About 90 percent of people explain that they were raised in their faith or they married someone and simply adopted their spouse’s faith. The other 9 percent have absolutely no explanation and just shrug their shoulders. 99 percent of the non-Catholics I meet simply belong to their particular faith as a result of their circumstance.
While the lack of knowledge makes for a very interesting conversation, the bad news is that we Catholics are no better at explaining our whys for being Catholic. I know, because I ask the same question of Catholics.
We have to realize that being baptized and raised Catholic is not a very good reason to be Catholic, particularly if that is the only reason we can give when asked. Explaining that you converted because your spouse was already Catholic is equally uninspiring. We all have much better reasons for our faith, but we have never thought about it. In other words, we lead people to believe that we are Catholic by circumstance and that leads people to walk away very uninspired.
The Christian response to the question, “why,” has led to a common type of inquiry we receive from atheists and agnostics: “If you grew up in Iran, would you be Catholic”?
People are perfectly justified in asking you why we are what we are. They may not ask it in those exact words, but in discussing faith, they are reasonable to expect that you can provide a strong reason as to why you are a member of the Catholic Church. This is our opportunity to open a door for the Holy Spirit, but too many of us act like we can’t find the doorknob. In such a situation, we must be ready to give an honest and strong explanation. So let’s think about it for a minute.
One way to do this is to use a 3-pronged approach. You might start by reciting the Nicene or Apostles Creed which makes sure you are both talking about the same set of beliefs. It takes about 30 seconds to recite, so this leaves you with about 2 minutes and 30 seconds for further explanation. Three minutes is a nice length for a nutshell explanation as to what you believe and why you believe it.
Next, spend about 30 seconds on an appeal to reason. If you have ever looked into the scientific or logical basis for the Catholic faith, you can point to this as part of your elaboration on the first part of the Creed. Personally, I’ve read dozens of books, listened to hours of CD’s and podcasts, watched hours of videos and regularly listen to radio shows which explain the scientific, historical and logical basis for the Catholic faith. I find these explanations to be sound and strong. I’ve also listened to and read hours of criticisms of Catholicism and Christianity, and I often engage in conversations with people who are highly doubtful of Catholicism. Yet I have never come away with a concern that a Catholic dogma or doctrine is unrealistic or flawed.
Next, you can spend 30 seconds explaining Catholicism with Scripture. Where do you find the Catholic Church in the Bible? I often tell people that I can find a Scriptural basis for every dogma and doctrine the Catholic Church teaches. Some are explicit and others are implicit, but they are all evidenced in Scripture. You can point them to the promise of the Church in Matthew 16, the starting of the Church in Acts 2 and the growth of the Church all the way through the rest of the New Testament. You can also show them the Church prefigured in the Old Testament where we find the Temple, the priests, forgiveness of sins through sacrifice, the Passover meal and many other passages that point to the Church Christ would institute at the time of his public ministry.
Finally, you should spend about a minute and a half explaining your personal experience of God in your life. Maybe you had a deep intellectual conversion which involved looking at other faiths and ideologies before you finally laid personal claim to the Catholic faith. Maybe you experienced a profound moment of grace, mercy, forgiveness, consolation or some other spiritual experience that convinced you of the truth, beauty and goodness of the Catholic faith. Maybe you had a powerful role model who taught you the power of faith. We all have experiences in our life which either lead us toward or away from God. This personal approach is known as a “testimony” to many non-Catholics (and some Catholics).
This three-pronged approach becomes your “faith story.” The Catholic faith is: Reasonable, Scriptural and deeply personal (not to be confused with private).
It is good to tie these three explanations into one because an atheist, agnostic, non-Christian or non-Catholic Christian can object with one or two explanations for your faith but they will have a harder time disagreeing with all three approaches. By giving all three explanations, you also show that you are not Catholic as a result of your condition. At a minimum, this can earn their respect. Even if you grew up in China, you would likely be Catholic today because you have approached your faith carefully, reasonably and with an open mind. Your approach may gnaw at the other person’s heart until they reach a point when they are more open to beauty, truth or goodness. When that happens, your faith story may play a role in their conversion.
Lapsed Catholics and non-Catholics have all kinds of reasons for not being Catholic, but many of their reasons can be fit into one general description. In one way or another, they explain an experience in which they found no strong reason to believe that Catholicism was more true than any other faith or belief. They will always recall unanswered questions or being scandalized by the fact that the Catholics they knew, could not say why Catholicism was true. By offering your faith story, you will stop becoming another person, in a long list of people, who have reinforced that experience.