Monday, November 19, 2012

Faith Talk

Catholics have always had a hard time talking about their faith. They tend to leave that to the professionals. They assume priests and religion teachers will do a fine job. When it comes to evangelism they try and justify silent evangelism. There are two sayings you hear a lot:
  1. Actions speak louder than words
  2. Preach the gospel always. When necessary, use words
The first saying is simply false. Words speak louder than actions. It is better to have words and actions. Still someone can lead a relatively good Catholic life for decades and never cause anyone in his circle of friends to come to the faith. In fact, it is not just possible, it is the rule. Often they are only vaguely aware that the person is Catholic. Actions without words are almost completely ineffective.

The second saying is often credited to St Francis of Assisi. He never said it. St Francis almost never stopped talking about his faith so it would have been a strange thing for him to say.

In today's world it is hard to talk about your faith. I can see why people chicken out. You do it wrong and you end up feeling more guilty than before. It is awkward for you and awkward for those you are talking too. It is just hard to imagine something good happening.

There is one thing that you can do to try and fix that. You can talk to other Catholics about your faith. That is one thing that the protestant communities I was involved with did a lot and Catholics rarely do. Part of it is there is a wider range of spiritual types in the Catholic church. In a protestant community there is often more uniformity. A Dutch Reformed church is going to have less diversity and therefore you can expect to have more in common with the people you talk to. That makes it easier.

It is easier for protestants but that does not mean Catholics should not do it. We have a diverse church. Sharing our faith even inside the church can make for some challenges in terms of charitably disagreeing. We might have a few bad experiences. Still not talking about our faith at all leaves us in a bad space. If we don't talk about our faith inside the church then what are the chances we talk about it outside the church?

Suppose a non-Christian friend talks to you about something they regret. They feel guilty about something. It would be wonderful if you could talk about forgiveness with them. It would be even better if you could do that without using religious language. If you could speak with your own words from your own heart. Have you ever spoken about forgiveness that way with your Catholic friends? If you have then my guess is you are much more likely to try it with you unchurched friend. It will seem almost natural because your will be responding to your friends need by telling a personal story you have told before.

The key is to learn how to talk about faith like we talk about anything else. Don't force it into conversations but don't block it out either. If we are doing it right it should connect with our lives at many points and mostly in a very positive way. So find a safe Catholic community where you can learn to talk about such matters. Then your will have a fighting chance to talk about it with the secular people in your life.


  1. Actually I don't think either "Preach the gospel always. When necessary, use words" nor "Actions speak louder than words" contradict anything that you've said. Unless one is a perfect mime, it's always necessary to use words since none of the gospels can be expressed without words. On the other hand, words without actions are just empty words. Talk all you want about fidelity but if you're cheating on your spouse, you don't mean it.

    As with many things, moderation is necessary. It is possible to fall into the ditch by leaning too far on either side of the road.

  2. Thanks for the comment Anil. I noticed you linked one of my posts on Fr Z's blog as well. Much appreciated.

    I guess I think words without actions can be effective especially when they express God's truth. Talking about fidelity while cheating on your spouse is not optimal but it is better than not talking about it or talking about the joys of cheating. God's word has a way of ringing true in people's hearts.

    I am not saying actions are unimportant. Just that you should not wait until your actions get to a certain level before talking. We might never get there. Work on improving your walk and your talk.

    It does not matter which you do first. I think doing one will make the other easier. When you tell others about fidelity you might prick your own conscience and repent. Alternatively you might repent first and receive such joy that you have to tell someone.

    Moderation is important when there is a real danger of falling into both ditches. Some people are in danger of talking too much. Very few of them are Catholics. Almost all Catholics err on the side of saying too little.

  3. Hello Randy,

    Have you ever heard of Catholic Street Evangelization?

    This is a group of Catholics all across the world who are evangelizing in public places with many pictures of their encounters on the website.