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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Why Catholics Don't Often Witness

I came across an article by Fr. John C. Haughey, professor of theology at Loyola University in Chicago, who laments the Catholic unwillingness to talk about their personal relationship with Jesus. Whether it be a theology student or a theology professor, Catholics don't talk much about themselves and Christ. Instead, Catholics, even Catholic professors, talk about books: “these seasoned Catholic scholars could hardly be described as lacking a personal relationship with Christ. What is it about Catholicism that makes personal sharing about one’s relationship with Jesus less likely?” John Paul II has already answered this question. How many men and women begin a conversation by talking about their love for their spouse? Most married people, especially men, simply don't engage in that kind of conversation. We don't start a conversation with "Good heavens, I love my wife! And I just wanted to come before you to say that she's the best little woman in the world." Evangelicals emphasize the Lordship of Christ or the fact that Jesus is their friend. But you never hear them talk about Jesus as their lover. For Catholics, that is all there IS to talk about. We can talk about how we got married to our Spouse, Jesus Christ, in baptism. We can talk about how God grows in our marriage relationship from baptismal newlywed status to full maturity in Confirmation. We can talk about how He establishes His Son within our spiritual family through Holy Orders. We can talk about how we we cheated on our Spouse but repented and renewed our marriage vows in Reconciliation. We can talk about the Flesh of the Bridegroom entering the Flesh of the Bride at the Nuptial Feast in Eucharist and the Mass. We can talk about all the sweet nothings we whisper into our Lover's ear through sacramentals and the sacramental life. We can talk about how the Bridegroom takes us home to the Father's House after our honeymoon here on earth. But we don't. We don't talk about it much because spouses don't tend to talk about these things in public. Good spouses don't thrust their private married life on strangers. Married life is about intimacy. It is something that only our family sees, that only spouses really share and understand. I cannot speak for wives, but I can say this: two husbands may talk about this very quietly in the backyard over a beer when the rest of the family is otherwise occupied, but even then, they speak in hushed tones and indirect comments, and even those are kept to a bare minimum. This is the nature of married life. It is the entrance into the sanctuary. It is the holiness of the tabernacle. Men recognize this holiness by doing all that a man can do: he falls silent before it in order to witness to it the better, in order to see it more clearly. There is good Scriptural precedent for this. Mary, the first person to proclaim the full Gospel, did so in absolute silence, as her spouse, Joseph, silently stood guard over her and the Child. She and Joseph remained silent, leaving to the angels the task of telling the shepherds of the event. If Fr. Haughey had bothered to read John Paul II's Theology of the Body, or even bothered with one of the popular summaries (of which my Sex and the Sacred City is but one example), if he had spent some time absorbing this teaching and making it his own, he would know this. Evangelicals are the chipper young lads and lasses out on their first or second or twenty-first date, ready to talk about their relationship with anyone who has a ready ear. Like anyone who is not fully committed, they are not entirely sure of themselves, so they constantly bring forward their relationship for others to examine and advise them. "Is this the one?" they ask. "I really love her. I think she is the one. Is she? Am I doing the right thing? I think I am. I can't imagine being happier. What do you think? I think she's GREAT! Oh, if you only had the chance to meet her, if you only had the chance to know her like I do, you would think she is great too! She is you know. Don't you think so? Come with me, I'll introduce you. You'll really like her." How many times have we who are older had this conversation with an eager young adult? But Catholic life is different. Catholic life is about being married to Jesus. Not dating. Not friends. Married. And Fr. Haughey, that's a whole different level of conversation

22 comments:

sara said...

Well, I don't often begin a conversation by talking about my love for my spouse because a. I don't want anyone else to get their hands on him and b. He is not the Saviour of the world.

Tracy said...

Like when he say's " Good spouses don't thrust their private married life on strangers" you have to read between the lines.. he is saying that you don't have to thrust your faith on strangers...so he means"good Christians don't thrust their faith, bible, church, etc. onto strangers... Catholics don't go up to strangers or door to door to push our faith.. instead... I live my life as the best Catholic and Christian I can be... that is my witness... do I share with those I know? Yes.. but I don't go out door to door and push my faith on people who don't want to hear it thinking that this is what I'm supposed to do.

Tracy said...

And sara, you say you don't often begin a conversation by talking about your love for your spouse? That was not to be taken "literally" what it is meaning is.. do you often begin a conversation with someone you don't know by talking about your love for God? "he doesn't really mean your spouse, you are supposed to substitue God for spouse" sorry, didn't think people would have trouble with this.

sara said...

I get your meaning, but the analogy is off IMO.

I want you to know that I agree with you - the kind of living witness that you're talking about can be very powerful. If you are living your life in such a way as to bring glory to God people will notice and many may wonder why you are different. I Peter 3:15 says that we should be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us.

I do think there is an important place for evangelism as well. I believe, as you do, that Jesus is the only way of salvation. That being so, sharing or not sharing the Gospel in a clear, explicit way may have eternal ramifications.

Tracy said...

I agree that we need to witness but there is a time and a place and in my own opinion I would never push my faith on someone. As I get to know people then I will share my love of the Lord with them but I don't have ulterior motives, I'm not hoping to gain another Catholic.. and I've seen many people who are looking to "gain" a new church member and that is never what it is about, imo. Catholics get a lot of flack because people don't think we don't often witness our faith.. but that is just it.. we don't try to push our Catholic faith onto people but that doesn't mean we don't (when presented with the right opportunity) share about our Love of God or all the wonderful things he has done for us, we simply do it without any form of ulterior motives and I'm not saying all people have that motive but I guarantee you that the Jehovah Witnesses that came to my home a month ago had just such a motive and to me.. that is wrong.

Tracy said...

P.S. As for this blog, I post because I have seen that people really have so much wrong in what they believe Catholics believe etc. but.. I am NOT trying to recruit anybody into the Catholic church.. I leave that up to God.. my own husband after 14 yrs of marriage is just now becoming a Catholic.. the only thing I care about is that people get their facts right before passing judgement. blessings!

sara said...

I hear ya. I hope you didn't read "judgement" in my comments. That was not my intention at all. Just discussing a slightly different point of view. I think we can understand each other and still not totally agree with each other - but that doesn't change the respect we have for each other, I hope.

Milehimama said...

Perhaps a better title would be "Why Catholics Don't Witness they way Evangelicals are Used To".

Fr. Matthew Kauth gave a great talk for my Bible study on locking things up in the tabernacle of our heart, just as Mary did - "took these things and pondered them in her heart". For many Catholics, myself included, the relationship is fairly private, a sacred and holy thing.

Perplexity said...

I honestly don't think anyone needs to "witness". I personally get extremely irritated with people who bring up their religion at any given time. If I ask, or we are already conversing about it, alright. If not, that is between you and God and leave me out of it. I do not need, or want, some random person trying to "save" me. I do not want anyone to use me as a tool for what they personally believe - (and I truly believe that I am just that, a tool, when someone attempts to "witness" to me; they make themselves feel better by dragging ME into their relationship with God).

Lead by example. Period. How you live your life is the best "witnessing" anyone can do.

We've had people come to our door - and that is freaky to me. We live on 5 acres, with a .75 mile long drive-way. They are going out of their way to come to my house, and that creeps me out and irritates me to no end.

Tracy said...

Milehimama, that is exactly what I was talking about and Sara, you are very kind, that is all I personally have ever asked of anyone Catholic and not.. respect for each others beliefs. thank you.

Tracy said...

Perplexity, that is excellent and I totally agree. There is a time and a place and the right moment to share your faith but I personally would never just witness so anybody or pull a Bible out of my purse and push my faith on someone.. that will not get you anywhere and can actually turn off someone to the word of God...you can't push like that IMO... as I've said.. when I have a person at my front door pushing their beliefs on me.. I am not amused and find it irritating.. how would they like it if I did that to them? They are assuming without knowing me that I have a personal relationship with the Lord and I am never leaving the Catholic church... but.. if they would step back and get to know me first before pushing their agenda.. they would find in knowing me that I already have a relationship with the Lord and they would see I don't need to be "saved" by them or anyone else...again, there is a time and a place for witnessing but you need to get to know someone and let them know you and if the conversation naturally turns to our faiths.. then you share but to just assume.. that drives me crazy, lol!

KitKat said...

Tracy, I thought that this post was beautiful. I try to have my life, my attitude, and my behavior witness to other people. I rarely witness with my words unless I am asked. I have to agree with Perplexity, too. I really hate being "witnessed" to. Perhaps that is the wrong attitude for me to have but I do not need to be "saved". That was done for me on the cross by Christ himself. I accept his gift of salvation and use my life to try to live his love. No "Sinner's Prayer" will save me. But that is just my humble opinion. :)

Dana said...

Tracy - I am in total disagreement with your post.

Jesus commanded His disciples (Matt. 10:14; Mar 6:11; Luke 9:5) to go to the surrounding citys and then Paul himself went all over the known world of his time evangelizing.

Also, if your spouse was involved in his/her own business or running for a position you would be sure to start talking him/her up. I do not see how that is different.

Tracy said...

Dana, as I have said, there is a time and a place to share my faith... walking door to door or going up to someone at the grocery store is not my idea of the right way to witness and will turn people off. First, you get to know them a little and gain their trust, you find out first of all by getting to know them where they are in their faith lives. I would never just go and try to "witness" to just anybody.. how do I know who is and who is not a religious person? I need to assume that anyone I meet has a relationship with the Lord... then I get to know them and if through conversation I find out they don't have a relationship with the Lord, then I can share my faith and what it has meant in my life. I'm all for witnessing but there is a right way and a wrong way to do it, IMO.

Courtney said...

I'm reminded of St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary, use words."

Perplexity said...

"Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary, use words."


IF necessary. That IF is a big word. Then again, who determines what is necessary? You or the person you are preaching to?

My determination of what is necessary is very likely to be different than yours, or the person next door or the person down the street. Does that mean you, or your message, are more important than me, or my neighbors, and our possible desire not to hear your message? Is your definition of necessary relevant when others' aren't?

There is a fine line between sharing one's faith and insisting upon it.

Tracy said...

EXCELLENT Perplexity!!

I don't think this article was at all about "not ever witnessing" but it explains why Catholics don't witness in the same way the Evangelicals do.. we go about it totally different and don't come at people with an "in your face, down your throat" attitude.

Courtney said...

I'm not sure if your comments were directed at me, Perplexity, but I've always interpreted St. Francis to mean that our actions and witness of Christian life should be our primary means of sharing the Gospel.

I think Tracy's comment that getting to know a person and their situation before jumping in to "witnessing" is spot-on.

I find it very off-putting to see someone in my face, and saying "Are you a good person?" "Do you know where you're going when you die?" "Do you have a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?" This is especially replusive before any attempt is made by what a I hope is a well-meaning Christian to find out anything about me personally. At the risk of being offensive, it reminds me of overly agressive telemarketers. "Are you happy with your long distance service?"

Perplexity said...

It wasn't directed at you directly, Courtney. It was more about how others may interpret that statement, in general. (I should have clarified that). Usually evangelicals, but I tried to refrain from direct mention.

I have a devoutly Catholic aunt. She, however, has never once tried to "witness" to me or any other member of our family, and we have a wide range of religious beliefs among us. I also have an IFB uncle who, although he has matured and realized his errors (yes, errors) spent his newly "saved" years telling every member of his family, including his mother, that we were going to hell.

I'm quite sensitive to such things and they are a huge reason for my long standing issues with religion. My grandmother, who loved her son more than life itself, was told by that son, repeatedly, how she was going to hell because she wasn't "saved". She finally told him once that if that's where she was going because of her beliefs, that's where she wanted to be - because that is where her parents, siblings and the rest of her family would be and she wanted to be with them.

He slowed after that, and eventually matured and realized that his beliefs are not everyone's. Until he mellowed though, we had probably close to 10 years of his continual, in your face preaching and it angered me, and it hurt me to see him do that to my grandmother.

I take my "anti witnessing" very, very seriously.

Sorry if I got off on a tangent. But, of the many evangelical issues that I disagree with, the so called "witnessing" is the one that gets my dander up to extreme proportions.

KitKat said...

Courtney, I love that quote!! :)

Courtney said...

Perplexity, I completely hear what you're saying and I agree! Witnessing should be done with compassion! I really dislike the "shock and awe" approach taken by some. I don't think the Gospel needs any embellishment! A desire to witness should come from a deep, abiding love of Christ and arise genuinely and naturally, not just "soul winning," which I think sounds like a competition. :-(

KitKat, me too!

This discussion has prompted me, though, to be more aware of the wordless way I witness, especially around my family. I know that when I'm with my sister (not a Christian) I tend to fall into a gossipy, sarcastic mode all to easily as we talk and goof around. Probably not the best witness! I know words wouldn't make any headway with her at this point, so my actions are all I have!

Sal said...

A nice quote I've had for years:

"The law is absolutely invariable. Whether they are approaching those inside or outside the Church, the way is the same. the centre of the entire schme is the appeal of one person towards another, the attraction of one soul to elevate another. The prejudice and ignorance, the traditional antipathies hardened by irreligious education of those outside the Church always yield before an approach made in the spirit of the the Good Shepherd. Humility, affection and sincerity which spring from a genuine belief succeed when a controversial, overbearing attitude fails. Certainly, they are never resented; on the contrary, they invariably leave a deep impression which oftens ripens to complete conversion.
- Francis J. Ripley

And- we can be ready to give an account of the hope we have and never have anyone ask us! :)