Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXVII, No. 4
Pondering Them in Her Heart:
Letting Go of the Need to Be Understood
by Tracy Frelk
“There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” -- Fulton J. Sheen
This semester I am taking a class on Roman Catholicism in the United States from my secular school’s religion department. I myself have been questioning the wisdom of this decision for several weeks, and while the class ranges from hilarious to infuriating, it is nothing if not interesting.
The first day of class, the professor asked the students to define Roman Catholicism. Two answers stand out in my memory: 1) The Roman Empire started it; and 2) Catholicism is different from other Christian denominations because Catholics have saints.
This kind of response to Catholicism is not uncommon amongst young people. They simply don’t know anything about it. No one teaches them about it. No one speaks to them about it. However, I can almost guarantee that all of them personally know a Catholic whether they realize it or not.
For those with eyes to see, our world today is rampant with anti-Catholicism. The media blatantly misrepresents Church teaching. Remember when the pope supposedly sanctioned the use of condoms? Jokes about priests being pedophiles are everywhere. My friends and I who are virgins at the ripe old age of 21 are prudes.
As a young Catholic, from every angle I constantly feel as if I am being told what I think: “Catholics hate homosexuals,” “Catholics think sex is dirty,” “Because you’re Catholic you are x, y, and z.” Fill in the blank. What is most striking, however, is that I do not seem to have any say in what I think, what I believe, how I act, and who I am. I am Catholic, therefore, I am everything you have heard about me.
On a brighter note, something good I have observed about my generation is its curiosity. My peers are genuinely interested in other cultures, other ways of life, how other people think. These interests can spark wonderful, intelligent conversation, and, hopefully, inspire a search for Truth.
We are the children of globalization, and we know it. I have a friend who joined the Islamic Student Association, not because he was Muslim, but because he wanted to know more about Islam and that culture. He maintains those friendships to this day. If I wanted to know more about Muslim culture, I would talk to one of his friends, even before I talked to the professor who is an expert on Islam and Muslim cultures but isn’t Muslim himself. It simply makes sense.
However, when it comes to Catholicism, one of the most ancient and widespread institutions in the world, there is very little of this healthy curiosity. When people want to know about the Church, they go to the media. They go to professors. They go to historians. All viable sources of information, but why, the young Catholics wonder, do they not come to us? Do they not realize what resources we are? We eat, sleep, breathe Catholicism. Many of us were raised in it. We are virtually living relics, carrying on unbroken traditions from 2,000 years of antiquity. The young Catholic soul, still filled with zeal, wants to be asked, wants to be challenged for Christ. It’s the reason I chose to go to a secular college.
Four years later, I realize my mistake. Going to a secular college was not the mistake it was expecting the mission field to come to me, expecting opportunities to overflow, expecting every word from my mouth to be dripping with the honey of clarity and understanding, expecting to convert every soul who confronted me.
Now I realize that 99% of the time if I do not bring Catholicism into the conversation, no one will. The world is, sadly, satisfied with its illusions. The remedy for satisfaction is the unknown human beings naturally seek, and if I do not give them something that will make them seek and question, what’s to make them unsatisfied?
At the Catholic Campus Ministry at my school, the chapel door is right inside the main doors. CCM regulars genuflect before that door upon entering and exiting the building not strictly necessary, since the Tabernacle is behind the door, but we can peer through the little window and see it looking at us, and see the sanctuary flame, and it reminds us that the source and summit of our Faith is there. So we genuflect.
A couple weeks ago, there was a young man in the building who wasn’t Catholic and was just there to meet his friend. Several people had genuflected as they passed the door, and he finally asked his friend why everyone was tripping. His friend simply answered, “Oh, Jesus is in there.” How could that young man have walked away without wondering, pondering those words? Even if he had no idea what his friend meant, who would not be a little shocked by those words, and carry them mentally for a time?
As said before, most everyone knows a Catholic. And those Catholics can’t wait around for their friends to initiate, because they won’t. They don’t know what they don’t know. So we must initiate not by force, not by preaching from street corners or door-to-door evangelization, but by little, ordinary moments of being unashamed of our faith.
“Oh, Jesus is in there.” No waffling. No “Well, we believe that during the Mass...” Just say it. Jesus is in there. You know it. I know it. Who cares if they think you’re a little crazy, if it will make them think at all? And then, after their thinking, they’ll know who they can ask about Catholicism a living, breathing human being instead of the Internet.
And so I realized that understanding is not actually that important. Many a time have I wanted to kick myself after explaining something so much that it didn’t make sense and people stopped listening. Many more times have I realized that what I mean to say and what actually comes out of my mouth can be radically different. I can’t make people understand.
In realizing that we cannot succeed in our efforts to make the world understand Catholicism, a huge burden should be lifted from our shoulders. We should not feel frustrated or angry with our own weakness, or the stubbornness of the world. We should feel peace, and be joyful, because the One who can do all those things and more never placed that burden on us. We thought we had placed it on ourselves. And now, with Him doing all the heavy lifting, what do we have to lose? After all, Christ’s first words to the Apostles were, “Come and see.” No lengthy explanation of who He was. No theological discourse. Simply “Come and see.”
From this point, we can also remember to turn our own thoughts of conversion and evangelization and understanding on ourselves. What an opportunity Christ has given us! We are weak and useless children who can’t do anything right what an opportunity to throw ourselves into Him, to abandon ourselves to Him, and to allow Him to send His Spirit into our hearts to change us and use us. Forcing ourselves to care less about making the world understand us opens the way to sacrifice and mortification mortification in knowing you aren’t understood, and the wounded pride that follows, and, hopefully, the humility and sweetness and abandon that come when pride is dead.
Saint Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei, was a Spanish priest during Spain’s Civil War, a time of great misunderstanding and hatred of the Church. In spite of all this, he wrote, “Don’t seek to be ‘understood’. That lack of understanding is providential: so that your sacrifice may pass unnoticed.”
We must love the world as Christ loves it. We love it in spite of its hatred for us, in spite of its misunderstanding. After all, we can’t force them to see. So why fret? Why worry overmuch that young people don’t know how Catholicism was founded? Young Catholics, stop worrying about the debate and the apologetics and eloquence. Those are all good things, but we can neither anticipate nor demand nor control them. We must live our Catholic faith with an infectious vibrancy; we look for opportunities to share it, but not to preach. And when others don’t understand, we offer it and ourselves to Christ, in Whom all things are made new. We will have done good work for our Master if our friends walk away pondering things in their hearts.
Tracy Frelk is a senior at the University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, Virginia. Originally from Northern Virginia, she is the oldest of seven children. She currently serves as the student president of the UMW Catholic Campus Ministry.
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