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“Ask a Priest: What If People Put Up Walls When Hearing of the Faith?”
Q: When people are being a little aggressive or stern in a conversation about the faith, and I get to a point where I can no longer defend my position, or I can’t seem to break down their walls, or it seems to be turning into a “roasting” rather than a debate, should I still try to convince them? Or should I just let them be, and leave it to God? If I should keep talking, what is the most effective and peaceful way? – C.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: Your question touches on the virtue of prudence. In this case that means saying the right thing at the right moment.
For that reason, it’s impossible to give a specific rule about what to do in all cases.
One good principle to keep in mind when it comes to talking about the faith or defending it (also known as apologetics) is that it isn’t about “breaking down walls” but rather opening hearts and minds. Nor is it in our hands to convert others — it’s really a work of the Holy Spirit.
If tensions are rising in a conversation, it is probably better not to push your viewpoint. At this point the other person has probably stopped listening. It might be better to end the conversation cordially and say, “You know, I appreciate your honesty and will think about what you have said. Let’s pray for each other, OK?”
Later, it might be good to review in your mind what made the conversation get heated. Perhaps you could have listened better, or read body language better, or could have given signals that you appreciated the other person’s insights, etc. With each conversation or debate, we can learn something about ourselves and how we might say things better the next time.
Also on a tactical level, sometimes it is more effective to ask pointed questions rather than offering all the full answers yourself. A person might try to respond and pretend he has the answer, but a good question can stick with the other person long after the conversation itself has ended.
At a deeper level you might ask what motivates you when you discuss the faith with someone. Ideally it should be love and a desire to truly help the other person and to share with him the beauty of what you see and experience in the faith.
It also helps to be intellectually prepared for discussions, since it gives the Holy Spirit more of a basis to work through you.
To that end it is good to do research on a topic if you feel as though you didn’t have good answers. The Catechism and its Compendium are good resources to use.
Remember, a key way to help bring someone to the fullness of the faith is through your prayers and through your charity. That opens hearts.
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