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The Courage to be Encouraging

The other day, while reading Pope Benedict’s Year of Faith Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, I came across this sentence: “We want this Year to arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope.”

I actually found myself slapping the edge of my armchair and shouting “Yes!” This wonderful sentence sums up exactly why I get up every day and come to work. As a staff apologist at Catholic Answers for the past seventeen years, I have fielded hundreds of questions on the Faith ranging from simple to complex to just plain bizarre. And yes, I love answering them all.

But if there’s one topic that gets me really excited, it’s about sharing the Faith. Motivating and encouraging Catholics to take what they learn and then go forth to evangelize is what I love to do. While most of our contacts at Catholic Answers are not at all timid when it comes to sharing their Faith, there are those who find the whole evangelization experience rather unnerving, so they remain quiet. I think we all know people who fit in that latter category. In fact, all of us have at one time or another experienced timidity when sharing the Faith. But they are not the object of my concern. I’m talking about Catholics who want to evangelize but for whatever reason lack the confidence to step up and share their Faith with the world.

So what can be done to help empower our more timid brothers and sisters to exercise their baptismal call to evangelize? While there are a multitude of answers to this question, I’ll offer one that works for me: encouragement!

Does this sound too simple? It’s not only simple; it’s biblical. After all, St. Paul exhorts us in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 to encourage one another and build one another up in the Lord. And in Hebrews 3:13 we read, “Encourage each other daily while it is still today.”

One example of how powerful encouragement can be is a recent conversation I had with a woman who called seeking help with answering a co-worker’s challenge as to why Catholics believe in purgatory. Before I could give her an answer, she asked if I could email the co-worker a response. When I told her we don’t give unsolicited responses to questions but that I would be happy to help her prepare a response, she immediately shot back, “I can’t; I’m not an apologist.”  

After explaining why she didn’t have to be an apologist to give a good answer, I walked her through some steps how she can easily share her faith and encouraged her to give it a try. A week later she called back to share her success story. She thanked me profusely for the evangelization tips, but more importantly for giving her “the kick in the pants” (her words) she needed to engage this person. She said their conversation opened more opportunities for dialogue and that she’s also sharing the tips I gave her with friends. She was so excited. And so was I.

So, the next time you hear someone say, “I can’t share the Faith; I’m not an apologist,” or “It’s not my gift,” or “I don’t know where to start,” remember that a few words of encouragement can go a long way towards helping others grow in their confidence to profess the Faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope.

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