My brother says he is no longer Catholic, what should I do?
I was at a social event and I met a really nice couple. We were chatting away, getting to know each other and everything was going well when one of them asked me, "Hey, what do you think of clown ministry?" It has always been a habit of mine to show restraint and forethought whenever I speak (Dad, Mom, quit laughing!), so I launched into a speech saying how much I couldn’t stand clown ministry, clowns scared me ever since I was a kid, blah, blah, blah.
I went on and on speaking about my dislike for clowns for a good five minutes when I noticed them looking at me strangely. After a good two minute pause, the husband looked at me and said, "We were just asking because we have a clown ministry."
Someday, somehow, I will learn to shut my mouth ...
Dear Fr. Joe: One of my brothers says he is no longer Catholic. He and his wife seem to spend a great deal of time criticizing my family and the Catholic Church. He says we aren’t going to heaven. It’s really hard at family gatherings because he is always trying to convert people. What should I do?
Wow! Questions like this are tough. Obviously, your brother has had a powerful religious experience and wants to share it. That’s a good thing. The bad thing is that he is not accepting your religious experience.
So, here is what we do.
First of all, he is probably asking you if you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That is something you need to be able to answer. The sacraments offer us the chance to have this relationship, but we have to respond by saying ‘yes’ to Jesus everyday and seeking to love God and His people every chance we get. If that is true in your life, let him know! Tell him, "Yes, I love Jesus, and I share it in word and deed!" If it is not true, then work on it. Get to know Jesus through some quiet time and reading of the Scriptures. Go to Mass and receive the Eucharist. Let Jesus be your savior.
OK, so we’ve covered that.
It also may be that your brother needs someone to listen to him. It does seem in our culture that it is OK to talk to anybody about anything – as long as it isn’t about Jesus. Maybe your brother is expressing an appropriate desire but in an inappropriate way – he wants to talk about faith! Share with him and let him share with you!
Now, all of this is assuming that your brother and his spouse will accept your faith in Jesus through the Catholic Church as authentic. This is a big assumption and, to be honest, about 90 percent of the time, they won’t treat your beliefs with any respect at all.
So, what then?
Has it occurred to you that you have nothing to apologize for in being Catholic? I am always amazed at the low opinion other Christian churches have of us and how often that opinion is born of ignorance. Get to know this faith you love so much and you will be able to share your Catholicism as well. Besides FAITH Magazine, I would recommend Envoy (my second favorite) and This Rock (third favorite). These are just a couple of outstanding resources to help you know and defend your Catholic faith. All are on the Internet, so check them out.
Or it could be that your brother and his wife don’t want to share – they only want to yell at you. If this is the case, be as patient as you can (there are worse things – he could be selling magazine subscriptions during dinner) and pray for them. Prayer is a powerful tool.
It may be that your prayers and the acceptance you offer them is all they need to “love God without embarrassing Jesus” as Tony Campolo says. A couple of last tactical points for discussing your faith in a hostile environment include your Catechism which is an outstanding resource. Be sure and look up the different topics you are challenged on. If a Scripture is quoted to you, ask for chapter and verse so you can look it up yourself. Finally, remember the words of St. Augustine:
“In essential things, unity. In the unessentials, liberty. In all things, love.”
Enjoy another day in God’s presence