Honey or Vinegar?

My combox this week has been filled this week with self righteous, negative and sour comments from a certain type of Catholic.

How some people love to throw anathemas at the heretics, condemn people and take a lofty tone correcting everyone in sight.

If you don’t believe me just jump over to the combox and browse through.

Why all the vinegar?

Do people actually think their self righteous imprecations do themselves any good? Do me any good? Do potential converts any good? Do anybody any good?

Here’s one:

Fr., I would suggest that it’s time to stop supporting these heretics and apostates at Patheos. You guys aren’t attracting anyone new to the Church and you’re putting the souls of many current Catholics in jeopardy by lending credence to heresy and apostasy in their minds.

I usually don’t reply to comments. I just post them. I’m convinced that the negativity, ugliness and unhappiness speaks for itself and does not ned my reply.

I’m also convinced that the majority of my readers aren’t like that. I also realize that beneath the vinegar people have often been hurt. It’s the poisoned who feel they have to spill their poison.

Those who spout such misery must be miserable and I guess unhappy babies wail the loudest.

However, the commenter said we’re not doing any good in this attempt we are making of begin happy warriors, so this time I thought I’d state the facts.

No results?

Not a week goes by that I do not receive a polite and interested question from a non Catholic Christian about the Catholic faith. They call me. They email. They send letters. Once in a while the questioner is aggressive and spills out the kind of stuff you find in a Chick tract. Most of them however are courteous, informed and while they may be trying to correct me, they are often engaging and ready to learn more about the Catholic faith.

That is, if I reply to them with a courteous tone, listen to their questions, ask more about their situation and honestly answer their concerns the best I can.

Do they eventually come into the Catholic Church? Not immediately of course, but at least once a month I will receive an email or letter from someone who says they are about to enter RCIA, they have just been received into the church or they were received into the church a short time ago or they returned to their Catholic faith because of my writings.

Here’s an example:

Here is a question that we should ask of ourselves.  When did G.K. Chesterton really start having an effect on our lives?  Was it in reading Chesterton’s elegant prose or his prodigious paradoxes?  Could it actually have been someone else who was influenced by Chesterton?

It dawned on me recently that Chesterton had an influence on me without realizing that it was before I came to know him.  A little over three years ago I went on a business trip where I had time to read on the plane.  “On a feeling”, my wife bought a book written by Fr. Dwight Longenecker called “The Gargoyle Code”.  I was not prepared for the influence that the book would have on me.

I was born into the Catholic faith but the faith seemed limited to going to mass or the occasional festival that would go on at the parish that my family attended or the local Polish monastery.  But this is where the faith tended to stop. My mom would pray at night with my brother when we were young and taught us some prayers in Polish (which I had forgotten and only have begun praying one of them with my family).  From my recollection, other than Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, we would not pray as a family.  This was “just the way it was”.

I did go to a Catholic high school but Christ always seemed so “far away”.  Why had God been in mankind’s history so often before Christ’s resurrection?  I was never taught the history of how God was interacting with man afterwards.  Why was I not taught the Father’s of the Church?  St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Francis Xavier, etc.  I have heard of some of these saints but never taught what they did for God and His Church and what God did for them.  I felt so disconnected to God and did not know why.

As it is with so many other college students, going to mass or confession was more infrequent as the years went by. And the faith went along with it.  By God’s saving grace, I still prayed at night (most of the time) before going to bed. I will skip the years after college but they were not up to Christian standards by any means but I would still mostly pray at night which one day those prayers would be answered.

Ahead 15 years after college and reading “The Gargoyle Code”.  I never read a book or heard of a book (that I know of) written from a demon’s point-of-view.  Every word seemed to have me in mind.  Every word struck a cord deep in my soul.  There was so much sadness but a strange sense of joy in me to know that I was not abandoned.  That God had not left the world.  It was that the world was leaving Him.  I will leave here stating that there is nothing like a real confession, having one’s sins forgiven and “feeling as free as the wind”.

Now, how does this all fit with Chestertion?  How did Chesterton influence my life without my knowledge?  “The Gargoyle Code” was written in a manner by an author that I was unfamilar with.  That author wrote a book entitled “The Screwtape Letters” that I was never introduced to.  That author was C.S. Lewis.  In turn, Lewis was converted to Christianity in help by a not so infamous work called “The Everlasting Man”.

I’m not bragging. I’m just saying that my approach to apologetics and evangelization has always been along the same lines as Benedict and Francis: that we aim to attract people by being kind, good humored, welcoming and good. We aim to engage people where they are–to apologize for our failings and seek to converse with them in humility and acceptance.

Does that mean we water down the faith? Not at all. Does that mean we are being wishy washy and nothing but nice? No.

I present the faith to those who write to me in a robust and firm way. I explain the Catholic faith to them and ask for their response. I often challenge them back–asking them to give an account of their beliefs. I aim to explain the faith in a clear and positive way. It’s always “More and more Christianity”. What they have is good, but there is more.

This is not ineffectual. It works, and the results are far more likely to be long lasting than either superficial cheap grace and easy believe-ism on the one hand or heavy handed condemnations of heresy and apostasy on the other.

Honey. Not Vinegar.

Lots and lots of honey.

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