Saturday, 2 May 2015


A clerical collar or religious habit can act like a lightning conductor that attracts to itself questions about our Catholic Faith. That’s one of the reasons why we wear them. True, such clericalgarb can also be a deterrent. In the days when trains had isolated compartments the very sight of us could cause other passengers to take fright and leave us alone; they didn’t want to spend a journey alone with a ‘Holy Joe!’ What’s the feminine equivalent?

But it’s surprising and encouraging how frequently we Christians are questioned about our Faith. People do want to know what makes us tick. Our way of life, our beliefs can seem weird, if not wicked, to the non-believer. Friends, colleagues, class-mates, strangers ask us questions about our Faith. They can come completely out of the blue, can happen at any time, anywhere. Sometimes they’re hostile, at other times curious. I’ve been asked to explain the Blessed Trinity in a couple of sentences. I’ve been angrily accused of hating women and sex –because as a Dominican I’m vowed to celibacy. Frequently we’re asked how a good God could allow innocent people to suffer. We’ve all had this kind of experience.

That’s why St. Peter’s letter urges us, “always to be ready to make a defence to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence,” (I Peter 3. 16). A daunting task! We feel we’d not up to it; we’d be out of our depth. We know it’s far easier to ask a question than to give an answer. After all, we’re dealing with the ‘Mysteries of Faith, "What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived" -- the things God has prepared for those who love Him,” (I Cor. 2. 9). And yet each one of us has beenBAPTISED FOR MISSION –to hand on the Faith we have received. Christ has entrusted the proclamation of the Gospel to us ordinary people –you and me….nothing special about us!

How on earth can we cope? Clearly, we must try to know and understand our Faith as best we can. God has given us minds and expects us to use them –not simply so that we can handle other people’s questions and deal with their attacks on our Faith and practice. Certainly we must be able to do that. But more importantly, our Christian lives need to be nourished and enriched by prayerful, reflective study, especially of the Sacred Scriptures. Through them the Word of God Himself speaks not only to our minds, but also to our hearts. To deepen our belief we need to seek, to ask questions. But thank God, we don’t need to be a genius to know and love our Faith. That’s His special gift!

Never must we fall into the trap of thinking that understanding and sharing the Good News is a purely human activity –that success depends entirely on our efforts. It doesn’t. God must be involved at every stage. That’s why Jesus gives us this encouragement, “But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.…”( Matt. 10. 19-20). Jesus has promised that the Spirit of Truth would remind us of what He had taught.

That’s not meant to be a lazy substitute for study and prayerful reflection. The Holy Spirit doesn’t take over and do all the work. Instead, He prompts our memories to recall what we already know and helps us to share what we already believe. Jesus never promised that the Spirit would infuse knowledge of matters of which we’re totally ignorant. But it’s wonderful the way the Holy Spirit does help us to find just the right answer, when someone has ‘bowled us a googly’ of a question (or for baseball followers, ‘a curve ball’). The wisdom of our response can take us by surprise –thanks to the promptings of the Spirit, rather than to our brilliance.

So let’s expect, even look forward to, our Faith to being questioned. Let’s face that challenge with confidence. The Spirit of Truth is with us, prompting our memories, helping us to explain what we believe. Above all, the Holy Spirit gives us a divine sensitivity for what is right or wrong, true or false –what St. Paul calls the ‘mind of Christ.’

So let’s not be surprised or alarmed at the prospect of meeting the questioning stranger. God has sent him or her especially to us. The Holy Spirit is with us, in what may just be a brief, seemingly casual, encounter.


Isidore Clarke, O.P.

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