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Mike's Theology Corner: A problem Sincere hearts but terrible results
  [ Mike's Theology home ] [ A Commentary on the Crisis in the Church with a solution ] [ A Catholic Apologetics problem: Sincere hearts but terrible results ] [ Perspective: The Annunciation and Birth of Our Lord ]
  [ Romney's Faith in America Speech. ] [ The Da Vinci Code and Opus Dei ] [ The Dialogue:
Who is really Pro-Choice?
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[ On the Death of my Father ]


A problem: Sincere hearts but terrible results

I'm one that occasionally listens to people whose philosophy or moral standard in life I disagree with. Why ? Because I know they are made in the image and likeness of God and The Lord always has the ability to plant seeds of faith in their heart, seeds that I may have overlooked or not utilized in my heart.

I was recently listening to a C-SPAN program where Justice Stephen Breyer; hardly a conservative, was taking questions and giving answers to high-schoolers in California. I may paraphrase part of the question and answer, but I believe an essential point can be made from his viewpoint, a point essential to Catholic apologists who are loyal to the Holy See and the Magisterial teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

A student asked: "Justice Breyer, you said earlier that some cases are technical in nature and some are more personal. Have you ever got emotionally involved in personal issues and how do you step back to only judge the law instead of the personal situations of the plaintiffs or defendants ?" His answer was,

"I try not to get emotionally involved. If you do feel too emotionally involved, you should disqualify yourself. [He went on to explain how each Friday they have a round table conference on the cases they have heard for that week, and before each Friday meeting they shake each others hands, in order to foster a sense of unity. (Remember 5 votes/8 are needed for a Supreme Court opinion.) No 5 votes, no decision.] One thing I've noticed over time is that if you feel or reveal you feel terribly emotional about an issue that is very divisive, people think you're wrong. Don't tell me why that is, but it's a fact. If you feel too emotional, you'll be unpersuasive.
You'll say, "Hey, I feel emotional about this, the world is coming to an end !!!!!

and your listener will also say:

"Hey, ME TOO !!!

Life is short.

When you hear someone presenting an argument and see that person as very emotional, you begin to think, it's emotion, not reason, that is driving him or her. Then you start to think, "Oh, I have other things to do, I'll talk to you later ....." So, I've found the more emotional you are the less persuasive you are. In certain contexts, you are most persuasive when not emotional. You can still have strong feelings but try to put them to the side. Try to think about it. Try to always think that people who are against this may be in good faith too. What do they think about it. And how do I really respond to what is their BEST argument, not their WORST argument. And how do I really answer. And that requires a little imagination causing you to have to put yourself in the position of the other person. And how do I respond to it. Put yourself in their situation. Thinking that way sort of clarifies things."

I believe this is a rare situation in which Justice Breyer has an excellent point, especially when applying it to the attitude and disposition that Catholic apologists should have when faith sharing. I was brought up as a Catholic by birth. The Lord has implanted a love in my heart for the Eucharist, the teachings of the Church, our Holy Father: Pope John Paul II, Our Lady and our Spiritual Mother, the saints, and especially my Catholic brethren here on earth. I've either been in or heard of faith sharing conversations where:

  • The Real Presence was attacked or misunderstood
  • John Paul II was attacked or misunderstood.
  • The rosary was attacked or misunderstood.
  • Church teachings were attacked or misunderstood.
  • Our Lady was attacked or misunderstood. etc, etc, etc.

I believe Justice Breyer is saying two important things here. First if you love something, it is humanly natural to defend what you love, especially when what you love is under attack. Thus it is natural to have "strong feelings" on an issue. I believe it's also important to refresh our memory here: What is the purpose of Catholic apologetics ? "Apologetics" comes from the Greek "to give words to", or "to give a defense for". As St. Peter states in 1 Peter 3:15-16:

"Be ready always with an answer to everyone who asks a reason for the hope that is in you. Yet do so with gentleness and fear, having a good conscience, so that wherein they speak in disparagement of you they who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame."

This leads to his second point here. Since Catholic apologetics is based on REASON, when we start faith sharing and the issue under conversation gets personal and emotional, by natural, we get emotional and if we have no rational answer, we get defensive. Once we get emotional and irrational, why should any one expect a "reason for the hope that is in us ?" (End of 1 Peter 3:15) As Justice Breyer said, "When you hear someone presenting an argument and see that person as very emotional, you begin to think, it's emotion, not reason, that is driving him or her."[Thus the title of this editorial.] Only when we can listen and strive to understand where the other person is coming from can we effectively be more persuasive. But what if we don't have any answers to strong emotional attacks from the other person ? Our Lord said that, "The True will set you free." Tell them, you don't have a good answer now for them, but you will try to research the question by reading, references and friends. They will appreciate a human reply more than one that sounds like it's from a pharisee or "know-it-all". Their "strong emotional attacks" show YOU that they are not thinking rationally about the topic at hand. "...so that wherein they speak in disparagement of you they who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame." As Catholic apologists we should follow the example set in Peter's epistle.

My rules and goals for faith sharing:

  • Be honest. (If you don't know, say so; if you're unsure, say so.)
  • Strive to maintain and build friendships, no matter how harsh the dispute.
  • NEVER build a phony friendship.
  • If you have a hard time building a friendship, bring it to The Lord in the Blessed Sacrament !!!
  • Agree to agree; and agree to disagree on different aspects of faith.


As Cardinal Law said when he was Bishop of Missouri:

"the most ecumenical thing a Catholic can do is be unmistakably Catholic."

Strive for follow up conversations in order to:

  1. Clarify unresolved differences.
    Maintain and build friendships.

I include myself when I say, the biggest fear we, as Catholic apologists have, (a lack of knowledge) is JUST the thing we CAN obtain: Knowledge.

Something to think about maybe ?

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