Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Courage to Screw Up

We Catholic writers and bloggers are a bunch of narcissists sometimes.  Seriously.  We tend to think the world revolves around us, that what we talk about is what everyone else is talking about, and is obviously the most important thing facing the Church today.  We also treat things as cosmic events, and every time we go out evangelizing or doing apologetics someones eternal soul is on the line, and could very well be damned by our inaction.  It's a nice romantic picture, and sometimes might motivate people to take the business seriously.  There's only one problem:  chances are it is completely false.  I think this is what Pope Francis had in mind when he called it "solemn nonsense."

There are two things you need to understand when doing apologetics and evangelization.  First and foremost, most people don't care what you are talking about or want to talk about.  It bores them completely and most likely turns them away from the faith.  That's why script apologetics is for the most part worthless.   (i.e. you read a few tracts, and suddenly think you know how to "approach" Protestants and beat them at their own game.)  That stuff is good to teach you the basics about your faith.  But for the most part, you have to learn what the individual wants to talk about.  That requires listening to them, learning what they are seeking, and most importantly, asking them. 

The second thing you need to know is that for the rare person who is actually listening, you will probably screw up, and screw up bad.  Kevin Tierney in 2000 (when I first converted) made arguments that the Kevin Tierney of 2013 would love to disown.  I also went in as a crusader and got the floor mopped with me on several occasions.  This will happen, and it's not a fun experience.  Once you know it is coming, take it as an opportunity to learn.

We need to have the courage to screw up.  Are we really that arrogant and self-centered to believe that we are the only chosen vessel God uses to give people the Gospel, and that outside of us, nobody will give them the truth?  I suppose this might be true in some mission territories, but for the most part that's just our ego speaking.

This is why charity is so important.  Charity covers a lot of screwups.  Even in your screwup, God might plant a seed, and 10 years from now, the person won't remember how bad you were at the job, but how you gave the Gospel in charity.  So don't worry too much about screwing up.  Just make sure you learn from that mistake.  Always seek to refine your approach, and constantly bounce it off the opinions of others, especially those who have been doing it longer than you.

I think this is what formed the Holy Father's remarks about "I'm not here to convert you" or proselytizing being "solemn nonsense."  When the Jesuits went to China to spread the Gospel, they had no clue what was going to happen.  As much as they tried to know Chinese culture, you can't really know it until you live there.  So they listened a lot, they practiced virtue and kindness to all they met, and they did a lot of trial and error.  After awhile, they started getting somewhere.  Most of the Jesuits in China never got to see much success.  The same with those who converted the Western barbarians after Rome fell.  They were playing the long game, and that long game also certainly meant they weren't going to find much "success" in conversion numbers.

Combine trial and error with a lot of prayer.  Do your basic reading to know the basics, but after that, get out there and see what you can do, or more properly, what the Spirit can do through you.  More often than not you will be surprised at what happens.

1 comment:

  1. If neophytes read this article and assimilate its essence, it will shorten their learning curve and save them lessons they would otherwise learn the hard way...well done!


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