One of the difficulties we have as Catholics is trying to explain our Faith to those outside the Catholic Church. Why does the Church teach what it does about things like artificial birth control, same sex attraction or Communion to those who are not Catholic. We get uncomfortable trying to explain these kind of things to our non-Catholic friends. We are made to feel judgmental, old fashioned or just plain stupid. Why is this?
Well, one reason is we don’t always know why the Church teaches what it does. We simply know (sometimes we aren’t quite sure, but we look it up) that the Church teaches “such and such”. But when challenged as to why the Church teaches something, we are left shrugging our shoulders.
Another reason, closely connected to the reason above, is that we forget that the teachings of the Church are not some arbitrary rules that were voted on by a group of theologians, or decided upon by some pope 1000 years ago. The teachings of the Church on truths and morals are from God – they reveal God.
We believe that God exists as three persons in one God, the Blessed Trinity. We believe that the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, became a human being. We believe that the Son of God, Jesus, died in reparation for our sins so we could be forgiven and be in Heaven with God. We believe that Jesus taught us about God and God’s plan for mankind. We believe that Jesus created the Church, His Kingdom, to preserve and pass on the truths He taught and dispense the graces He earned on the Cross through the Sacraments.
We proclaim belief in all this every weekend when we recite the Creed. But when it comes time to live the Creed… to stand up for that belief… we often fall short.
But if we hold firm to the beliefs above, and learn to explain to others what we believe, we can often help people understand the Catholic Faith. I spend a lot of time teaching and writing about how to do this. At the time of this posting there is a class being presented at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish every Tuesday at 7:00 pm entitled, “Why are you Catholic?”, which teaches students how to explain the Catholic Faith to others.
However, this blog post is not about how to explain the Catholic Faith. What I would like to do he help you understand why, sometimes, no matter how we explain things, some people don’t seem to hear us.
Jesus is recorded explaining this in different passages of the Gospels. Here in Matthew, Jesus is asked why He has started teaching in parables:
“Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it”. -Matthew 13:10-17
Jesus explained to His disciples that some people are not able to understand the truth because their will is not God’s will. They have chosen sinful lives over God’s commandments. This leads to a darkness that can not be overcome unless they repent and turn away from their sin. They need to respond to God’s call in their hearts, and God will change their hearts. This is a work of the Holy Spirit. Just hearing the teachings of God will fall on deaf ears unless they allow God to change their hearts.
Jesus knew who was ready to turn away from sin and who came to see Him just to be entertained by a miracle, or fed because they heard about the multiplication of the fishes and loaves. So, Jesus would tell parables. He knew those who were ready would understand it, maybe not fully, but at least enough to draw them closer to God and the truth.
Read the following passage from St. John’s Gospel:
So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me; if any man’s will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. -John 7:16-17
Jesus is saying that if your will is to do the will of God, you will recognize the truth and recognize Him. Now read from just a few verses later. See how some of the people believe in Jesus and some do not, even though they are all witnessing the same thing.
Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'” Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This is really the prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the scripture said that the Christ is descended from David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. The officers then went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” The officers answered, “No man ever spoke like this man!” -John 7:37-46
In another passage, this time from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches directly against trying to teach deep truths to unbelievers:
“Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you.” -Matthew 7:6
Jesus was explaining that if you take the holy treasures of the Faith, the truths we hold dear, and tell someone who is far from God, then they will degrade what you have said and attack you for saying it. We know this all too well when we try to explain the truths of abortion or same sex attraction to someone who has no interest in following Jesus.
What this really comes down to is a relationship with God. If you love Him you will want to do His will and you will understand His teachings.
So, what do we do? Again, listen to Jesus. The first thing He said as he began His public ministry is, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Translation: “The time is now! God has awesome plans for us. He not only wants to fill our lives with His love right now, but also invites us to live forever with Him in the next life, in eternal joy! What do we need to do? Repent and believe that Jesus Christ has saved us!” In other words, we need to introduce Jesus to them. Share Jesus and His Gospel (Good News) with them. This is evangelization. This is how it must begin. It may take a day or several years, but it is where it begins for everyone.
So, in review:
- We need to know the basics of our Faith and why we believe that the Church teaches the truth.
- We need to know how to explain some of the common questions people have about the Faith, in particular the moral questions that our society has so much trouble with.
- We need to understand that often people will not listen or understand. There is nothing we can do about that. It does not mean they are lost for good, but we need to be more patient with some people. God is patient with us and them, and we need to be also.
- We need to recognise that a relationship with Jesus begins with an introduction – evangelization. Not everyone we encounter knows Jesus. We may have to provide the introductions.
Besides the Formed website and the great opportunities at Sacred Heart of Jesus Shrine, I’d advise reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and Theology for Beginners by Frank Sheed to anyone who wants to learn the teachings of the Catholic Church.