Talking about our faith to others is one of the hardest things we have to do as a Christian, isn’t it? Many people find it hard even to admit that they are a Catholic! So when we hear Jesus say “Go, make disciples of all nations.” , we hope he means someone else – priests.. religious sisters or brothers… missionaries… but please not me! Well, I’m afraid that today’s readings don’t take us off the hook on this; but they do comfort us by telling us that even the greatest prophets, even Jesus himself, did not find this very easy.
The great prophet Ezekiel was told by God, even before he began his work, (2:2-5) that many of the people he is meant to speak to will simply be “defiant and obstinate” ; but God makes it quite clear that he has to do it “whether they listen or not.” Sometimes however I feel better at talking to people who are simply defiant, who you can have a big open argument with about the existence of God, than the people who just quietly dismiss me as an idiot – a clown – or make ignorant remarks about the corrupt church that bear little resemblance to reality.
But I guess that although I enjoy a good solid argument with someone who is a non-believer, many of you do not feel you know enough to get involved in something like this. Faced with a fierce bright atheist you just feel weak and silly, and so you keep your head down and hope not to have to face this kind of thing. I sometimes feel that I should write out for everyone a series of simple answers to the most common attacks on the faith, so that you could have them at your fingertips for these moments. I’ve certainly given you one for those who say we do not have to go to Church to be a Christian. Do you remember it? Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of me” so if we want to follow Jesus then we have to do what he said.
The problem with this approach is that it can be all too clever. People are not convinced by clever arguments, but by something that speaks to their hearts. Maybe then our 2nd Reading today (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) might help with this where Paul says that God’s power is at its best when we are weak. The point he’s making is that if we rely on our own strength, in other words our own cleverness, then we’re on the wrong track, for we will end up getting too proud, and that’s no way to convince others of anything. I know, for example, that many of you find my words most helpful when I share some of my troubles and struggles and doubts with you, rather than when I make big bold arguments! So when someone challenges us about some aspect of the faith, God will often work through us more powerfully when we admit that we are not sure, and perhaps share our need for God in the midst of our weakness, and not because we have got life all worked out!
There is only one problem here. We will never get into these kinds of conversations if people do not know that we are Catholics. This takes us back to our fear that what we believe will be rejected or laughed at ; and the only answer to that is to say “Yes, this may happen. It happened to all the great prophets, and, of course, it happened to Jesus.”
We have a classic example of this in our Gospel today(Mark 8:1-6) when Jesus goes back to his home town, and they look down on him simply because he is the local boy, son of Joseph the carpenter! Now isn’t that true of us too? The most difficult people to share our faith with are our own family! They know us too well don’t they, and maybe have memories of us, of things we have said or done in the past, that we would quite like to forget. Also, we worry that a discussion about religion might turn into a family row, which is the thing we most want to avoid.
Again there is no easy answer to this. But I still think that sharing our troubles and worries and yet explaining that practising our faith helps us cope here, is the best way forward; as well as trying to live a Christian life of being loving and kind, and – very important – being prepared to say sorry whenever it is necessary. None of this will make us brilliant missionaries, but our job is not to be successful, but simply to share God’s love with others, and then sometimes surprising things can happen.