position, Andrew Whaley related his experience during the Way of the Cross in downtown Denver, Colorado.  Some curious bystanders approached him and asked, “So, what are you guys protesting?”

Andrew, addressing his Catholic radio listeners, reflected: “I think we’ve gotten the reputation for being against stuff.”

Yeah—why else would religious people be out in the streets with a cross, these days?

While it is only “right and just” that we become a voice for truth in our increasingly-secular age, I would argue that we as a Church have failed to communicate our message.  Not only to others, but also to ourselves.

Do we know, believe, and live the Catholic kerygma; that is, the central and fundamental truth of our faith?  Or do we spend more time and energy focused on opposing evil?

In a recent interview with Mark Shea, Father Mike Driscoll, author of  Demons, Deliverance, and Discernment: Separating Fact From Fiction About The Spirit World, pointed out that central truth: “Our faith is based on Jesus Christ, not on opposition to the devil.”

Yet, if we were to survey both Catholics and non-Catholics, asking them to describe the Catholic position on abortion, same-sex marriage, or birth control, wouldn’t we likely hear something like, “The Church is against it”?  When questioned further, could responders explain why?

What good is all of this preaching about what we are against… What good is all of the denunciation of evil… What good is all of the protesting… if nobody knows what we are for?  If nobody understands the beauty and goodness of the truth?

To use abortion as an example: I wish prominent pro-life groups would spend more time being pro-life.  They’ve spent the last few decades educating about the dangers of birth control, the disgusting horror of abortion, the evils of Planned Parenthood.  But quite honestly, I would feel ill-prepared should someone ask me how adoption works.  And how can I encourage someone to consider keeping their child; what resources are available for them?  How can I help strengthen community structures and relationships to create safety nets of support for struggling mothers?

I have heard lots about what it means to be anti-abortion.  What does look like to be pro-life?

That applies not only to abortion, but also to the realms of marriage, business, immigration, criminal justice, international conflict resolution, etc.

Let’s face it: our neighbors, friends, relatives and co-workers would have an easier time telling us what our Catholic Church denounces than what it celebrates.

When we wake up every morning, what do we celebrate?
When we stand in the public square, what do we celebrate?
When we encounter someone who is different from us, what do we celebrate?

Dear Church, what has happened to us?  Have we forgotten that modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than he does to mere teachers (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi, par. 41)?

Have we forgotten the Vicar of Christ’s apostolic exhortation—that the first words from our lips should be the kerygma: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you” (Evangelii Gaudium, par. 164)?

It would seem that the answer, sadly, is yes; we are suffering from spiritual amnesia.  We have forgotten how to draw people to Christ from our personal witness.  We need to examine ourselves, our attitudes, our words and our actions—now.

This is our examination of conscience:

The centrality of the kerygma […] has to express God’s saving love which precedes any moral and religious obligation on our part; it should not impose the truth but appeal to freedom; it should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious balance which will not reduce preaching to a few doctrines which are at times more philosophical than evangelical.

Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendor and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties.

(Evangelii Gaudium, pars. 165, 167)

"Christ Healing the Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda" by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1670
“Christ Healing the Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda” by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1670
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2 comments

  1. Totally agree. Communication is supposed to be two-way and include listening with empathy. Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and positively helping them with their struggles. I feel that negativity has become a bad habit with many in the Church who are still struggling with Pope Francis’ fresh message which is to emphasize the positive – exactly the message echoed beautifully here in this blog article.

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