Several of the most challenging moments in my career have been when I’ve been called out on my Catholic values by colleagues.
This has happened to me at all of my various levels of experience, in all capacities ranging from a genuine, well-intentioned curiosity, to a rage-fueled confrontation, to the seeming desire to embarrass me in front of respected coworkers. In those moments, my heart races, the blood probably all rushes to my pale cheeks, and my brain totally shuts down. I absolutely HATE confrontation, with everything in me, and my fight-or-flight response kicks up at even the slightest sign of a potentially-confrontational tone, and tells me to run.
Yet, we know that we are asked to defend the Truths of our Faith, and not back down when we are questioned. And I think the hostile confrontation that so many of us face today is an alternate form of martyrdom. We are called to die to ourselves, die to our own comfort, and to step confidently to the defense of Christ and His Church, not knowing what the outcome will look like. Our beliefs may be respected, even admired, or we may be met with anger, confusion, or personal attacks.
It is SO HARD to know how to respond when your values are questioned. Sometimes the conversation requires a quiet tact, other times it may need a bold, outspoken response. How do you determine the motives of the person questioning you? How do you know what sort of response to supply in a given situation? When questioned about a nuanced, complex theological or moral topic, how much detail do you provide, or, otherwise, how do you learn to synthesize a dense amount of information very quickly and concisely?
To be honest, these are questions that I’m still learning to deal with, because each circumstance is so different. There’s not necessarily a particular right or wrong way to respond, but I have picked up some helpful tips along the way, which have led (sometimes) to productive conversations, and (sometimes) to an even greater respect from my coworkers. Again, I emphasize that these results only happen sometimes because human responses are largely unpredictable. There have been conversations where I felt certain I was going to be met with anger, and have been very pleasantly surprised. Contrarily, there have been instances where I felt comfortable in a conversation, only to be shocked by an angry, emotional response. So with that in mind, here are some of my go-to steps for potentially confrontational situations.
Calm yourself down first. This is probably the step I struggle with most. It’s such a natural response to get flustered, and either become timid, backing away from the conversation, or be too quick to reply, and risk saying something incorrect or too emotionally charged. Make sure to take a few deep breaths, calm your mind, and really listen to what the other person is saying. Sometimes, what may initially seem like an upset or controversial question, might actually be genuine, positive curiosity, and nothing to be afraid of! If you allow your nerves to guide your responses, you run a huge risk or misreading the conversation entirely.
Really reflect on what you’re being asked, and why. I’m almost asking you to read between the lines here, because it is impossible to truly know another person’s motivation for anything. Unfortunately, we do do live in a world where people of Faith are often attacked for their beliefs. Thus, it can be easy to assume that any Faith-based inquiries are coming from a negative place, but that assumption would not always be correct. Some people may be asking for deeply personal reasons, other out of a simple curiosity. Regardless, these moments, though oftentimes nerve-wracking, are indispensable, unique opportunities for evangelization. If you are able to determine, based on tone, body language, phrasing, or any number of other factors, the attitude of the person inquiring, that will make an enormous difference in both your level of comfort in the situation, and also your response.
Be prudent in your response, and ask the Holy Spirit for help. I would never advocate for watering down the Truth, or lying, but likewise I wouldn’t advocate for thumping someone over the head with the Catechism. Off the back of the aforementioned reflection, try to discern what information you should pass onto the person in front of you. It will all depend on their disposition, your disposition (don’t forget about yourself in all this!), and also the amount of time you have to get into a discussion with them.
Remember to pray for them after the conversation has ended. Everyone in our world is searching for a million things- happiness, peace, identity, healing. All things that we know are found in Christ. But my heart goes out to those who don’t know Him, because all their searching is in vain. When people question you, even mock or criticize your Faith, it is a sure-fire sign of a deep lack of fulfillment in their own hearts. Keep them in your daily prayers.
Know that sometimes you will sow seeds and never get the privilege of seeing the fruits. If you’re anything like me, it can be easy to despair when a conversation doesn’t go the way you’d hoped. God works in mysterious ways, and sometimes He takes conversations that we see as unfruitful, and He creates something bigger and more beautiful than we could have possibly done in the moment. Trust that God has every situation in His Hands, and there will certainly be fruits reaped from standing up for your Faith, even if you never see those fruits.
During his life, JPII often urged Catholics not to be afraid, and his lived example is a beautiful witness to what those words mean. Lean on him, and all the other saints, as examples of the holiness and courage we are called to exemplify. Christ never promised us an easy life, but He does promise that every suffering will be sanctified through Him. So, my friends, today I encourage you to be strong witnesses to your Faith, no matter the opposition you may face. The Holy Spirit is with you in every moment.