(This is part of a series on The New Evangelization. Read the introduction here.)
You’ve heard about those who do it, or at least those who’ve seen it happen. Perhaps even you have been unexpectedly asked the question once on your way home from work, catching you off guard, rendering you speechless, vulnerable.
“Are you saved?!”
“Ah, er, yeah, sure.”
The zealous, impassioned Born Again Christian then launches on an exegesis of John 3:16, and starts blurting out other Bible verses at lightning speed, as the meek Catholic squirms awkwardly, trying to think of the most feasible escape plan.
Are you?! Am I? Am I!
There is something admirable about the zeal with which some of our Protestant brothers and sisters evangelize. I know of many a parent (or brother/sister) asking for prayers for a family member who has started attending non-Catholic assemblies because of encounters similar to the one described above. And most of the time, the concerned family member can only watch as the son or daughter slips farther away from the Church, perhaps himself once or twice found speechless when challenged, questioned, tested.
What’s the point of going to Mass? Kneeling, standing, receiving a piece of wafer?
Why do you confess to a priest? Go directly to God!
Why do you follow the Pope? You’re supposed to follow Jesus Christ alone!
There’s no getting around it: you cannot share what you do not know. And as much as we’d wish knowledge would magically illumine our minds like a ray of light shining forth from the heavens, we cannot know what we do not take the time to study.
If you want to be a better soldier for Christ and His Church, here are just a few things you can do to get ready:
Know your Catholic Faith. There are a lot of ways to go about doing this, but the important thing is not to get too overwhelmed. Just read what you can, study what you can. But more importantly, don’t study just to know what to say when the time comes, but rather to enrich your faith. Read about what really goes on during confession, and take that with you the next time you go into the box. Especially when it comes to the Church’s stand on certain things, don’t just take other people’s word for it: go read for yourself. Nowadays, you don’t even need to go out and buy your own copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (not that I’m keeping you from doing so), it’s all available online! You don’t even need to dive into an in-depth study of the faith (again, not stopping you). But if at any time a question pops into your head, or a comment someone makes tugs at your heart, be curious enough to want to find out what the Church has to say about it, and be determined enough to act on that curiosity.
What to read? Again, if you were to look online, there are a lot of resources you can find (but please make sure it is a reliable source of Church teaching). There are a lot of Q&A books out there, such as The Catholic Answer Book and Why Do Catholics Do That?, but as I mentioned in previous posts (here and here), there is something to be said about reading the conversion stories of former Protestants, particularly pastors and theologians, who found themselves on the road to Rome. They asked the same questions you’ll probably get asked by a non-Catholic (precisely because they were staunch Catholic persecutors once themselves!), and found Truth in the answer. Refer back to this previous post for some highly recommended reading.
All scripture is inspired by God and useful for refuting error, for guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be upright. This is how someone who is dedicated to God becomes fully equipped and ready for any good work. –2 Timothy 3:16-17
Know your Bible. Again, the key is not to get overwhelmed. Appreciate the fact that the written Word of God was and is of the Church, and for the Church–very much a part of our heritage as traditions and doctrines are. More and more Catholics today are picking up their bibles and allowing Scripture to touch them personally and permanently. If you haven’t yet, is not the Year of Faith the perfect time to start?
First step is to make sure the bible you have in your hand is indeed a Catholic one. How can you know? It usually says so somewhere on the cover; you would be a step ahead if you looked for an Imprimatur on the copyright page. What is the difference? Aside from the level of faithfulness to the original text, Catholic bibles contain some books that are not found in Protestant bibles (a shame, really, as some of these books–collectively called the Deuterocanonicals–contain some of my favorite passages and stories).
Second step is to simply start reading–and never stop. Set aside a time for it each day until your day won’t feel complete unless you’ve read a chapter or two. Start with the Gospels, progressively read through the New Testament after that, then it will be much more manageable to go through the Old Testament once you’ve made a habit of reading.
Just as each of us has various parts in one body, and the parts do not all have the same function; in the same way, all of us, though there are so many of us, make up one body in Christ, and as different parts we are all joined to one another. –Romans 12:4-5
Know your Church (and church). Be excited with everyone else as we find out more about Pope Francis. Know your Bishop, your Parish and Parish Priest. Be involved in the liturgy, serve in whatever way you can; offer your time, talent and treasure. Join a prayer community so that you can know more, grow more, serve more. Actively be part of Christ’s Mystical Body.
Amidst all the knowing, do not forsake our being.
Be holy. Not all of us are called to the priestly or religious life, but we are all called to live holy lives. And if we live our life according to what the Gospel teaches, Christ’s light will surely shine in us and through us. More than our what our words can say about our faith and Scripture, let our lives be testament to God’s reign in our lives. Others will see that and, we pray, would want what we have: an unshakeable faith, a living hope, an extravagant love.
(After Getting Ready, then what? Read on about Getting Down, and Getting Dirty).