It makes for an awkward situation. You run into a third-cousin-twice-removed whom you haven't seen in years, who (knowing what a devoted Catholic you are) is eager to tell you how appreciative he or she is that Pope Francis is “rewriting the rules” about a certain under-appreciated area of Church teaching.
It's both an opportunity and a bit of a pickle. Are we supposed to set the record straight right away, assuring the speaker that Pope Francis is upholding the same Catechism as his predecessor—or can we let that part go (for now)? Are we failing as evangelizers if we don't take the occasion to teach the fullness of the faith? Or is a different approach not only permitted, but advisable?
The first Pope already hinted at an answer: “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” (1 Peter 3: 15-16). Pope Francis, like Pope Benedict before him, eschews collar-grabbing proselytizing as unworthy of human dignity and freedom. But Peter assumes that the other has come to you, and is expressing appreciation of a hope you share. This points to the pathway to follow.
People who have been alienated from Catholic life for years may not have anywhere near enough of an understanding of foundational teachings for you to be able to build on in presenting an accurate picture of Church teachings. But you have all you need to work with in that social setting: the interest your relative (or old neighbor, or the co-worker from the out-of-state branch office) showed in Pope Francis himself is a great starting point for a conversation. Speaking for myself, I like to acknowledge that the events of the past few years—since the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI—have awakened in me a new level of faith in the Holy Spirit. Rather than focus on the particulars of a papal statement taken out of context, turn the conversation to the presence of God at work in history, here and now for all to see. We have not been left at the mercy of political movements or the forces of nature. God is acting in our times! This is the rock-bottom “reason for our hope,” and in these unexpected opportunities to speak with others in terms of faith, it may be just the right way to start a longer, Spirit-led journey of faith.
Joy of the Gospel. By Pope Francis. Ever been to a Catholic procession or celebration? Good news and faith bring people to celebrate joy and share a common hope. This document is Pope Francis’ vision of a Church that finds us willing to be more selfless, reach out to the marginalized, and live the faith we share.
Mission of the Redeemer. By Pope John Paul II. Are we not all called to witness as Christians? Read a document that gives the basic tenants of the New Evangelization. A must read for those who believe that we are called to be the leaven in the dough.
Saved in Hope. By Pope Benedict XVI. What is hope? Together with Pope Benedict XVI we explore in this document the theme of hope in the New Testament and transformation in this modern age. The virtue of hope is subject to harsh trials today. Believers are called to be apostles filled with a joyful hope in the promises of God. Benedict inspires with Scriptural and saintly examples in which hope seems nearly impossible but is essential to the faith. He testifies that faith and hope are intertwined and vital to the eternal life of modern Christians.
by Sr. Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP
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