Do You Love To Argue?
Over the years I’ve been party to many apologetics debates over Catholic doctrine, and I’m proud to say that, in most cases, all involved (including me) participated with the proper attitude. But I’ve also seen conversations degenerate to the detriment of evangelization when the tone of the Catholic apologist becomes too preachy.
The fact is, sometimes we love to argue too much. Hammering home the argument becomes a delight. At times you just get to the point where you condescendingly push along a string of logic that must cause the opposition to agree to your point of view. But that isn’t always the case. And then you say things like, “But, why can’t you see that …”—as if the inability to grasp a 15 minute summary of what you learned in a month of theological pursuit is the other fellow’s fault.
If you’ve ever found yourself in a situation such as this, or have a friend who just can’t seem to keep that authoritarian tone from his voice when trying to explain a doctrine, I offer (I hope, humbly) the following reflections. Far from being original, these thoughts are influenced by the writings or statements of learned priests and teachers.
No Value in the Disputation
One of the most critical things to remember when engaging in debate is that the disputation has no inherent value. The pleasure should come in the presentation of the Truth rather than in brilliant polemics. And it should also be remembered that Truth is best presented with “holy simplicity.” More people will be convinced by your ardor for Love himself than your ardor for the argument.
Theology More Than a Science
The study of Theology will not make you holy. While theology certainly has its place as the “Queen of the Sciences”, the pure reduction of sacred doctrine to a scholastic discipline is fatal. When you examine your own Faith, especially with the goal of better relating it to others, remember that absorbing the teaching is more than just committing it to memory. Make the effort to commit it to your heart, and your evangelical efforts will flourish.
The Faith is Not Intended for Everyone
A holy priest, Scripture scholar and college professor said to me: “Faith is a gift of God that is freely given; but not given to everyone.” If you remember this, it is easier to avoid frustration if your point is either persistently misunderstood or is simply not well-received. For reasons beyond your understanding, God may have a plan for this person that does not include the Faith—or at least not at this time. You can plant the seed, but you can’t make it rain. That’s God’s job.
It’s a Mystery!
Much to our chagrin, although we can spend many fruitless hours trying to convince somebody of the “reasonableness” of a doctrine, there’s still a reason why it’s called a mystery. You may just not get any further for lack of empirical evidence. My friends and I spent years trying to convince a non-Catholic friend of the doctrinal integrity possessed by the Church. Fruitless. He just couldn’t bring himself to accept the Real Presence (among other things). Then about a year later, he quietly converted—really without telling any of us. He was suddenly blessed with Faith. What’s the point? God is awesome. Relax!
Put Up or Shut Up
This was the second time I’d had a friend convert under those types of circumstances. But here’s the rub: when selecting Confirmation sponsors, both chose individuals who had been on the outskirts of our evangelical efforts! Another fellow who was in the thick of the debate asked one of them what prompted his choice. The answer was, “While you guys were all standing in front of me pontificating, I was being stubborn because I know you guys too well—and frankly, you aren’t all that perfect.” But Mr. X over there was living Eucharistic devotion. Back to the drawing board. Would you have guessed sometimes it is better to walk the walk than talk the talk?
And as usual, it all comes back to one word: LOVE. A critical self-examination of how you teach others is often a great litmus test for how you love others, and how you love God.
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