What works in some conversion stories is not what works for others.
At times it might seem like apologetics and evangelism are two arts that are refined by trial and error. Discussing the faith with your friend is not the same as discussing the faith with your spouse. Just like what happens in a book is not what will always work on your peers. That’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way.
I started looking into Catholicism one October after meeting a Catholic man and challenging him to look further into Protestantism. I was blown away and stumped by the Biblical, logical, historical support, and conclusions he would so easily bring me to. It was Shaun (me) against Sean.
“Sean, Jesus was not being literal in in John 6 when talking to the multitudes about the living bread.”
“Then, Shaun, didn’t those who rejected the words of Jesus think he was being literal?”
“Then why didn’t Jesus correct them?”
“Didn’t he explain himself?”
“Yes, but he explained himself more literally.”
I was so attracted to the logic Sean would give me, but Catholicism could not be true, could it? I started to believe and wanted to tell everyone I knew, especially my wife.
She had encouraged me in apologetics in the first place and I felt I owed it to us to explain the faith that I was growing more in love with each week. She was interested, but not interested. See, she was more than 25 weeks pregnant when all this was happening. I, on the other hand, was knee deep in a Master’s degree, my job, trying to be more involved with our a church, finding a church at all, getting settled into a new city, and so many more hobbies.
My wife and I were at two different places in life but our marriage has always been so strong that we make every attempt to be on the same page, supportive, and one flesh on everything. I valued this and didn’t really have that going into this Catholic thing. Each night, I would light a fire in our fireplace, drag a chair over, and verify what Sean was telling me about, soon learning that people like Irenaeus, Clement, and Ignatius of Antioch didn’t just “actually exist”, they spoke explicitly about rites, doctrine, and faith that is identical to what I know as the modern Catholic Church.
I would attempt to tell my wife about all of this and I received support, but no interest. But it would be unfair to just leave it there and say she “wasn’t interested” because she was not at the place in life where a conversion was on her mind. She was trying to bring a baby into the world and nest a new home. I like to think I was appreciative about the whole thing, but I just couldn’t shut up about it. I was at a place where I was so convinced, that to not make a step or take some action would have been a sin of omission, a denial of my conscience.
She did me the favor of reading Scott Hahn’s Rome Sweet Home and more or less ordered me to follow their example and remain silent about my newfound convictions until she was at a place where she could examine the information with a full set of energy and enthusiasm. I couldn’t have asked for a better bargain so I agreed.
There arose so many opportunities for me to blow it. Standing at Mass and hearing her skip over parts of the creed (or so my ears told me), feeling alone when going to RCIA or praying a Rosary. There were times when she would open up and talk about the more difficult parts of the faith and I just wanted to burst out with ways to tell her what she had wrong, what she was overlooking, and how she needed to start thinking and re-thinking.
I chose none of those. Only seldom, when asked, would I reply to her questions and I would choose a very concise and direct reply. I chose prudence: only saying what needs to be said, only when it needs to be said.
So I stayed quiet, like I had agreed, kept my promise, and soon entered into the Church. Our son’s baptism came at 3 weeks after he was born, which my wife encouraged; and I was encouraged.
This silence was difficult but I soon saw the fruits. Each day possible I would do three things:
- Go to mass.
- Sit and pray in Eucharistic Adoration.
- Light a candle, symbolic of the saints I was asking to pray for her conversion.
She began to come around. The silence, I like to think, made her more curious, and respect me further as a “liver of the faith” rather than a “talker of the faith.” She left me a note one morning telling me that she was ready to enter the Church and was happy with me as a leader and consistent example.
Entering the Church on December 9th, she was in full communion with the Church and my heart was full. Not only had she entered, she entered under her own conviction, choice, and desire to join, rather than me having her piggyback on my journey under my convictions. It was more than 6 months after me, but I haven’t looked back on that journey and thought that it should happen another way.
The Right Way and the Wrong Way
One of the main problems I have made and observed is the temptation to say too much and expect too much out of other people. The motive is all good but the means are not. Jesus commands us to make disciples but we often forget two things.
First, remember the parable of the seeds. Some seeds fell here, others there. Some on fertile soil and others on rocks and everything in between. What counted for the work of the evangelizer is the spreading of the seeds at all, not the earth they landed on. Jesus does not warn us not to seed certain bits of earth; we are to spread and leave the growth to God.
Second, I heard Ray Guarendi say the wisest thing to parents who allow themselves to feel guilt for their kids not turning out the way they wanted: “Did Jesus understand human nature? Did he have a perfect understanding of every human being? Wasn’t Jesus an effective communicator? Did he also not convince some to repent and convert? Then you cannot expect yourself to bear the weight of another’s conversion. Remember, you scatter the seeds and leave the rest to God.”
I had a positive experience exercising patience and prudence trying to witness to my own wife. Now, believe me, I’ve been the world’s worst apologist once or twice, but I learned quickly what irks people and what makes people listen. When evangelizing and especially when answering for the faith, we use 1 Peter 3:15-16 as our guide. I urge all of us though, to pay special attention to the timing that St. Peter includes in his verse:
“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope”.
“Who asks you” is the most important bit here when considering prudence. While you could be a street evangelizer or otherwise defend the faith, Peter is telling us it’s best to answer questions than to tell people answers to questions they don’t yet understand.