7 Tips for Answering Difficult Questions About the Catholic Faith
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Here's seven tips to help you to address difficult questions about the Catholic faith.
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LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - Even since I was a young man, I have been pitched difficult questions about by Catholic faith. When I was young, I was challenged on many points of Catholic doctrine, such as the veneration of Mary, calling priests "father," and confession. I was often upset by these questions, because no answer was ever adequate to my opponents. I was often told I was taking my Bible out of context, or worse, that I had no Biblical basis for my beliefs.
Worse still were the anti-Catholics, those people whose religious belief was predicated upon calling the Church evil, or satanic.
Then as I got older, new threats emerged. People angry because of the so-called "hypocrites" in the Church and the abusers. And of course, the atheists who weren't just unbelievers, but also anti-theists, opposed to the very notion of God Himself.
Not every challenger has been adversarial either. Now a grown adult, questions from children, and even close family members are common. "Oh you work for Catholic Online School? Why is it that we..."
So, to help folks out here's what I learned, often the hard way, and what you can do to spare yourself!
1. Be humble. Be quick to admit when you don't know something. Both inquirers and bystanders respect an admission of humility, and will give you quite of bit of sympathy. It is better than botching an answer.
If you are humble, then you won't have a problem asking for time to look something up or ask someone who knows so you can provide an accurate answer.
2. Not every question deserves a response. There are some whose questions can never be answered with satisfaction. The know-it-alls, the debaters, and the trolls. Often, these are the same person. Sometimes, they are Christians who see Catholics as rivals (occasionally they're pastors!), or atheists who have something to prove.
Such people are never asking a question out of curiosity, even if they frame their approach as such. Instead, they are seeking a debate, or to demonstrate their superiority over you. They often drop the labels of fallacies on you or rapid-fire scriptural citations in your direction.
The first thing to realize is that you cannot defeat this person, at least not from their perspective. They will not be persuaded because they aren't there to be persuaded. There are no one-liners you can drop, no explanations that will fluster them. Even if you point out their own fallacies and errors, it'll have no effect on their ego.
No matter how well you respond, they will declare victory. They will declare victory loudly, so the best thing is to disengage before an audience forms, otherwise they will appear as the obvious fool, and you as the one who was duped into arguing with a troll. Don't be afraid to disengage, or worry that you'll look like a loser, or someone will be discouraged if you don't put up a fight. I assure you, the consequences of staying in the fight are much worse than getting out while you're still ahead.
Unless a question is asked in good faith, it does not deserve a response.
3. Keep things simple. The teachings of Jesus and the Church are often simply stated, even if some of the reasoning behind them can be complex. Indeed, even the most basic teachings of the Church have volumes of evidence and commentary to support them. But when answering a question, it will rarely do to deliver a sermon.
Jesus demonstrated this tactic perfectly when he was challenged to pick out which Commandment He thought was the greatest (Matt 22:35-40). In two simple sentences, Jesus not only evaded a trick question, but He summed up everything in a statement that was so simple, even the most common, uneducated person could understand.
Sometimes simple answers are best. And, given the way the human mind works, a short, simple answer will be remembered a lot better than a lengthy one.
So, whenever possible, try to condense things down to what is important and direct. Avoid too much explanation, such as explaining historical context, which often does not matter.
An example of this might be the question, "Why should we fear God?"
Here's a simple answer. "Fearing God does not mean cowering in terror. Instead, we should fear God the same as we fear disappointing our parents. God loves us even more than our parents do, and we love our parents. Part of love is fearing disappointment or provoking upset. "
Does this cover the Catholic teaching on this topic? Unlikely, for volumes have been written about it. Nonetheless, it probably suffices for a simple question and answer.
4. Check out the Catechism! Few Catholics have ever cracked the spine on the Catechism, furthermore read the darn thing. It's a thick, heavy book, even in paperback. And no, I have certainly not read the whole of it either. Still, I have worn out my copy, thumbing through its pages looking up answers. On occasion, I have simply browsed it just to see what I might find.
What I have discovered is that it is quite comprehensive and it has all the answers. It even has answers to questions I did not expect, and them some. It even provides answers on top of the answers I already knew, giving me more justifications than I thought possible.
The Catechism is well-written, concise and to the point. But some of its language can be difficult to follow. It's written in ecclesiastical language which can be esoteric to many. (Hint, if that last sentence was clear to you, you will probably be okay!) For those who struggle a bit with the comprehension, (fun fact: Sometimes I have to look up some of the words too!) a Catholic dictionary is a great companion. Even without the dictionary, a reader will probably be able to get most of the meaning out of the Catechism and answer the question they have. There are also shorter versions of the Catechism which a person can read in plainer language.
To read the Catechism, I suggest starting in the table of contents, or the index, and looking up the right paragraph from there. All the paragraphs are numbered, so you can't miss your answer.
5. Ask a deacon, priest, or catechist. Asking a question is easier than ever these days, with email, voicemail, text messaging and more. Find someone you trust, whose faith is well-formed, and put your question to them. But have a care to make sure the person you are asking is a certified expert. Many people, including fellow Catholics mean well, but that does not mean their answers are on-point. Some people believe the right things for the wrong, or even insufficient reasons. Again, priests, deacons, and catechists are good people to ask.
6. Take a course. Many parishes teach courses on apologetics (defense of the faith) as well as on other topics. Catholic Online School has a wide array of courses which you can take on many subjects. Confirmation with Certificate of Completion has two lessons with answers to some common objections, and the entire course makes for a great refresher.
7. Write in and ask! While we at Catholic Online School get A LOT of questions, we do our best to answer as many as we can. If we get many questions on a subject, we will plan a class to answer it. Unfortunately, we have a tremendous number of courses planned, and resources are limited. After all, Catholic Online School is 100 percent FREE! Still, if someone wishes to support the school and help along our production, they can contribute here.
I hope this guide helps many of you. Feel free to comment on this advice below, and let us know if this has helped you, or what your ideas are for dealing with tough questions.
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