Tips for beginning evangelizers
Question: I have been trying to learn more about my faith in the last few months – reading the Bible and the Catechism and listening to apologetics materials – and I feel that I have been drawn into a better, or even deeper, understanding of my faith, but I still don’t feel like I have what it takes to talk to people about my faith. How do I go from learning and knowing more about my faith, to sharing what I’ve learned with others?
Answer: The first thing I always tell people to do, is pray. Pray that God will use you as an instrument to bring the fullness of the truth that is found in the Catholic Faith, the fullness of the truth that is Jesus Christ, to others. Pray before you talk to someone, while you’re talking to someone, and after you talk to someone.
The second thing that I tell people, is to not be afraid (Luke 5:10). The thing that I have found which most often keeps people from sharing their faith with others, is fear. Not, necessarily, fear of simply talking to others about the faith, although that could be true in some cases, but more often fear of making a mistake in what you say and/or how you say it, when talking to others. Or, there is the fear of being embarrassed if someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer.
Well, that’s why the first thing I said to do is to pray, because prayer will help you to overcome such fears. In addition to prayer, though, the thing you always need to keep in mind is that you will indeed make mistakes when talking to people about the faith, but that it’s okay to do so. Will you say something that is wrong or confusing? Yes. Will you say things in a way that will get folks angry with you or possibly even get angry over what some people say to you? Yes. Will folks ask you questions that you will not know how to answer? Yes. However, if you are sharing your faith with someone out of a legitimate concern for their soul, out of a desire to share Jesus Christ with them, and not to just win an argument with your Fundamentalist brother-in-law or some such thing, then God will find a way to bring something good out of even your mistakes. So, share your faith with confidence that God will help you to do what He needs to have done, and that He is capable of using even your mistakes for the good.
That’s not to say, however, that you don’t try to minimize the number of mistakes you make. Oh, no. When you make a mistake, you have to learn from it and strive to do better. If you say something that is wrong, or confusing, for example, you need to go back and do your homework and strive to not make that particular mistake again. If someone asks you a question about, for instance, where Purgatory is in the Bible, and you tell them that Purgatory isn’t in the Bible, which I have heard come from the mouths of Catholics before, they will then respond, “Then why do you Catholics believe in it?”
“Well, because, uh, uhm, because the Church teaches it.”
“So, you put the teachings of men before the Word of God?”
“Well, uh, uhm, well…uh…”
Oops. You made a mistake by saying that Purgatory isn’t in the Bible. That is simply wrong, and your wrong answer has put you in a bad position as far as this particular conversation goes. The word, “Purgatory,” is indeed not mentioned in the Bible, but the concept of Purgatory can most certainly be established using just the Bible. A simple rule to always keep in mind is that whenever you are asked a question about Church teaching and the Bible, which is the most common question you will get from our non-Catholic Christian brothers and sisters – “Where is that [Purgatory, Immaculate Conception, Confession, prayers to Saints, etc.] in the Bible?” – always remember that the teachings of the Church can be supported, either directly or indirectly, by Scripture. You may not know the particular Scripture passage or passages relating to a particular doctrine, but rest assured they are there. You can be 100% confident that there is nothing in the Catholic Faith contrary to anything in Scripture, and nothing in Scripture contrary to anything in the Catholic Faith. You can also keep in mind, that there are a number of doctrines believed by various Protestant denominations, nowhere to be found in Scripture.
So, you’ve said that Purgatory isn’t in the Bible, but you find out later that you made a mistake and that it actually can be quite easily explained using just the Bible, and a little bit of common sense. What do you do? Well, you go back to the person you were talking to, if you still have contact with them, and apologize for your error and use the opportunity to start up another conversation with them. You use your mistake as an opportunity to evangelize. And, the more you evangelize, you will realize that you make fewer and fewer mistakes.
Now, what if you no longer have contact with that person you made the mistake with? The person you told that Purgatory is not in the Bible? And they’re out there thinking something about the Catholic Church that is wrong because of what you said to them? Well, first of all, you have to trust in the power of God for someone else to come into that person’s life and correct them. Second of all, you have to realize that they already believed that Purgatory was not in the Bible so it’s not as if you caused the error in their thinking in the first place. But, even if you did, you need to take it to prayer. We so often think that it is our job to convert someone. Wrong. It is not our job to convert anyone, it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convert a person’s heart and mind. Our job is to throw out the seeds. We throw out the seeds, and we leave the rest up to God. So, start throwing out those seeds, and then hit your knees…
John Martignoni is a nationally-known Catholic apologist and Bible scholar. He is the Founder and President of the Bible Christian Society, where you can find lots of free apologetics materials — CD’s, mp3 downloads, e-newsletters, and more, and host of EWTN’s “Open Line” airing on Mondays at 3 p.m. EST.