1 Peter 3:15-16
Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.
I had a conversation this week with someone who was concerned about a discussion they had with someone who does not believe as we do. This person I talked to was afraid that because they did not seem to have good answers, they had failed the faith. I assured this person that that was not the case.
Now, Saint Peter does say that we need to be ready to explain our faith, our “reason for hope”, but “with gentleness and reverence”. I do not remember where I heard this first, but it is a good point: “you can win an argument, and lose a soul.” The terrible inclination is that we want to be able to defend our faith to the fullest possible extent.
It makes sense. We have a love for the faith, so we do not like it when others dismiss the faith, for whatever reason. And sometimes, when people are belligerent in how they attack the faith, we have a hard time maintaining a sense of grace in our thoughts, words, or actions.
I know this all too well from a number of my encounters with non-Catholic Christians. They are as convinced of their correctness as we are of ours. So how do I, or maybe I should say how did I, stay with the Catholic Church? The answer to that is really quite simple. Jesus promised us that he would be with us until the end of the age. There are very few groups of Christians that can legitimately make that claim: the Orthodox, the Coptics, and the Catholics. In addition, there is the relationship with the successor of St. Peter – the Pope.
So, what is the best point of view, or the best action, to take when it comes to people who want to argue against our faith? First of all, listen. Usually, those who object to the faith are not doing so with a good understanding of what the faith is all about.
If we listen close enough, many people will reveal the mistakes they are making in their understanding of the faith. We may not be able to change their mind, but knowing that they have made mistakes in their theological logic makes it easier for us to stand by the faith for ourselves.
So, I would give that as a basic advice in addition to what St. Peter said in the reading. Peter said to be gentle and reverent, or respectful when people argue against the faith. Our call to holiness means that we need to not be combative, but be truthful. We need to learn the mistakes that others make in regards to the faith. But we also need to have confidence that we are following the truth.
In our world today, there are many people who are very tricky in their arguments against the faith. And they know how to communicate among themselves. We need to learn how to communicate with the Holy Spirit in a way that will enable us to speak a word of encouragement to these kinds of people, but not be so harsh as to drive them farther away.
Lord Jesus, we are rapidly approaching the feast of Pentecost, when you sent the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. Send out your spirit again in a new way on your church, that we may be able to present the truth to a world that does not want to hear the truth. Give us the courage, the gentleness, the respect that others needed to see in order that they may not run further away, or put up more walls. Help us through your gifts to draw all of these people to you.
And, most importantly, give us such confidence in our faith that we will not be effected negatively by the arguments of those who do not believe. Place your Holy Spirit around each of us that we may be secure and joyful in the faith you have given us. Amen.