... one of the best answers you can give to a question you can't answer about the faith is, "I don't know." That should, however, be followed quickly by a "Let's find out together."
I've come to the conclusion that faith is more about who we trust than what we believe. Dogmas and doctrines are important, to be sure. And, once we believe in something, we can hardly imagine not believing it. The hard part, however, is coming to believe.
Most of us like to think of all truths as self-evident facts that stand on their own radiating clear and undeniable light. That just isn't the case. Perhaps it's because there's something about human nature that makes it easy to embrace a teaching when we trust the teacher -- and near impossible to accept anything from someone we do not.
A quick skim through the Gospels shows us that the first disciples of Jesus Christ were motivated more by the power of his presence than by the power of his words or ideas. Jesus of Nazareth was, after all, not just another philosopher like Socrates, Aristotle, or Philo of Alexandria. Wise men die and decay; they live on only through their ideas. Christ, however, lives. His teachings are immortal because he is immortal, raised from the dead in the power and glory of God.
If we wonder why our faith has many opponents and even more who simply disregard it, we ought to look at how we can become more trustworthy witnesses and teachers. We ought to consider whether we are depending on the truths we have received to speak for themselves, instead of stepping up to the plate and answering God's call to go into the world as witnesses of his Gospel.
So how do we build trust with those we hope to reach? First, we must stop fighting among ourselves. There is nothing so unappealing as a Church that mirrors the discord and bloodlust of the world. We ought to stop labeling each other as "conservatives" or "liberals" or "moderates." And we ought not to accept those labels when others apply them to us. If we are the Body of Christ, there is room for every member. If we are a "pilgrim people," we are here to help each other on the way to the kingdom.
Second, we need to approach the world with love, rather than fear, or worse, a sense of superiority. The world is full of sinners; and we ourselves are first among them. We may feel better about our sins and ourselves because we are striving for virtue and holiness. But we are every bit as dependent on God's mercy as the worst sinner on earth is. Jesus did not come to us with condemnation. We need to resist the temptation to become like the one Scripture calls "the accuser of the brethren."
Third, it wouldn't hurt to learn more about the faith we profess. I know some people find the Catechism of the Catholic Church a difficult read. There are other books -- and videos, and music, and TV shows, and websites, and social media, and you-name-its. One of the best ways to grow in our understanding of God is to be attentive at Mass. I know that may sound a bit like Sister Mary Clicker, but the liturgy is a great catechist. If you pay attention to the seasons and feasts, readings and prayers, you will learn more about the faith. Of course, you could also consider joining a Bible study or taking a class. Nobody expects or needs you to be a walking catechism or summa. In fact, one of the best answers you can give to a question you can't answer about the faith is, "I don't know." That should, however, be followed quickly by a "Let's find out together."
The fourth, and indispensable, way to become better teachers and witnesses to our faith is to practice it well. That doesn't mean living a life of perfection. It means doing our very best to live a life of authenticity. That involves promptly admitting our faults and failings, holding onto ideals we know we fall short of, and putting aside all falseness and pretense. In short, it means living honestly. When we do that, we earn the right to be heard. That is, we are able to stand for the truths we believe in a way that makes them visible, and even attractive, to those who have yet to espouse them. When people feel like they can embrace us, they will be far more likely to embrace what we believe.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is the author of “Adoption: Room for One More?”, a speaker, musician and serves as an Aquisitions Editor at Our Sunday Visitor. Follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.