Faith/Spirituality Forum: evangelizing an agnostic
evangelizing an agnostic QUESTION from John September 7, 2001 Dear Brother John-Paul
What advice can you offer a Catholic who locks horns regularly with his beloved but devoutly agnostic brother and sister-in-law?
My brother was raised in the Church and received his sacraments but has since fallen into agnosticism. Whenever the family gathers we can count on a major argument over Catholic issues from the Church's stance on abortion to the excesses of the Inquisition to the fabled wealth of the Vatican.
I don't know what happened that caused my brother's total loss of faith. Although intellectually brilliant he seems unable to grasp the concept that members of a holy Church can be sinners; he sees Catholics sinning and concludes that the Church cannot be of God. He emphatically does not believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist.
When one tries to reason with him, he mentally slams and bars the door, almost as if he doesn't want to even try.
One cannot reason with him through the Scriptures, because he insists that Scriptures are mere human legends. The idea of the Church's own authoritative teaching holds no water with him, because he thinks the Church, consisting throughout history of sinners and hypocrites, cannot have any authority.
He does believe in God, but he will not accept that we owe anything to God, or that any religion, especially the Church, knows the way to God.
He does pray in his own way, and in spite of his pro-abortion views he admires our Holy Father Pope John Paul for his courage, integrity and holiness.
My brother's lack of faith is reinforced by his wife, who is also beloved of the whole family, but whose spirit is burdened with all the baggage of her family's French Huguenot anti-Catholic tradition.
For example, one Easter Sunday she brought a Muslim exchange student as a guest to the family gathering. The student was warmly welcomed, and my mother made sure she had an alternative menu for dinner, as we were having ham. Everything was fine.
But later, a dicussion started regarding a liturgical abuse we witnessed during Holy Week. A Lutheran minister had been deputed to put on the humeral veil and bring in the Blessed Sacrament for communion on Good Friday. My sister-in-law said, what does it matter who brings it in, it's only a piece of bread. Sorry, no transubstantiation for me. If he believes in it, then he has a right to carry it. We argued at length exactly why it mattered, but she, who had just shown great respect for Muslim discipline, could not accept the right of Catholics to follow Catholic discipline.
We are blessed as a family in that we love and respect each other despite these differences. In fact, I respect my brother and his wife all the more because they don't pretend to accept things they don't believe (unlike certain Catholics). At the same time, though, we want my brother and his wife to be in heaven where we hope to be.
How do I get through? I know, ultimately their enlightenment will have to come through the Holy Spirit, but when they are so closed to the Spirit, is there anything we can do to open the door?
Thank you for any light you can shed on this and God bless for doing His work through this website.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on September 10, 2001 Dear Mr. John:
We don't get through. In fact it is not our job to get through. It is our job as Catholics to present the truth of Christ and His Church and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. If you have made clear your faith to your brother and sister-in-law, there is nothing more to be done with him. Avoid arguments. Instead commit him to prayer.
Remember, it takes two to tango, so if he tries to pick a fight, don't fall into his trap. Tell him that he knows your point-of-view and there is nothing more to be said. Tell your brother and sister-in-law that since they are no longer in the Catholic Church it is frankly none of their business anymore, that their views are not accurate to the facts, but that you are not willing to discuss it with them anymore since they don't seem willing to listen to the facts. Thus there is no further discussion needed.
Tell them that their baiting you into argumentation is offensive and that you expect them to respect you and your feelings as you do theirs.
If they refuse to respect you, then I would have nothing more to do with them -- walk out of the room saying, Since you will not respect me and choose to insult and bash my faith, I will not talk to you.
If this does not stop the arguments, then you may have to tell your family that you will not attend family functions as long as this disrepectful and arrogant brother and sister-in-law is there.
This is a tough love approach, but you have no choice if this doesn't stop. Your mother and father and other family members will most likely put pressure on your brother and sister-in-law to keep their big mouth shut while at family gatherings.
I understand this situation. My sister and I do not get along and the only way to have a family gathering without conflict is for me to keep my mouth shut.
Be sure to pray for him and his wife.
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