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“Ask a Priest: What If Friends Seem to Ignore My Catholic Faith?”
Q: I am a Catholic teenager who lives in a predominantly Protestant community. All of my friends are Protestant. We don’t talk about religion much unless it’s something we already know we agree on. We are incredibly close, but my friends don’t seem to remember a lot of the time lately that I’m Catholic. The most recent thing that’s happened is that my best friend and her sister are going to Ecuador on a mission trip because, as they say, “Most people there don’t have a personal relationship with God.” Ecuador is predominantly Catholic, but they have asked us for money so they can go over and try to make people Protestants. This isn’t the first time this has happened, and it hurts my feeling quite a bit; firstly, because they think that way of my faith, and secondly, because it didn’t even occur to them that this would be hurtful to me. I want to deal with this lovingly. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you. – R.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: It is good that your friends seem to have a love for Christ and that they have a desire to help others to have a personal relationship with God.
The key to understanding your difficulty with your friends might be found in your e-mail. You write, “We don’t talk about religion much unless it’s something we already know we agree on.” Maybe that is a source of the problem.
By only talking about things that you and your friends agree on, you are probably keeping quiet about things that distinguish the Catholic faith from Protestant beliefs.
If that is the case, it is understandable that your friends would either forget about your Catholicism or fail to see any real differences between your faith and theirs. Your friendships might be built on the common ground of a less-than-full-strength Christianity.
By this I don’t mean to disparage the faith of your friends. Their faith could be strong and sincere. Nevertheless, Protestantism overlooks some of the great treasures that Christ intends for his followers to take advantage of. These treasures include the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist; the magisterium, or teaching authority, of the Church; and the special help of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
From what you describe, you seem to be keeping low-key about your Catholic beliefs in the hopes of fitting in with your pals. It is no wonder that they assume they can ask you to support endeavors that would, in effect, undercut the Catholic faith of other people, such as those in Ecuador.
To repeat: it’s quite likely that your friends are sincere in their faith. And they probably mean no offense to you. They have simply discounted your Catholic faith and are moving ahead with what they think is a wholesome form of evangelization.
So, what might you do?
First, you might ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. Ask him to strengthen you so that you share the Catholic faith with your friends.
If you are worried about alienating them, then you might ask yourself how genuine the friendships are. Real friends want the best for each other. Real friends can accept each other for who they are.
If you believe Catholicism is the fullest expression of what Christ wants for us, why not share that with your friends? And if your friends only accept you so long as you keep your Catholicism low-key, what does that tell you?
Before sharing the faith, you might want to read up on it more. There are lots of practical books that could prepare you to speak about the faith, among them The Essential Catholic Survival Guide. A further list of helpful books could be found at https://www.catholic.com/tract/apologists-bookshelf.
If sharing your Catholic faith with your friends leads to tensions and breakups, then it might be a moment to move on and look for other friends.
Depending on your locale, this might take a special effort. You might seek out Catholic friends through Church activities such as volunteer work. Or you might look to get involved in Catholic works of evangelization, such as Regnum Christi’s Mission Youth program.
Your Protestant friends obviously aren’t bashful about sharing their faith abroad. That is a lesson to be imitated, abroad as well as close to home.
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