Monday, December 28, 2020

Developing a thick skin is key in being a true Catholic and to respond to our call to evangelize.

It’s a given that for many, if not for most, that answering the call to evangelize about our faith as Catholics to others is challenging, to say the least.


Many Catholics are even oblivious to the fact that their very baptism into Christ and into the universal Catholic church itself has conscripted them into the necessary task of bringing Christ to others who have not yet come to know the tremendous privilege of being the adopted children of God the Father in Christ.  Part of the reason this is so is because it is often the case that well grounded catechesis had not been a constant follow-up after the rite of Baptism, and even if it was constant, the response from the one receiving catechesis and formation in the faith was more passive than active.  Just like learning that is done in the academic field of life, one’s appreciation of the subject being taught is deeper and more focused when one is an active learner as compared to when one is just passively attentive to what is being imparted.  


In the matter of faith, especially when it comes to the task of evangelization, it is a given that knowledge of doctrine is of great import.  But even before one opens one’s mouth to speak about Jesus and the faith, what gets the important ‘foot in the door’ in another person’s life is the way that one lives and behaves.  No one is interested in our talk about Jesus if by our lives we are a blatant demonstration of living lives that are clearly contrary to the teachings of Christ.  Perhaps it is because many of us know that we are living somewhat ‘counter-Christian’ lives that we are reluctant and even hesitant to evangelize at any level.  Admitting that we are hypocrites is one thing.  Hearing others brandishing that description about us is far more painful and humiliating.


It is because of this realization that I came to see that developing a thick skin toward the negative responses to others is so very important if we are truly to do the work of evangelizing our faith to others.  A thick skin is needed to face many things that any true evangelist is very likely to face when introducing the person of Christ to others.  I share a few good reasons why this is not only necessary but also wise.


1.   A thick skin is needed to receive critiques and criticisms

There is a natural tendency to be defensive when the good that we intend to do is not well received. Sometimes this even gets personal. A thick skin is needed to take this in stride, and to not react.  A calm and collected demeanor in these moments could be the ‘deal breaker’ for those whom we are sharing Christ with, especially if they have hearts that are somewhat hardened.  


I recall reading about how Mother Theresa of Calcutta put this into practice when she was beginning her arduous task of getting food and supplies for the orphans in her care.  According to one account, she went to a bakery and asked the baker if he could spare some bread for the poor and starving children. The baker, with rage in him, spat into her outstretched palm.  Wiping the saliva gently away with the hem of her sari, Mother looked gently at the baker and said “Thank you for what you gave me.  Now, can you please give some bread to the poor children?” 


From that moment on, the baker’s heart changed, and as the story goes, he became a regular benefactor to Mother’s orphanage.  


2.   A thick skin is needed to accept no as an answer.

I think there are many of us who cannot take no for an answer, and this is problematic in the faith life. God often does answer our pleas and prayers with a no, and it is for our own good that he does.  If God’s answer to our petitions to him is always a yes, I think we have a very big problem on our hands.  So we struggle with God’s no.  


We also tend to struggle with a “no” when we invite others to come with us to some spiritual talk or meeting or some bible-study or prayer groups.  We want and expect a wholehearted and immediate “yes” from the people we are inviting to get to know Jesus, and because very often, the first response is a “no”, declining our invitation, we get discouraged and think we don’t have what it takes to evangelize well.  What it does prove is that we don’t have what it takes to be rejected.  


We need to almost expect that the first response, even the second or third response from those we are inviting to be a “no”.  There are two good things about having this expectation.  Firstly, it makes any “yes” a bonus and a true delight to receive, rather than something that we think is a response that we are entitled to.  We become grateful.  


Secondly, we prepare the grounds of their hearts when we go to them a second time (maybe in a few months’, or next year) to invite them again.  It may be that their hearts need a few rounds of asking, a few times of inviting and some show of loving persistence.  We need to bear in mind the gospel text of the parable of the persistent friend at night (Luke 11:5-8) that knocked at the door of a friend late into the night to ask for some bread for his visitors.  His persistence won for him food for his friend.  I think this parable can be renamed as the parable of the thick-skinned friend.

3.   We need a thick skin to offer the other cheek.

In Luke 6:29, Jesus gives a rather challenging instruction to his disciples when it comes to living out the Beatitudes.  It's framed within the call to love those who hate or curse us, and Jesus makes it clear that there is a need to offer the other cheek to those who strike us on one cheek.  Apart from a call to non-violence, to do this well requires of us to develop skin that is thick - thick enough to withstand the kind of negative response to our willingness to live out the call of intentional discipleship.  Having a thin skin in our discipleship will only show how sensitive we are to facing any kind of push back in our efforts at evangelisation, and we will be far more interested in preserving ourselves than in wanting Christ to be brought to others.


The work of evangelizing to others is always a work in process, quite like the way that our quest for spiritual maturity is also a work in process.  If we think it’s a point of arrival, we’ve really missed the point.  


It is always a point of departure.



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