There we were at the bar of a Buffalo Wild Wings, halfway through our 22 oz. Blue Moon drafts which were on special. We were both exhausted after a long double shift of waiting tables and there was nothing else I wanted more than to enjoy my beer (or beers, if we’re being honest) and commiserate about the day that was. That’s when she turned to me, and asked in that oh-so-familiar tone of voice, “Hey… you’re Catholic, right?”
Crap. If there was ever a time I did not want anything to do with that question it was now. What was her gripe going to be about? Why does the Church hate women? Why does the Church hate sex? Why do grown men wear lace? You know, the usual.
“Why do you all need the Church to tell you what to do? Why can’t you just read the bible or figure it out on your own?” She asked.
Ok then… I guess we weren’t going for subtlety. She went straight for the jugular, questioning the entire reason for the Church’s existence. Immediately I go into “defend the faith” mode. I can feel my brain churning trying to remember obscure pages of the Catechism and trying to cross-reference it with some talk or homily I may have heard once upon a time. In my exhaustion I’m struggling to formulate an answer, but enough time has passed that it’s starting to get awkward.
Finally, too tired to care anymore, I blurted out a response. “Well, it would kinda be a *jerk* on Jesus’ part if he left us with just a book, no?”
**Disclaimer: I didn’t use the word “jerk”. I used another, “less charitable” word. I was tired, had no filter, and have a bad habit of using certain “inappropriate” words. Don’t judge!**
Clearly this was not the answer she expected. It wasn’t even the answer I expected! She didn’t say anything, but she just kind of looked at me with this smirk on her face, as if judging whether to take me serious or not. I continued.
“Jesus had 12 guys that he handpicked to be his followers right? Guys he taught, spent time with, guys he put in uncomfortable situations to help them grow. He reveals divine secrets to them, gives them instructions on what to do after He’s gone, and empowers them to go into the world and gain Him followers”
She was nodding along, still smiling.
“But then one day when He’s already back in heaven these guys die. And Jesus up in heaven is like ‘well… tough break! I hope they put that stuff down in a book, cause now that they’re dead the rest of the world is out of luck!’ Does that sound like Jesus to you? Some guy that spent His time focusing on those 12 guys and leaving those of us who came after *shoot* out of luck?!”
**See the above disclaimer**
She was laughing now urging me to continue.
“I don’t buy that. What we Catholics believe is that those 12 guys taught the stuff Jesus Himself taught them to another set of younger guys. These younger guys took over when the original set died, and in turn also taught the next batch of up and comers. And so on, and so on… And so all those lessons handed down from Jesus Himself were handed down to guys in the lace and pointy hats in our Church today (Bishops we call them). So when we listen to the Church today, we’re actually listening to the teachings of Jesus Himself. The same Jesus that said those words we read in the Bible”
She nodded her understanding, and after a chuckle finally said, “Well I guess that makes sense. I’ve never really thought about it that way.”
Boom! Mission accomplished! Now I was finally free to return my full attention to my half-finished beer and mindlessly watching Sports Center highlights on the bar’s TV.
“You know,” she said.
There was that tone again… Sigh. I guess we’re not done here…
“I’ve never really thought about Catholicism that way. You say it in such a natural way. It’s easy to understand, and I can tell you really believe it.”
“Uh… Thanks,” I said. I was in it now. I stopped trying to look for an exit to the conversation. “I mean, I’m just explaining it in the way I make sense of it in my head. That’s not how the Church would explain it. Don’t take what I said to a theologian or something!”
“I don’t need the ‘official’ explanation,” she said. “I get it how you said it. But, what about the Pope..."
We ended up staying at the bar for a couple of hours. As it turns out she was seeking to reignite her own Christian faith, and thought maybe Catholicism could be a road she was supposed to take. She asked questions, I gave my tired unfiltered answers. We swapped stories. It was a pretty beautiful night.
You see, prior to that night a few years back my instinct had always been to try to answer any question about my faith with calculated and articulate “Catholic” words. I thought, I would both answer the question in an intellectually way and righteously defend my faith. I was on the front line of the crusade to defend and promote my faith. Soldier Guillen reporting for duty! Oorah!
But it doesn’t work like that… At least not for me.
I feel like I’m not alone in saying that we Catholics complicate things. We use 10 words when 3 will do (example: This blog). Or, we use 1 super-complicated word (such as “transubstantiation”) to explain a concept that needs a few sentences. That’s all well and good in something like Catechism class, where you need to be precise in articulating the nuances of the faith. But guess what? This ain’t Catechism class.
If I had explained to my friend the necessity of the Church using words such as: “Apostolic Succession” “Sacred Tradition” or “The Primacy of Peter”, I doubt we would have ended up having such an awesome conversation. It was unintentional at the time, but in my tiredness what came out was simply me expressing my faith in the same way I would talk about anything. Catholicism is part of who I am, I don’t need to make an extra effort to show it off or prove it. It comes out naturally. So, I ended up talking normally, you know, the way you tend to do at a bar. No agenda, no precise jargon. If I were talking about the song that had been stuck in my head it would've been exactly the same.
When you want to talk to your friend about a song that’s been stuck in your head, let’s say for instance Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling” (Because it’s actually stuck in my head right now), you simply introduce the song, play it, and just quickly say why you love it. You don’t start to dissect the song, obsessing over whether you’ve convinced your friend that the awesome baseline brings the energy to the song. Don’t be that guy! (Full Disclosure: when it comes to music, I am that guy. Don’t judge). Play the song, say “I love the baseline”, and just keep talking and drinking as usual.
Most people don’t want/need the big “Catholic” words. They can look those up online, and I promise you the online version of the Catechism will do a much better job of explaining it than you ever could. If they’re talking to you, they want to hear you. They want to know how you make sense of your faith. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. You don’t have to win the intellectual argument. Just talk about your faith normally like you would anything else.
Of course, it always helps to do it over drinks!
David Guillen is the co-founder of The Holy Ruckus and co-host of the Podcast. Between a full-time day job, school, and part-time youth/music ministry, he's just a 20-something Catholic guy trying to stay out of trouble, and waiting to find out what God wants him to do.