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Drive-By Advice

May 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Apologetics, Paul McCusker

Drive-By Advice

Life, As I Find It

I’ve been grateful to those who wrote with advice about handling my Evangelical Protestant friends and family. The only problem, I think, is that some of the advice assumes two things. First, that I’m talking to a willing or eager non-Catholic who really wants to know about it. Second, the other personal is rational.

If the first case is true then, yes, it’s an entirely different type of conversation. If it’s not true, then I’m up against people who may feel I’m being intrusive or defensive or proselytizing or aggressive or whatever (even if they brought up the subject). So it goes.

It’s the assumption that people are rational I find problematic. When it comes to Catholicism, non-Catholics (and, sadly, a few Catholics) have been so misinformed about what it truly is and what it truly teaches that they can’t be rational. Whatever I might be explaining, no matter how calmly, there is a shrill voice in their ears reminding them of all the misinformed thoughts they know to be true about Catholicism and Catholics. For me personally, they may be thinking:

He’s been brainwashed by the Pope. He worships Mary. He’s part of a cult that crucifies Jesus every Sunday. He dupes himself into believing the wine and bread really are the blood and body of Christ. He’s given up his true Christian faith. He’s only mouthing what he’s been taught to say. It’s just another “phase” he’s going through.

Or, in a less personal way, they may be thinking:

All priests are child-molesters (and it’s because they’re not allowed to marry). The Pope is just a man and can’t be infallible. The Church is all about money. Catholics live like hell all week, then go to Confession and Mass on the weekend and think it’s all right. They’re trying to work their way into heaven. Nothing they believe is in the Bible – it was made up years after Jesus. It’s a cult. It killed Protestants every chance it got. They need to accept Jesus in their hearts.

I have been truly surprised over the past few years by how normally rational people become completely irrational when it comes to the Catholic Church. It’s astonishing, really. Few other topics of conversation I have elicit that kind of response – to the degree that people forget basic civility in how they talk.

Maybe it’s just the environment in which I live and work, but the irrationality of it all seems pervasive. Many people don’t want to know the truth about the Catholic Church. If they have to discuss it at all, it’s only to affirm their misinformation, not correct it.

I don’t mean to sound defeatist. These are challenges, not finalities. I only write about them to demonstrate some of what we, as Catholics, are up against. And it makes me work harder to discern how to communicate my faith in a meaningful way.

It also pushes me to remember the difference between what I am called to do – and what the Holy Spirit is able to do.

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About Paul McCusker

Paul McCusker is an author. He converted from Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism in 2007. He still works for an Evangelical organization. Paul has over 40 published works, including novels, plays, scripts, and lyrics.

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  • Scott Kallal

    Hey Paul,

    If giving answers doesn’t work, have you thought about using questions to help people change their minds? I know it sounds weird, but could it work? Who knows? If they won’t listen to you, maybe they’ll at least listen to themselves, don’t you think? Right. Well then, could now be the time to let them talk so you can really begin to get somewhere? Maybe. Ok, well, if you’re looking for some ideas, what do you think of using the following article as your starting point: ?

    I don’t agree with everything this guy says, but let me ask you this: Is it possible that questions are 100 times more powerful than statements? Whether you answered yes or no, you were forced to answer, weren’t you? Of course. Now do you get the power of questions? Awesome.

    God bless,

    Fr. Scott, AVI

    • RobinJeanne

      Interest….. I was wondering the same thing. Using questions to plant seeds but the hard part for me is when I imagine the question, wait (that would be them responding) but then I go into explaining the truth… I always mess up in my imagination and start lecturing. One day though, if it be the Lord’s will, the Holy Spirit will be my tongue…. as of right now I still have too much control over it or should I say , lack of control over it. I get so excited when there is an oppertunity to share my faith and that enthusiasum can be taken as pressuring, overberring, too loud. :( I’m working on a peacefulness in my approach, such as asking questions.

    • Wretched Sinner

      Dear Fr. Scott,

      That’s what dialectic is all about… Just a quick jump over to the webster dictionary will give us this definition:

      “dialectic – discussion and reasoning by dialogue as a method of intellectual investigation; specifically: the Socratic techniques of exposing false beliefs and eliciting truth”

      Remember St. Catherine’s words “we’ve had enough of exhortations to be silent! Cry out with a hundred thousand tongues. I see that the world is rotten because of silence.” It seems to me (my personal opinion) that as lay we must engage with the culture by means of dialogue. Not by means of silence.

      Further, I agree that people can’t be rational. What is interesting is that every human being has the capacity to reach to the CERTAINTY that God exists – with the use of REASON! Then, once the mind reaches that point is must ask, if He exists, then has He revealed anything to us? If so, what did He reveal? Why did He reveal? When did He reveal? etc….

      Finally, we can find all our answers in the church! All of them.

      • Wretched Sinner

        I saw this in the news and thought it was relevant to this conversation:

        “The Pope told Christians it is better to be “annoying” and “a nuisance” than lukewarm in proclaiming Jesus Christ.

        “If we annoy people, blessed be the Lord,” said Pope Francis during his morning Mass at the Vatican on May 16.”

        “We can ask the Holy Spirit to give us all this apostolic fervor and to give us the grace to be annoying when things are too quiet in the Church.”

        - Pope Francis

    • Paul McCusker

      Dear Fr Scott,
      Thank you – and everyone else who’ve been posting here. The original article, and this as a follow-up, was about “Drive-By” hits which, by their very nature, are not meant to start conversations but to hit and move on quickly. The snappy response or question, whatever it may be, tends not to do much (since I’ve responded to their drive-by by shooting back; they run for cover).

      A different situation was one I had recently with a couple of co-workers. The environment was relaxed and friendly, a true discussion, where I put the question out that triggered my journey to the Church: by what authority does anyone interpret Scripture and establish doctrine? I will probably post about this, if I haven’t already, but the whole encounter was respectful, thoughtful and interesting. That’s the contrast to the “Drive By” situation.

      All the best,

  • Wretched Sinner

    Dear Paul,

    I think Pope Benedict XVI would have agreed with you.

    “The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur – this is the programme with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time.”

    - Pope Benedict XVI

  • kun han

    Many of the protestants are filled with preconceptions. It seems to be a disease. One can agree or disagree, but repeating the same charge even after fully explaining the Catholic stand is really very indecent

  • World By Fire

    I have had only one encounter of this type, and one thing that struck me was that the protestant who was talking at (not to) me was trained in a sort of lawyer-like way of engaging. I found it rather fascinating. He wanted an argument, even a fight. He was riled up like a boxer heading to the ring.

    Fact is, I’m not that sort of person. I *was* interested in talking to him about how love of God impacted his day to day life, things he’d found moving, things that had changed for him, how he (in a practical sense) turned to God to deal with the difficulties of life. That sort of thing. But he was not interested in that, only in a sort of court-of-law argument based on a list of criticisms anyone can look up on the internet and read from. And ironically, one of them was that real faith has to come from the heart, not the head.

    Anyway, I just let him talk, listening curiously, not interested in the specific arguments so much as how they reflected what his faith meant to him. I didn’t say a word. When here or there his harshness touched a nerve, I thought of the far greater insults Christ had suffered – and how He had the unbelievable mercy to simply say “forgive them…”.

    I’m not a lawyer. My faith has nothing to do with arguments about texts, but about a heart overflowing with adoration, awe and gratitude for my Lord and a Church that (in my short experience as a fairly recent convert) values that. To know ones faith well, intellectually, is important, and I study daily and deeply. But to live it is far more important, to my mind. Reciting scripture is empty if those teachings are not filling your heart and changing your life. Should I one day memorize the entire Bible and Catechism, I still can’t imagine having a discussion about faith with someone in that style.

    So that may not be applicable to your situation (certainly in a work context, on a daily basis, it could be quite bothersome!). And it may not be applicable to your personal style! But I thought I’d throw it out there.

  • World By Fire

    (Sorry to go on, but one further thought). The Christians who have moved me most towards love of God have been an example in a very mundane way. A college roommate whose quiet faith was evident in her thoughtfulness, charity and generosity, for instance. Or various nuns and priests I’ve known who demonstrate grace, kindness, diligence and devotion. Even little moments, like an old Catholic woman at a flower shop, who one day when I said “see you next week” responded “God willing.” That stopped me short, and I thought long and hard about what that meant. Those little demonstrations of deep faith move me as much as the wonderful words of Christ, the Apostles and the saints of olde.

    • Wretched Sinner

      Dear World By Fire,

      When you say “I thought long and hard about what that meant” you’re using your reason. Why? To understand why that woman was so kind and generous to you. Your heart was moved. And what does it mean that your “heart” was moved? What is your heart?

      Love we know if “willing the good of the other as other” – Fr. Barron says this all the time in his videos. How do you know what to will for your neighbor? Or what to will for God? We know that the human is made up of intellect, will, and passions. Well, when our intellect is rightly instructed and formed, we can then guide our will to will the right things. And by willing the right things, especially when we will the good of our neighbor as neighbor then we are loving him/her. Emotions may or may not follow. but emotions or the sentiments of love is not always present. That does NOT mean one loves any less or to a lesser degree.

      St. Therese is a beautiful example of love of God with all her strength. Towards the end of her life she would say “I WILL to believe.” Her writings are full of wonderful feelings and exhortations of love for God, yet towards the end of her (very short) life she wasn’t filled with these sentiments. Her will was exercised in a most deliberate way. She knew in her intellect (she consented) to God’s truth. Yet, at the bitter end, her love of God was much greater than her darkness. She willed to believe this.

      Further, just by being in the blog and discussing these issues, thinking them over, pondering them, that’s what you are precisely doing. You question the premises, you question the ideas “but why, but why not, how come, etc..” and you are prompted to come up with answers to the questions. Your intellect is being challenged and formed – and you are making choices all the time with the conclusions your intellect is forming. ….thus the reason to study the Catechism… It gives us a very CLEAR picture of REALITY. Not what humans have concoctioned but what God has revealed to humanity. That is the BEST instruction of our intellects so that our will (and thus our heart) know what to will.

      • World By Fire

        I hear you WS. Perhaps which approach we emphasize is about our individual traits…? I (female) may have walked into the boys’ room here. :D

        • Wretched Sinner

          No, women can think too I hope.

          • World By Fire

            The point of my initial account about personal experience was not that there’s anything wrong with text-based argument in and of itself, and some people may find it very inspiring and engaging. Mr. McCusker’s post seemed to be about a context in which everyone is doing this same kind of arguing and he seemed a bit frustrated by it. My point was that there can be other ways of influencing people, as I was influenced by the example of various friends and acquaintances over the years. Perhaps that would be an interesting consideration in Mr. McCusker’s environment, or perhaps he would think it inappropriate or irrelevant, which is fine. Thought I’d put it out there anyway.

        • Wretched Sinner

          Dear World By Fire,

          This video of Fr. Barron might be helpful.

          (I”m not sure whether the link will appear in the post – so you can copy and paste into your browser.)

        • JoFlemings

          Word- I would hazard the guess that this site is dominated by women! :o)

  • MarytheDefender

    May I ask something? I had a debate with some fellow law student interns recently, both Catholic but lukewarm. They questioned me about a law in our country which promotes providing contraceptives, especially to the poor. Many poor families here have more children than they can afford to support. I recently met a boy whose brother died because his mother couldn’t afford to feed him. I tried to tell them what I’ve learned from reading online but haven’t been able to read all the Church doctrine on the matter. I didn’t deal with it well and got very anxious. I hope its okay to ask about this here. But how would I do apologetics over an issue like this?

    • Wretched Sinner

      Dear MarytheDefender,

      One of the documents you would want to familiarize yourself with is Humanae Vitae. Here’s the link to in in the Vatican:

      This is give you a good starting point. I hope this helps!

      • MarytheDefender

        Sorry for the late reply. I’ve heard too many people who say that NFP and contraception are the same because of their immediate effects. And just because it doesn’t cause abortion its okay. I knew that was wrong but did not fully understand why. I started reading Humanae Vitae and now I see why contraception is a sin. Thank you!

    • Rachel Gehring

      Yes, polish up on Church teaching regarding this issue so you can be confident in your defense of the truth. As well, share about Natural Family Planning (see Paul VI Institute or Couple to Couple League for sure methods) so families can discern their call to both generosity and responsibility. I have felt for some time that part of this issue is the great divide between the pro-life contingent on the right and the social justice contingent on the left. I don’t think people will buy Church teaching on either side until we do our part to unite both of these groups. Our Catholic message is the message of Jesus Christ: truth and charity are married to each other and cannot be separated.

      I mention this because I had a similar conversation just last night. One gentleman (who is personally and along with his family of four living on welfare and everyone knows it) blustered about his mission to protect life. Another gentleman pointed out that the reason why some people buy the whole contraceptive and abortive mentality is because of children who live and die in dire poverty around the world. The Church espouses and works for both the right to life and the dignity of life.

      • Wretched Sinner

        (Rachel, your post reminded me of something! Thanks for posting!)

        There is an organization that is particularly interested in serving the poor and teaching NFP they are called Family of the Americas,

        I think you’ll find their website a great resource!

      • MarytheDefender

        Sorry for the late reply. Yes, uniting left and right is necessary. I often feel like I’m caught in between and it’s a hard place to be. Especially when surrounded by people who are pro-contraception law.
        I started reading Humanae Vitae. It helped understand why contraception is a sin. Even before this I’ve attended talks against this law that discussed NFP. I’ve heard people who want a more practical explanation for being anti-contraception; not just morality. It would certainly help in declaring it unconstitutional.

  • carl641

    why does this conversation even matter? We live in a fallen world. The Lord tells us to expect to be persecuted. Speak your piece in love and move on would be my advice to you.

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  • LizEst

    Well, I believe most every situation is different and it is important to listen to the Spirit rather than get carried away with our emotions…though this is, sometimes, easier said than done. Yes, we love our faith and want to defend her. Sometimes we have the right approach, sometimes we don’t. If we have multiple encounters, we have the opportunity to try different things out. If we have only one shot at it, two things are very important. Speak the true in love and live Christ. In other words, live the gospel and don’t back down from it. Be gentle and firm in her defense. Invite, don’t force. Defend her with the witness of how we live our lives and, if necessary, use words. If we preach love and mercy…and then bully people with our driving habits, we are not giving a consistent witness. Saying one thing and doing another is a very difficult thing to defend.
    Ask any parent! Even a young child knows the difference. Our lives must be a living witness to Christ and our faith.

  • jrbarrytx

    This is an article worth keeping for one who has been faced with all of the examples you gave above. I have had to just listen and make no comment, which as it turns out works better than getting into an argument with people who do not care to listen to the truth or are afraid their faith is being challenged. I just put on that suit of armor and let the arrow fly where they may…..and ultimately pray for them.

    • LizEst

      Prayer, united to Christ through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, is very efficacious. God bless you jrbarrytx!

  • Becky Ward

    Quoting from the post: “I have been truly surprised over the past few years by how normally rational people become completely irrational when it comes to the Catholic Church.”

    It’s simple really – the Catholic Church is the devils worst enemy! St. Paul tells us that our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against powers and dominions, principalities and thrones. (my paraphrase)
    Might be interesting to ask people why they get so worked up about it.

  • Bridgit Bellini

    Occasionally you just have to brush the dust off your feet and move on to those who will listen.
    Beat response in some of cases mentioned is to smile, not lose your peace and go pray for them.
    Trust me, as a zealous convert from Methodist church, I know what you are going through.
    Keep the faith and Pax Christi!

  • JohnnyVoxx

    What helps me in those situations? A deepening understanding of the Catholic Faith, coupled with patience, love, and an awareness that we are not the Holy Spirit. When I was coming back to the Faith in a serious way, it was a Norbertine priest who said simply to my marvel that this could all be true — “It’s all true, John.” He was terrifying (in a good way) through his calm objectivity. Of course, he had a 10 year formation process to back him up…I do what I can. Good luck and God bless. Just plant the seed; they will remember your tone and your presence as much as anything else.

  • mcrognale

    A fundamentalist friend of mine told me once that no matter ho you live your life, at the end if you believe in Jesus in your heart and confess it on your lips you will be saved. When I challenged him, politely of course, that you had to live a life of works he flat told me that works didn’t matter. I stopped at that point.

  • Wretched Sinner

    Yesterday a woman told me she was atheist.

    After some friendly q&a between us she very deliberately said “I have free will, and if I choose to believe there is no God, that is my choice” to which I responded “you are very correct” but then “suppose, just imagine, if there might just be something as hell, forever, eternal pain” to which she said “why would God send me there if I was a good person all my life” I answered “no, God doesn’t send anyone there, they get themselves there by their own free will” With amazed look she asked “He doesn’t?” “No, I said He’ll never NEVER override your free will” She then said, then how would anyone go to Hell, obviously no one would choose to go there. I said “by not believing that God exist, why should you be in heaven enjoy His company for all eternity when you spent all your life exercising your free will against Him?”…. she was stunned and kept quiet. Later on she came to say “oh please don’t judge me, I’m a good person, can we still be friends?” I said “of course we can be friends! Just never stop thinking and asking the questions!”

    • Dan Burke

      Dear Wretched Evangelist Person: PERFECT! It is funny that the pattern of this discussion follows most of those I have had with folks who were opposed to my faith. Often we see those who challenge us as enemies and we get combative. Instead, if we can slow down, listen to the Holy Spirit, pray as they speak, and respond with love, amazing things happen. Your gentleness coupled with the reasonable approach you took is very powerful and compelling. I have no doubt she will be back for more.

  • Mary@42

    He said these words: “If they hate you, remember they hated Me first….”.

    • LizEst

      Hey Mary – Any word on the new baby yet?

  • russ

    wow, does this post really resonate with me. My wife and I reverted to the faith in 2004. I was a respected doctor/worship musician/ in the local evangelical community with lots of friends, relationships with relatively intelligent people who I believed were rational. Upon my conversion, I discovered friends with MD’s, PhD’s etc basically had a 9 year old emotional response to my reversion/conversion. People who I had been friends dropped all civility and treated me like I was a leper. Relationships of over 15 years disappeared without a phone call. Gigs and speaking engagements were cancelled with comments like “when you decide to follow Jesus, just let us know.” Patients who I cared for for years and respected me as their physician suddenly found it necessary to insult and demean me publicly on the internet. That really hurt the most. What I discovered is that Satan hates the Church more than anything, and will do anything to damage the body of Christ. Even influence good people to act badly in order to attack the faith. The fact that intelligent, good Christian suddenly twist their head around and spit pea soup upon discovering your conversion points to something quite diabolical. It only further confirmed to my wife and I that we had made the correct decision to revert, but, it still hurts, even after 9 years ;( God bless you

    • LizEst

      Hi Russ – Yes, these things hurt terribly. I really feel for you. It is obvious that you and your wife put your heart and soul into what you believe. You are not lukewarm! God bless you for standing firm in the midst of such hurt. “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). Keep forgiving and praying for those who have hurt you just as Christ, the divine physician, instructed, just as He gave us example on the cross. Some day you will both be healed. God bless you both.

  • Chris

    I don’t usually write posts. Mostly because I’m not sure that what I will say is worth hearing. But I am moved by Paul’s comments as I am in similar circumstances. I should clarify that am a cradle Catholic, but have spent most of my adult life working in the Protestant/Evangelical business world. So though I can’t begin to know what it would be like to be rejected by friends because I converted to Catholicism, I’ve been on the receiving end of (sometimes knowingly but more often unknowingly) judgmental, inimical or derisive comments by friends at work, associates, and others in the industry.

    In 22 years of working in the Christian Retail industry I have discovered that some people are hard of heart. They have a true love for the Lord, but fail desire to understand their fellow man. In those moments I truly appreciate the Prayer of St. Francis, especially the line “O Master, grant that I may not so much seek…to be understood as to understand.” When I succeed in striving to understand their problems or concerns about Catholicism, showing genuine interest in what they think and feel, it often softens their hearts. Maybe not immediately, but it usually does so over time. And often it leads to a desire on their part to understand me and why I believe in the Catholic church. We can only hope that through humility and patience, we will be given the opportunity to share the truth of the Church. But as Paul indicated, it is the Holy Spirit that opens the heart and mind, not anything we say.

  • debby_d_NJ

    Amazing that this scenario is so commonplace! Unfortunately, it is one that has been repeated as if a “memo” had gone out or a “training manual” had been followed…..I too, experienced all of the above and comments below as a former Anti-Catholic Scotch Cafe-Calvinist (even the Calvinist don’t know what Calvin taught these days) now Catholic for 30 years. I have found the advice of St. Francis of Assisi most helpful: “Preach the Gospel today. And if necessary, use words.”
    One quick testimony on Catholic witness a hostile Protestant: my employer is a man I grew up with, have known since the 8th grade, and who was raised by Catholic alcoholic father and co-dependent mother. I grew up Protestant in an equally dysfunctional family and went to Bible college. Eight years ago I became his bookkeeper. One day he tried to pick a hostile fight with me and I refused to participate. His accusation when I wouldn’t engage (this was at the height of the sex scandal) was, “you won’t answer me because you cannot ‘give a reason for your faith’. You know I would beat you.” To which I responded, “I could Greek and Hebrew, Chapter and Verse you under the table. God does not ask me to beat anyone. Your relationship with the Lord is between you and God. Your religion is not my problem. You hired me to be your bookkeeper, not your Spiritual Director. You are not interested in any Truth I may have to share, you just want to brawl. No thank you.”
    This may seem calloused. I assure you, it was not. Growing up with the “Great Commission” pounding in my years making me feel personally responsible to be everyone’s eternal fireman, my nature would compel me to fight him and win! The Holy Spirit and the Holy Catholic Church have been purifying my mind and heart and thereby my reactions- but it is a long “recovery from Protestantism!”

    Now it is at least five years later. He recently told my brother (who is his Elder at their CMA church and best friend), “Debby is the only truly Christian woman I know. She loves God and she loves me and she lives it.” Little by very little, I have been graced to share here and there with him on a Faith level. I have found Love – the Evangelistic Apologetics supernaturally included of course- works more miracles than wordy Apologetics energized by my forceful personality. Our Lord has shown me my role in the salvation of souls:
    He is the Good Shepherd Who lays down His life for the sheep.
    I am the little boarder collie who stands guard over the weak or broken one and howls until He gets there!
    A much better “role” I must say….
    Blessings to you and keep up the good fight- in LOVE!

    • LizEst

      Wow! What powerful testimony…and what a blessing the Lord has allowed you to know how your witness has borne fruit. Thanks for sharing. God bless you, debby_d_NJ!