At a recent spiritual retreat I was asked to conduct, I was asked how one should prepare to deal with questions about the faith when others ask about it.
It’s a good question, but it points to a deeper challenge, like most good questions do!
While it may be satisfying to get some basic talking points to share with folks, and it is actually a good thing to have some training in the basics of the faith so you can articulate your reasons for your serious commitment to the faith, you may find my answer to this question a bit counter-intuitive.
The best defense of the faith is silence.
OK, I know that requires some explanation. What I mean is that the best testimony to the power of the faith isn’t well honed debate tactics and strong work in the apologetic jujitsu of verbal combat, but the serious commitment to the internal work of transformation in my own life. The best testimony and defense of the faith is faithfulness itself.
Now, that doesn’t mean we should be lax when it comes to the natural and good perfecting of our communication skills, our love for our neighbor that calls us to love them so much that we actually desire them to know the faith as well. And it doesn’t mean we neglect the intellectual work and serious development of our minds and our logical understanding of the faith. But it does mean we always see clearly the limitations of all that good work.
The fact is everybody “I” convert to the faith always seem to convert to something else when a “better” argument comes along.
So, while I don’t neglect my love and commitment to effective communication, I don’t merely depend on that skill to give an effective witness to the faith. I do something (or better, I attempt to do something) much more effective that actually strengthens my desire and my ability to communicate well.
I pray, I fast, I give alms. I read the lives of the saints. I attend and participate in worship. I read spiritually edifying material. I confess. I participate in the Eucharistic life of the Church. I strive to be Orthodox on Purpose.
It is only when that interior work is done that my heart is properly prepared to do the other work of communicating the faith to others.
Listen to today’s Gospel Lesson: “The Lord said to his disciples, ‘Beware of men who will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony. Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.'” Luke 21:12-19
No crafty rhetoric will suffice. No canned sales pitch. No lengthy training in debate tactics or apologetic skills will ever be as effective as a heart so internally prepared by love and faithfulness in the practice of the faith to overcome the broken and death gripped philosophy of the world without Christ. That world will always be suspicious of you and this suspicion will always degenerate into outright hostility at times.
The best way to prepare for that inevitable reality is to practice the Faith, do the disciplines of the Church, learn to pray, and always strive to love God and others more than yourself. There is simply no argument strong enough to overcome love. All rhetoric sounds shallow and tiny in the face of one who loves.
Today, you will be confronted with a world gripped by a selfish mindset. You will work at an office where intrigue and gossip shape the politics of that place. You will be in family situations marred by dysfunction and learned behavior that only leads to co-dependency and not true communion. You may even attend a parish where loving others is difficult. The answer won’t be eternal arguments. The answer won’t be better rhetoric or more skilled communication tools. The answer will be your own interior practice of the Faith and the stubborn refusal to turn anyone you meet into an enemy!
Today, you and your children will enter a world hostile to the message of Christ. What skills will you possess, what skills will you pass on, that will always overcome this hostile world? Only the skills you develop deep in your heart. Only love and devotion to Christ and others. Loving even your enemies and so dependent on Jesus that, when (not if) you are confronted about your faith, you allow Him to draw from that deep well of spiritual love and devotion you have, by His grace, built in your own heart the silent answers to all who war against their own best interests.
Today, practice the faith and allow your “silence” to shout the Answer to the world!