Okay, Moms, do you ever feel like your efforts at sharing the Gospel are about as effective as blowing a dog whistle to get the cat to come in? Especially among family members? Like speaking the ‘truth in love’ in a way that those darling people would hear must be possible for someone, but certainly not for you?! Or worse yet, do you sometimes feel like trying to explain your faith just always and only causes arguments, and so you find yourself looking for more ways to dodge faith-based questions than to field them?
Oh, good. Me, too.
But watching and listening to our new Pope Francis has prompted me to reexamine my efforts and reorganize my approach to speaking the truth in love. I’ve decided to call my approach – are you ready for it? – “Operation Speak to Their Hearts.”
Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it?
First, allow me to explain how this plan came into being. Our wonderful Pope Francis has been urging us all to be better witnesses of the Gospel by saying that we have to be the Gospel in order to earn the credibility to speak the Gospel. He makes a compelling case that, usually, before we can effectively catechize (teach truth to) someone, we have to lovingly evangelize them (help them to encounter Christ).
In this distinction alone I can look back and see that probably even my most sincere efforts at ‘speaking the truth in love’ about Jesus and my Catholic faith were in need of subtitles. I think some family members and friends may have been heard me as if I were speaking not just in a foreign tongue, but in an extraterrestrial alien language.
Let me give you a little background. I was one of those poorly catechized 1970s Catholic youth. I had my “reversion” to the faith as a young adult in the late 1980s, and was wooed to Christ by Biblical truth and Catholic theology. So ecstatic was I to have found a logically consistent way of living, to replace the patchwork of platitudes I had been taught at home and in 1970s CCD classes, that I have never looked back. Even when some of the beautiful truths taught turned out to be quite challenging to actually live (ahem, NFP), I pressed on and read libraries of books on how to be more fully Catholic. So hungry was I for truth that in inviting me to have an encounter with himself, Christ met me where I was by turning up the volume to my head through the study of Scripture and doctrine, but only just whispering to my heart through the example of holy living by other believers.
As I went forward in my faith journey, it never even occurred to me that others might need a different mix of head and heart volumes. I know–it should have occurred to me, but it really just didn’t. That is, not until I stopped and took the time to prayerfully absorb what our new Holy Father has been saying to us.
“Operation Speak to Their Hearts” is meant to help me, and maybe you, remember that not everyone encounters Christ in the same way, and for this reason we may need to slow down and turn up the love as we first evangelize, then catechize.
The two-fold goal of my plan is simple: to help others encounter Christ’s love so that they will be open to being catechized and converted.
The six steps to accomplishing my goal are listed in ABC and 321 order so that they can be easily memorized. They are the following:
The 3 A’s are:
Acknowledge a person’s thoughts, feelings, and stories through active listening.
Ask sincere questions to clarify what’s been said; not assuming that I have understood correctly the first time.
Affirm this person’s inherent personal dignity (that is, a beloved son or daughter of God) in word and deed.
The 2 B’s are:
Be prepared to give the reason for the hope that is within me regarding the topic at hand; not the reason I am right and they are wrong, but the reason I have hope in something different, in Jesus.
Believe that Jesus loves this person more than I do, that he wants their conversion, and that he will reveal himself and the truths of Christianity to this person in his time.
And the 1 C is:
Catechize by clearly communicating the truths found in the Bible and how they are systematized in Catholic doctrine. Without sarcasm or belittling, creatively and humbly correct the ways in which a person may be ignorant or simply unaware of the Gospel, continually praying for their conversion.
Clearly, my plan doesn’t contain anything earth-shatteringly new. In fact, it’s really just the poetic verses about love in I Corinthians 13 turned into something more like a business plan.
However, having a step-by-step plan is helping me to remember how it is that I can better meet people where they are, even if that is at a different place than where Christ met me. I also feel less pressure to bring someone all the way to the point of catechesis and conversion every time we talk or with regard to any one topic. Most importantly, it is restoring my courage to stop dodging and start engaging in faith-based conversations.
So, Operation Speak to Their Hearts; try it out and let me know what you think!
Copyright 2014 Heidi Bratton