Be Not Afraid

Jesus Walks On Water
by Ivan Aivazovsky (1817–1900)
On October 22, 1978, at the beginning of his pontificate, Pope John Paul II uttered the words "Be not afraid!" in St. Peter's Square. These were especially meaningful words at the time, considering the Catholic Church had just undergone tumultuous changes in the decade following the Second Vatican Council, the death of Pope Paul VI, followed by the unexpected and rather quick death of Pope John Paul I.  The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, later wrote he had no idea just how far those words would eventually carry him, his pontificate and the entire Catholic Church.

The words "be not afraid" are certainly not original to John Paul II.  This is the typical exhortation given to Biblical saints upon angelic encounters.  Apparently, the site of an angel must be rather terrifying if angels are constantly having to tell people "be not afraid."  I would like to apply this phrase to a much lesser topic, that has very little to do with popes and angels, and a whole lot to do with our everyday encounters with Protestant Christians. Now when I say "be not afraid" in this case, I'm not talking about the kind of fear that leaves one cowering in the corner looking for a way to escape.  (Maybe some of you might feel that way, but I'm willing to gamble that most of you don't.)  No, rather, I'm talking about the kind of fear that is often manifested in inhibition.  It's a fear that keeps us from talking openly with Protestants about our Catholic Christian faith.  Where did this fear come from?  It seems to be quite epidemic.  I think I have an answer.

I think there are two reasons.  The first one is simply this.  Over the last 40 years or so, since the Second Vatican Council, there has been a very poor catechises of the faithful.  That simply means that Catholics don't really know their own faith very well.  Now this is caused by different things.  On the one hand, we could lay the blame at the feet of the clergy, who's primary job it is to catechise the faithful.  On the other hand, we could lay the blame on the new watered-down expressions of the liturgy (which Vatican II never called for by the way), that have left the Church without the traditional underpinnings that usually hold up good catechises -- lex orandi, lex credendi -- or "the law of prayer is the law of belief."  Personally, I think both are to blame, but I think the later bears the greater burden of blame.  Regardless of what caused the problem, I think it's fair to admit the problem exists, and it's been there for a pretty long time.  To deny it is to bury one's head in the sand.

I believe the second reason is somewhat obvious. During the 1970s through present, while Catholics were getting "not busy" learning and studying their faith, some Evangelical Protestants were getting "very busy" learning ways to attack Catholicism and syphon off as many Catholics as they could from the Catholic Church, only to deposit many of them into their own Evangelical churches.  The 1970s through early 2000s, really were a rehash of the Protestant Reformation, except in a less formal sense.  This time around, the Protestant structures and edifices were already in place.  So instead of having to build something new, like how things were 500 years ago, Protestants simply had to switch back to "on" the propaganda machine.  So that's exactly what many Evangelical Protestants did, and WOW! It worked like a charm.  Catholics, for the most part were completely unprepared.  Ignorant of their own faith to begin with, they had no way to answer the onslaught of anti-Catholic propaganda that spewed forth from all kinds of churches and para-church Evangelical ministries.  Millions of Catholics were syphoned off the Catholic Church, and neatly deposited into various Evangelical churches.  Millions of more Catholics, disgusted with both Rome and Evangelicalism alike, simply dropped out of religion all together. It was, in many ways, the perfect storm.  Massive disorganisation within the Catholic Church, combined by decades of poor liturgy and catechises, brought to a boil with the catalyst of a new wave of anti-Catholic propaganda, resulted in the state of the Church we see today.

Is it any wonder why Catholics are afraid to talk about their faith?  On the one hand, they may not be comfortable enough to talk about it simply because they don't understand it that well.  Then on the other hand, they are afraid that if they do talk about it, some anti-Catholic zealot is going to jump all over them, accuse them of "idolatry" for "worshipping Mary" and urge them to leave the Catholic Church because she is the Biblical "Whore of Babylon" written of in the Book of Revelation. I mean, who wants to deal with that, right? I remember when I was one of those zealots back in the 1990s, speaking to Catholics while I lived in California, I would ask a question like: "Do you Catholics worship Mary?"  And the response I would usually get would be something akin to: "None of your damn business."  Or, if they were more polite, they might say: "You wouldn't understand."  Looking back on this now, 20 years later, I think I understand why this happened.  It all makes sense when you add up the components that make the perfect storm.

There is good news however.  Those days are over, or at least they can be very easily.  Catholic apologists have worked very hard, over the last couple decades, to synthesise the faith in a way that can not only beat the Evangelical challenge, but can also re-catechise the faithful.  Yes, you as a Catholic, can become more educated in your faith, and not only talk to Protestants, but even evangelise them.  All the tools you need are already present.  More on that below.

First, however, allow me to give you a few facts to help you understand what Protestants are, what they are not, and why you shouldn't be afraid of them...
  1. Most Protestant today, even Evangelical Protestants, are not the anti-Catholic zealots their parents were 20 years ago.  The average Evangelical today is much more open-minded and receptive to the Catholic message, when it is presented in a good Biblical context.
  2. Most Protestants today are genuinely ignorant of Catholic beliefs and practises, and are more than willing to admit so.  This is especially true of younger Evangelical Protestants.  It's not that they are against Catholicism.  On the contrary, it's just that they genuinely do not know what Catholicism is or what it's about. The average Evangelical Protestant, especially in the Bible Belt, will tell you quite frankly: "I'm sorry, I really don't know much about Catholicism."
  3. Most Protestants today, especially young Evangelical Protestants, are more afraid of offending Catholics than anything else.  As a result, they generally will refrain from asking too many questions, for fear of offending Catholics.
  4. Evangelical Protestants, of all Protestants, are typically the most uncommitted to their particular church tradition. They are generally restless and often hop from church to church several times within a lifetime.
  5. Evangelical Protestants, in particular, are the most likely people to convert to Catholicism, once they've abandoned all the anti-Catholic propaganda, and had many of their fears and concerns addressed.
  6. Evangelical Protestants typically make some of the strongest and most committed converts to Catholicism.
So you see, there really is no reason to be afraid of Protestants in general.  Even Evangelical Protestants are much more open-minded than they used to be.  Oh sure, you can still find a few anti-Catholic zealots here and there, and I guarantee they've always got something to prove.  However, I recommend you just avoid those types.  They're easy enough to spot.  They're the ones that won't listen to you no matter what you say.  Just "shake the dust off your shoes," as the Biblical saying goes, and move on.  These aren't the people who are likely to listen to the Holy Spirit anyway.  The people you want to talk to are those who ask genuine questions and are glad to hear a good response.  I guarantee, they are at least ten times more Protestants like that.  Think about that ratio for a moment.  It's not scientific by any means.  I've just based it on my personal experience.  Out of about every ten Protestants I talk to (including Evangelicals), nine of them are interested in what I have to say.  Only one of them is an anti-Catholic zealot, and is on a crusade to drag me out of the Catholic Church.  I generally ignore that one.  I can take them on, and believe me I have put more than a few of them in their place, but for the most part I would rather not waste my breath, mainly because I've never seen one convert as a result of that.  They just get angry and bitter.  One thing I've learned about these types is this.  They can sure dish it out, but they can't take it.  It's the other nine Evangelicals I focus on, and I generally have really good conversations with them.  All of them are very appreciative of the information, and sometimes, a few of them take that information, absorb it, and it actually changes their lives.  These are the ones who end up converting to Catholicism.  I really don't know how many people have converted to Catholicism as a result of just casual talks I've had with them, simply because I talk to so many different people, and I generally don't keep track of who converts and who doesn't.  My job is simply to get the information out there and lead them in the right direction.  It's the Holy Spirit's job to do the conversion part.  I generally try to stay out of His business, let Him do the heavy lifting, while I just make myself available to answer more questions as they arise.  Even those who do not convert, as a result of our conversations, generally end up with a greater appreciation for Catholicism, a better understanding of it, and a general willingness to acknowledge Catholics as "fellow Christians."

Talking to Protestants openly and candidly about our Catholic faith likewise produces some very positive effects in our own lives.  It makes us feel more secure and appreciative of our faith.  It also spurs greater devotion and faithfulness to Catholic teaching. The good news is, this really can happen in your life too, and the era of crisis in the Catholic Church will come to an end -- at least in your life -- the only question now is one of time.  How long before this happens for most or all Catholics?  

I can't answer that question, because I don't have a crystal ball, but I can tell you that this era of crisis in the Church can end in your life TODAY.  That's right, the Church herself may be in crisis, but this no longer has to effect you.  You can end it now, in your life, in your family, and in your immediate sphere of influence. The following steps will tell you how to do it...
  1. Get acquainted with good Catholic apologetics.  CLICK HERE to order a copy of "Catholicism for Protestants" today.  I wrote this book with the mind that it would be just as useful for Catholics as it is for Protestants.  It is designed to rebuild and fortify your Catholic faith, give you a working understanding of Catholicism, and equip you to handle difficult Protestant questions.  There are many more books that are good for this purpose, and you'll discover them in time, but this book is a great primer to get you started.
  2. Immerse yourself in the Catholic Christian faith. Frequent the sacraments, especially the sacrament of confession.  You may have no idea just how healing and liberating this sacrament really is.  Start praying to God regularly. Learn the Holy Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  If you're really into devotions, try the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours).  There are great smart phone and tablet apps now that eliminate all the page flipping and figuring it out. I recommend two in particular: Universalis and Breviam Meum.  Any form of devotion is good really.  Just start praying again -- daily.
  3. Go to mass regularly.  Try to find a more traditional style of mass if you can.  One option is the Traditional Latin Mass.  Another option is the Anglican Use of the Roman Rite, which is also very traditional and orthodox, but entirely in English.  However, with just a little bit of effort, one can usually find a good general mass, celebrated in a fairly traditional way, in just about every city. Avoid the "hip" and "trendy" parishes.  Stick with a mass that is as close as possible to how your Catholic grandparents worshipped when they were young. That doesn't mean you have to worship in Latin, (unless you want to), but think about the solemnity, reverence and dignified order your Catholic grandparents used to worship in. That's the kind of environment you want.  Find something close to that!
  4. Catechise your family, and pray with them daily.  Set up a family prayer time.  Small children have short attention spans, so be mindful of this and adjust your prayer time accordingly.  Get them involved. Read a children's Bible to your small children.  If you children are older, read a regular Bible together. Don't neglect the Catechism either.  Pick up a copy of the US Bishop's Catechism and go through a section at a time with your spouse and older children.  Use the old illustrated Baltimore Catechisms for your younger children.  They're still in print.  Use them!
  5. Finally, when it comes to talking to Protestants, start with your friends, and people you know.  These are the ones least likely to react in any kind of negative way.  Don't go out looking for a debate -- heavens no!  Rather, simply make it known that you are an open and practising Catholic and willing to answer questions.  I guarantee, the questions will come eventually.  When they do, don't feel threatened by them.  Simply answer them the same way you would answer your own child if he/she asked the same question.  Be educational, courteous and brief, always thanking them for asking. More questions will eventually follow. I guarantee it.
"Be not afraid."  That's my advice to you when dealing with Protestants.  Most of them are not out to bite you.  On the contrary, most of them sincerely don't know anything about our faith and are genuinely looking for answers.  Protestants know who the King is.  Jesus is the King.  They know that.  What they don't know, and what is a bit fuzzy to them, is the Kingdom.  They don't understand what his Kingdom is, or that it exists right under their noses in the Catholic Church.  They know who the King is, but they're still searching for his Kingdom.  It's our job to show them that Christ's Kingdom is right here and right now -- and it is us -- the Catholic Church.  What they do with this information is up to them, but we can tell them in a direct but non-threatening way.

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Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of Roman Catholic Christianity as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is concise and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!
NIHIL OBSTAT, IMPRIMATUR

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