Carrie Gress has a doctorate from the Catholic University of America and is a philosophy professor at Pontifex University. She is the author of several books, including The Marian Option: God’s Solution to a Civilization in Crisis. Carrie is the co-author with George Weigel of City of Saints: A Pilgrims Guide to John Paul II’s Krakow. A homeschooling mother of four, she and her family live in Virginia. Visit her blog at www.carriegress.com.
Christmas time. It is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but for many, it ushers in frustration, interior turmoil, and irritation. Celebrating with family who don’t share our Catholic faith (and may even be hostile to it) is an open wound for many. Whether it is a child home from college, a cousin, or in- laws, the refrain I hear over and over again from concerned Catholics is “How can we help them to see the truth?”
Many hope and pray, year after year, to say the right things: that this year’s conversations will go better and their loved ones will finally see the light. Perhaps I should invite so-and-so to help with the discussion?
And then, as the hours or days unfold, our arguments either fall upon deaf ears or manage to stir up more discord and frustration – making the gaping chiasm between “us” and “them” even wider. We become more defeated than ever, believing that our every effort is bound to fail. So why try?
The sad reality is that most Catholics operate upon the false notion that evangelization relies upon having the right argument at the right moment. The truth is that few conversions happen this way; most converts will point to things people said to them that changed their lives, but rarely is it in the heat of debate or while sparring over the Christmas goose.
Conversions for most are a long-term project. There are few St. Pauls who, knocked off their horses, see the truth of the faith in an instant. Instead, conversions are more like a gentle snowfall – a few quiet sprinkles of grace at first, until eventually everything looks different. The world is blanketed with new meaning and crispness.
Here are three things you can do that will help — rather than hinder — your efforts:
1. Just Love Them
The hidden secret to converting loved ones is to love them: to accept them where they are (without encouraging them in their sins: “Looks like you are really enjoying the new pot laws” or “Congratulations, most people can’t hook up with a different person every weekend”) and to embrace who they are. People can grow when they know they are loved. They will not grow when they are on the defensive, and attempting to convert people through a heated debate will invariable make them defensive. Listen to them, ask questions, consider their needs – these are all the things that we do when we love someone. Ask genuine questions and don’t feel like you need to come up with a rebuttal when you don’t like the answer. Questions have a way of stirring things in the heart of the one answering.
2. Get Out of God’s Way
Beyond loving them right where they are, keep in mind that God loves your family more than you do. He is in charge of their lives. That doesn’t mean that you give up on your rosaries, Masses, and sacrifices (in fact, increase these), but that you can relax a bit and let him do the work. Get yourself out of the way. So when Uncle Billy throws out the anti-Catholic jabs, just let them go and don’t feel like you have to respond to everything. Often, God does more with less.
3. Soak in Peace
Finally, don’t underestimate the power of peace. People are starving for peace in the world today. Be a source of it. There are few gifts that you can give to others than this witness and to provide evidence that living in peace is possible, even in the midst of chaos. We know that our Savior was born “to guide our feet into the way of peace” (LK, 1:79). Find it, soak it up, and give it to others. Find ways to guard your peace, even if it means hiding in the bathroom for a few minutes.
Of course, old habits die hard and family relationships have a way of being well trod and therefore hard to reinvent, so be patient with yourself. We cannot change others, but we can change ourselves, and sometimes that is all it takes.