If you are anything like me, watching the news about our country is very upsetting. We are all Americans and yet we often appear more and more divided. To be honest, I have spent less and less time watching the news and instead focusing on praying for our people.
Everywhere it seems like all we find is bad news.
Why are we so divided?
I won’t pretend to have all of the answers here. But one of the things that I see happening is that we are no longer talking to each other. We are talking at each other. We are quick to think of those who are on different sides than our own as villains who need to be defeated.
This made me think about the mission of evangelization. Christ commanded us to “make disciples of all nations.” (Matt: 28:19) We are called to engage the world and bring them to the Gospel message. We cannot be shut up in our own little closed lives. We must engage the world. And sometimes, people may not be receptive to the message.
An easy trap to fall into is to think about evangelization or apologetics the same way we look at other debate tools. We think that the best way to bring people into the kingdom is to argue them into belief.
Before proceeding, I want to be absolutely clear that apologetics and logical argumentation are an indispensable part of our mission. Our God is a God reason. The charge against people of faith is often that they abandon reason, science, and logic in favor or irrational belief. This is a big stumbling block for many people in the modern world. They have bought into this lie about Christianity. Great theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas and CS Lewis do a wonderful job of removing that accusation against the Christian faith.
But as I have written in previous articles, we must remember that apologetics has its place. Many people have these mental impediments to coming to faith. For example, someone may have a problem believe that a good and love God would allow suffering. Reading a book like The Problem of Pain can help remove these stumbling blocks to faith. But even if all of these obstacles are removed, this does not guarantee faith. In other words, you cannot argue someone into believing, you can only argue away their obstacles. In the end, they must make the choice whether or not to make the leap of faith.
But why will they make that leap?
Recently, someone asked Fr. Larry Richards what was the best way to convert an atheist. He responded that too often we try to hit people with the truth of God before they’ve ever experienced the love of God.
God is love.
Love is the beginning and the end of evangelization.
As a high school theology teacher, I am sometimes able to argue students out of their objections to the faith. This act on my part is not all that impressive since I have spent many years studying these things and often their arguments are ones that they have heard from others (lately a lot of them are coming from YouTube). But even when I am able to refute their argument, faith is not immediately kindled in them.
Faith is a relationship. This is why Jesus wants us to believe IN Him, not simply believe THAT He is the Son of God. To believe IN someone is to have a relationship with them.
A student once asked me how they could believe in a God they have never met. I told them that they couldn’t. You can’t believe in someone, even God, if you have never met them.
So how do we help people meet God?
The first and most important thing is to love them.
One thing I have learned in my years of teaching is that the will can often override the intellect. You can remove every logical objection to faith, but if the person feels like they are being bullied or pushed towards God, they may reject faith simply out of a desire to not give in.
But when the people know that God truly loves them, they are drawn to Him in a deep and profound way. And this is part of our job in spreading the Gospel. We must give people the love of God.
When speaking with others, we must let them know that they are loved. Their lives are uniquely and particularly special. We must listen to them and care for them. We must show them that we care about them, not just in a general sense of Christian charity, but in a particular sense of human friendship.
If a person experiences that love and acceptance in us, it will turn them to the perfect love and acceptance that comes from God.
I remember listening to a speaker at a conference set up by my bishop. The speaker was a woman with same-sex attractions who was not raised Catholic. But in college, she somehow fell in with a Catholic college group. She was very up front about her attractions and her lifestyle, but she said that no one in that group ever put conditions on their friendship. She felt loved and accepted just as she was. To be clear, they never compromised the Church’s teachings on human sexuality, but they let her know that living in accordance with the Gospel was not a prerequisite to being loved by them or by God. As a result, she developed a deep longing for God, particularly in the Eucharist. The speaker came to realize that she wanted to be with Christ who loved her and so she embraced the Catholic Church’s teaching on sexuality.
The point is that the best way to bring people to the love of God is simply to love them. I know that seems obvious, but in these days, we are so quick to turn people who disagree with us into the villains of our story.