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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Why Catholics Don't Often Witness

The May 24th issue of America contains an article by Fr. John C. Haughey, professor of theology at Loyola University in Chicago, who laments the Catholic unwillingness to talk about their personal relationship with Jesus. Whether it be a theology student or a theology professor, Catholics don't talk much about themselves and Christ. Instead, Catholics, even Catholic professors, talk about books: “these seasoned Catholic scholars could hardly be described as lacking a personal relationship with Christ. What is it about Catholicism that makes personal sharing about one’s relationship with Jesus less likely?”

John Paul II has already answered this question. How many men and women begin a conversation by talking about their love for their spouse? Most married people, especially men, simply don't engage in that kind of conversation. We don't start a conversation with "Good heavens, I love my wife! And I just wanted to come before you to say that she's the best little woman in the world."

Evangelicals emphasize the Lordship of Christ or the fact that Jesus is their friend. But you never hear them talk about Jesus as their lover. For Catholics, that is all there IS to talk about.

We can talk about how we got married to our Spouse, Jesus Christ, in baptism. We can talk about God grows how our marriage relationship from baptismal newlywed status to full maturity in Confirmation. We can talk about how He establishes His Son within our spiritual family through Holy Orders. We can talk about how we we cheated on our Spouse but repented and renewed our marriage vows in Reconciliation. We can talk about the Flesh of the Bridegroom entering the Flesh of the Bride at the Nuptial Feast in Eucharist and the Mass. We can talk about all the sweet nothings we whisper into our Lover's ear through sacramentals and the sacramental life. We can talk about how the Bridegroom takes us home to the Father's House after our honeymoon here on earth.

But we don't. We don't talk about it much because spouses don't tend to talk about these things in public. Good spouses don't thrust their private married life on strangers. Married life is about intimacy. It is something that only our family sees, that only spouses really share and understand. I cannot speak for wives, but I can say this: two husbands may talk about this very quietly in the backyard over a beer when the rest of the family is otherwise occupied, but even then, they speak in hushed tones and indirect comments, and even those are kept to a bare minimum. This is the nature of married life. It is the entrance into the sanctuary. It is the holiness of the tabernacle. Men recognize this holiness by doing all that a man can do: he falls silent before it in order to witness to it the better, in order to see it more clearly.

There is good Scriptural precedent for this. Mary, the first person to proclaim the full Gospel, did so in absolute silence, as her spouse, Joseph, silently stood guard over her and the Child. She and Joseph remained silent, leaving to the angels the task of telling the shepherds of the event. If Fr. Haughey had bothered to read John Paul II's Theology of the Body, or even bothered with one of the popular summaries (of which my Sex and the Sacred City is but one example), if he had spent some time absorbing this teaching and making it his own, he would know this.

Evangelicals are the chipper young lads and lasses out on their first or second or twenty-first date, ready to talk about their relationship with anyone who has a ready ear. Like anyone who is not fully committed, they are not entirely sure of themselves, so they constantly bring forward their relationship for others to examine and advise them. "Is this the one?" they ask. "I really love her. I think she is the one. Is she? Am I doing the right thing? I think I am. I can't imagine being happier. What do you think? I think she's GREAT! Oh, if you only had the chance to meet her, if you only had the chance to know her like I do, you would think she is great too! She is you know. Don't you think so? Come with me, I'll introduce you. You'll really like her." How many times have we who are older had this conversation with an eager young adult?

But Catholic life is different.

Catholic life is about being married to Jesus.

Not dating.

Not friends.


And Fr. Haughey, that's a whole different level of conversation.

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