Why are so many Catholics reluctant to invite others to consider exploring the Catholic faith? Many fears loom in the minds and hearts of Catholics that can create a paralysis of sorts: fear of intruding, of being rejected, of being labeled a fanatic, of not knowing how to respond. Some of the fear resides in people’s awareness that they are not competent to talk about faith, but this fear can be overcome when we dispel the confusion between faith and doctrine that many Catholics harbor.
Perhaps some Catholics have extended an invitation but then become stymied when someone responds, “I would never consider the Catholic faith because Catholics believe (fill in the blank)” or “because Catholics require (fill in the blank).” Conversations like these can become very difficult because this kind of response shifts the focus from faith to doctrine or moral law. To make it more difficult, if we think we must then refute someone’s perceptions about the Church, we end up at a dead end. Why? Because the gift of faith precedes doctrine and moral law. If the gift of faith is not awakened within someone, they will not be able to understand, much less assent to, what we as Catholics hold as the truths of faith.
The Australian theologian James Gerard McEvoy, in an article on “Hope, Modernity, and the Church,” says that “faith arouses the desire for our eternal future without providing an intellectual grasp of that future” (Theological Studies 72, June 2011:297). While he is addressing the relationship of faith and hope, his words here do provide some insight for us to understand how faith differs from doctrine.
The virtue of faith reflects the Christian response to the longings and yearnings that all human beings have. These longings have a wide range, as Ronald Rolheiser observes in The Holy Longing. They include: “love, communion, community, friendship, family, affection, wholeness, consummation, creativity, self-perpetuation, immortality, joy, delight, humor, and self-transcendence” (p. 194).
When we invite someone to consider the Catholic faith, we are not asking them to become members nor are we asking them to assent to the doctrines that are a part of our Catholic tradition. Instead, we are tapping into the longings that they may have, like those above, and inviting them to consider whether the Catholic faith may provide an “answer.” An individual who is inviting another does not have to provide “the answer,” for the community of faith is ready and available to provide a forum for “the answer” to be explored.
This is the point, for example, of programs like Seeking Christ or Awakening Faith as well as the process of initiation for those who are not baptized. We begin not by introducing them to religious education classes that explain the tenets of the Creed but rather by helping them to explore the ways that faith responds to our deepest longings and drives.
Thus, to invite someone to faith, we do not have to know everything about what we believe. We do need to know why we believe or why we have faith. The “why of faith” is much more easy to articulate than the “what of faith,” as long as we give ourselves some time for reflection about why we have accepted the gift of faith. Reflect on questions like these as you get ready to invite others to explore the Catholic faith:
- How does the Catholic faith help you to respond to the human longings you have?>
- Why do you experience a welcome spirit when you are in the midst of the Catholic community?
- What is it about the faith that raises enthusiasm and/or hope in you?
- What kind of perspective does the faith offer you in relation to others? Toward those in need? Toward society and the world?
Many of the people described in the Acts of the Apostles sought to be a part of the Christian community not because they agreed with the articles of the creed. They would not have heard about them at that point. Instead, they saw how faith infused the life of believers and the appeal was so strong that they thought, “I want a piece of that.” When we invite others to explore the faith, we connect on the level of our longings and we generously share the gift of faith, rather than keeping it all for ourselves.