Flying under the radar is not what Jesus had in mind
I have had numerous conversations with friends and professional acquaintances over the years on the subject of openly sharing our Catholic faith. I am always a little surprised at how often many of them express strong reluctance to being open about their beliefs. The reasons given have included many you may have heard before.
“I don’t want to offend anyone.”
“We could never do that at work.”
“I don’t like to discuss that outside of my parish.”
Do we ever stop and reflect on how often our public actions and thinking are overly influenced by what others may think about our Catholic faith?
I wonder how many times a day we miss opportunities to stand up for Christ or share our faith. Is it the conversation we avoid with a troubled coworker? Is it standing up to someone who is attacking the Church? How about the person who is quietly curious about the Catholic faith and is only waiting on an invitation to attend Mass with us? Too often a misplaced concern for the opinions of those around us keeps us from embracing our responsibilities as Catholics. However, it is crystal clear that Jesus expects us to openly share our faith and be overt witnesses for Him, if we read the Gospel of Matthew 10:32-33, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”
Christ always taught the Truth regardless of the audience, and is our greatest example on how to not be concerned about the respect of others. His enemies recognized this aspect of Christ’s teaching in Matthew 22:16: “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status.”
Francis Fernandez, author of In Conversation with God, makes this relevant observation (about sharing the truth regardless of the repercussions): “Christ asks His disciples to imitate Him in this practice. Christians should foster and defend their well-earned professional, moral and social prestige, since it belongs to the essence of human dignity. This prestige is also an important component of our personal apostolate. Yet we should not forget that our conduct will meet with opposition from those who openly oppose Christian morality and those who practice a watered-down version of the Faith. It is possible that the Lord will ask of us the sacrifice of our good name, and even of life itself. With the help of His grace we will struggle to do His will. Everything we have belongs to the Lord.” (In Conversation with God, Vol. 4, pp. 267-268, Section 44.1)
I feel sorely challenged by the words in the preceding paragraph, yet I know we are all called to have courage and make sacrifices in His name. If we have faith and trust in Christ we will receive the grace we need. I also realize that our behavior will be a clear example to others of the strength of our faith. Many non-believers or lukewarm Christians may be moved to a deeper faith if they witness our good and sincere example.
Whether you are a business person, in career transition, a stay-at-home mom, a student or a senior citizen, chances are you have faced this struggle with worrying about what others think of us. It is a natural human tendency that affects me and everyone I know. We all want to be liked, respected and included. But, here’s the catch: we can’t separate our spiritual selves from our physical being. The faith we profess is part of who we are and can’t be hidden away. “This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age. The Christian who neglects his temporal duties, neglects his duties toward his neighbor and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation.” (Gaudium et Spes, Second Vatican Council, 43)
Can we all agree that being “stealth” Catholics is not the answer? If so, here are six thoughts on how to overcome our fear of what others may think of us when publicly sharing our faith:
• Is there really a policy? I have heard many times that expressing our faith in the workplace is “against company policy.” Have we actually seen written policies that address making the Sign of the Cross and praying at meals, praying quietly at your desk, going to Mass at lunch or wearing ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday? I know there may be exceptions, but let me challenge all of us to consider the possibility that much of our fear may be based on false perceptions of possible persecution and not reality.