Changing Hearts Playbook
So often, when we come across someone who has different morals or beliefs than we do, we feel an urgency to change their minds. Too often, in the heat of the discussion, the end goal gets muddled. The objective transforms from informing the person to winning the argument. I have been both instigator and receiver in these exchanges. When the focus is lost, so is any chance of a change of heart.
Lessons from a Master
St. Peter Canisius was a prominent figure in the Protestant reformation renowned for instructing the ignorant. He had a deep-seated desire to not only preach the Truth of the Catholic Faith but to do so in a way that everyone would understand. Because of this, his preaching changed hearts, and he single-handedly brought hundreds of Protestants back to the Catholic Church.
Peter taught at universities and at churches packed with people eager to hear his sermons. When words were not enough to change hardened hearts, his willingness to engage in the Corporal Works of Mercy by aiding the sick and dying won many over to the Faith.
In a letter to his Jesuit superior, St Peter wrote, “It is plainly wrong to meet non-Catholics with bitterness or to treat them with discourtesy. For this is nothing else than the reverse of Christ’s example.”
What Not to Do
When trying to bring about conversions, it’s easy to become a “holy pest,” as my childhood pastor liked to say, that is, to have the best of intentions but to push to the point of becoming annoying. Convincing and converting sometimes bear little fruit without the Works of Mercy and virtue. The Works of Mercy complement each other so well that if you’re doing one correctly, others may naturally follow in place.
In his letter, Peter continues, “People should be attracted and won to the simplicity of the faith as much by example as by argument.”
Living in a day and age when so many big and difficult conversations are ever at our fingertips via the internet and social media, it’s easy to forget that we are conversing with another human. It becomes easy to say the first thing that comes to mind, something we wouldn’t usually have the audacity to say if the same topic arose over a cup of coffee.
Maybe we could improve the outcomes of our evangelization by arguing in the name of Truth rather than hearing ourselves talk. Taking a page out of Saint Peter’s playbook, speaking compassionately to the individual instead of letting our voices get lost in an echo chamber for the sake of our egos.
Photo: Anonymous Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons