Part 1: Teach the Ignorant
The following is the first in a seven-part series on the spiritual works of mercy.
By Chris Sparks
"Catholicism is outdated."
"Christianity is based on myths, falsified documents, etc."
"No one could possibly use their reason and still believe in the Catholic faith."
You've heard all the accusations, I'm sure. They come from people who may actually believe themselves to be performing the first spiritual work of mercy: informing the ignorant.
The problem is, those accusations are wrong.
Here's the thing: We are joined in the Mystical Body of Christ by educated converts and reverts to the faith every year, people like Jennifer Fulwiler, author of the conversion memoir Something Other Than God, who converted from atheism to Catholicism in large part because she found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church a user's guide to being human. We receive converts like the former Presbyterians Dr. Scott and Kimberly Hahn, coauthors of Rome, Sweet Home, who, through extensive study, overcame their own deep anti-Catholic prejudices and became convinced of the deep biblical roots for Catholic teaching and practice. We get people who were certain that Catholicism is outdated, based on false history and sheer myth, an irrational and anti-scientific faith — until they started to actually study the teachings of the Church and the lives of the saints. Then suddenly light dawns. They realize they didn't know the Church at all.
As Venerable Fulton Sheen wrote in the preface to Radio Replies, "There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church ... . As a matter of fact, if we Catholics believed all of the untruths and lies which were said against the Church, we probably would hate the Church a thousand times more than they do."
So many of the reasons why people are not Catholic, or why they oppose the faith, are based in misunderstandings, rumors, and sometimes even in lies. Oh, don't get me wrong — there are also people who aren't Catholic because living the faith can be as hard as the wood of the Cross. There are others who have been hurt by Catholics, by failures from the institutional apparatus of the Church, by abusive priests or stern nuns, by laity who failed to live up to the baptismal call to holiness. There are many reasons to not be Catholic that are rooted in the sins of Catholics or the silence of God, not in ignorance and lies. But there's a lot of ignorance about Catholicism out there, and there actually are a lot of lies about the faith and the Church in circulation amongst the anti-Catholics of both high and low culture.
In that intellectual environment, those of us who have been blessed with the light of faith are more obligated than ever to share it with the world. But it's a fine balance, "instructing the uninformed." That balance first demands making sure that we aren't the ones who need the instructing in the first place (and with 2,000 years of history, saints, and teaching, all of us, even the best read and most brilliant, always have more to learn!).
So we are called to read good books, starting with the Good Book and the Catechism. We are called to know about the times when God breaks into human history, especially in the lives of the saints, by reading such works as the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, in order to share the great weight of evidence for the existence of God with all those who have never heard of such things before. We should watch orthodox, informative presentations of the faith, starting at home in our parish by attending Mass on a regular basis and seeking out adult faith formation programs such as the Hearts Afire: Parish-based Programs or the Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy cenacles; to listen to good preaching and solid teaching through such places as orthodox Catholic radio and Lighthouse Catholic Media CDs. We are called to receive the Sacraments, perform the works of mercy, and by doing God's will in the world, guided by God's revelation and strengthened by his grace in Scripture and Tradition, become holy.
As we inform ourselves, we begin to inform others by the simple witness of the time and love with which we seek to form ourselves in the faith. We show what truly knowing about Christ and his Church looks like. And, over time, we will be approached by the curious or the concerned, seeking out the wisdom of Catholicism as they see it transforming our lives and hearts. After all, Catholics confront a world in turmoil — intellectual, cultural, and spiritual — that continually derides the faith handed down from the apostles, all while it's starved for grace, transcendence, meaning, and hope. Remember the media reaction to Blessed Mother Teresa's witness to charity and to St. John Paul II's witness to hope. The world needs saints, and on some level, it knows that. That's the heart of celebrity culture: The world seeks people to look up, people to emulate, people to follow, like sheep without a shepherd. And Jesus seems too distant, too long ago, too foreign, if he's not being made present every day in every way by us, the believing.
The faith is better than we are, it's true, but we need to be improving, running after the standard set by Christ of the love which leads to the cross and resurrection. If we do that faithfully, fully, and well; if we run our race and finish strong, going to Confession when we fall, refusing to stay down when the world, the flesh, and the devil trip us up, then we will have informed the ignorant — ourselves. We will have prepared ourselves to share the truth of Christ with the world, as well, for the bedrock of sanctity is humility, and only the humble can truly teach.
After all, everybody hates a know-it-all.
But everyone loves the person who knows what's what when things get tough and the tough haven't the first clue which direction to start going.
So have mercy on yourself. Go deeper into the faith. Pray about it. Read about it. Live it. And, in so doing, you will be able to begin to share that faith with the whole world.
The spiritual works of mercy
• Teach the ignorant
• Pray for the living and the dead
• Admonish sinners
• Counsel those in doubt
• Console the sorrowful
• Bear wrongs patiently
• Forgive offenses
We invite you to follow along with the series.