In our decadent occidental culture, the prevailing thought on truth seems to be that what is true for one person is not necessarily true for another. This is a ludicrous philosophy. Truth is the conformity of the mind to reality. There are objective, unchangeable truths, both in and out of religion. If we add one to an integer we will always come up with the next highest integer. That cannot change. A man can stand on top of a forty-story building and shout, “I don’t believe in gravity!” When he steps off that building, he can continue to shout that self-actualized assertion all the way to the ground. His subjective belief in no way alters the objective reality that gravity works. Indeed, the man discovers truth as his mind conforms to reality on impact!
Here in prison, I must constantly confront the opinionated “truths” of Fundamentalists. As soon as they learn of a prisoner who has decided to convert to Catholicism, they converge on the poor soul like a flock of vultures. Sometimes even free-world Fundamentalists get into the act.
Several times throughout the year, various Fundamentalist sects are permitted to roam around the penitentiary unattended so they may “witness” to convicts. A few weeks ago, while teaching catechism to a group of men on the recreation yard, I saw two of the free-world Fundamentalists heading our way. The men I was teaching were interested in learning basic truths, not in hearing apologetical debate. I cringed as the two approached, as I happened to be teaching about the divine motherhood of Mary, always a hot-button topic for Fundamentalists.
After listening to me for a few moments, one of the men began to laugh and ridicule us, telling us we were condemned to hell. He was, he said, merely trying to help us see “the truth.” His concept of truth was apparently the sort that had to be conveyed without charity. In all my years of prison evangelization, I have never met a prisoner as crude or rude as that free-world Fundie.
Our discussions about truth here in prison are usually a bit more productive and sane. They are especially enjoyable when we have two or three other Christian sects represented. For example, I may be engaged in a discussion about baptism between members of the Church of Christ, Southern Baptists and Oneness Pentecostals. The Church of Christ will claim baptism is necessary but it has no effect on the soul. The Southern Baptist will claim baptism is not necessary but is merely an ordinance given by Jesus to be obeyed if possible. The Oneness Pentecostal will claim baptism is necessary, but by way of proclaiming it in the name of Jesus rather than in the valid trinitarian formula. He will claim also that the evidence of a baptism that “takes” will be the baptized person being filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. Of course, the Catholic position is that baptism cleanses the soul of original sin and personal sin, makes us friends of God and heirs of heaven, and that through it we receive sanctifying grace.
In such a situation, I point out that on the topic of baptism alone we have four different views from four Christian religions. The problem is, all four claim to be right and that, furthermore, each is led by the Holy Spirit to divine truth. Since Satan is the father of lies and author of confusion, and since the Holy Spirit is the spirit of truth, I point out that it is not possible when we disagree for all four of us to be right. At least three of us must be wrong, and all four of us could be wrong if we do not have an objective, definitive means of knowing what the truth is.
When it comes to claiming definitive knowledge of the truth, the three Fundamentalist sects represented fall back on one claim and one claim alone: “I know it’s true because the Bible says so, and the Holy Spirit has enlightened my heart and mind to understand the Bible correctly.” That is the only thing each sect can completely agree on, but it is a subjective opinion that has been demonstrated invalid. Only the Catholic Church can lay claim to objective proof of knowing divinely revealed truth.
Modern Westerners simply do not think any longer. We have allowed television to numb our minds. For nearly forty years, public schools (and, sadly, many Catholic and Protestant schools) have gradually dumbed down American children. Modern schools no longer focus on academics but rather on values clarification and tolerance for politically correct ideologies. We have surrendered our liberty by allowing a leviathan government to dictate how we think, once we have been sufficiently indoctrinated by the news media.
Catholics have many grave obligations throughout our pilgrimage on earth. First and foremost we are obligated to become saints. This and many of our other obligations are of an individual nature. Many orthodox Catholics focus only on the individual obligations, but we must also meet our social or universal obligations. Jesus not only told us, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48) (this is an individual obligation), he also said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40) (this is a social obligation).
We have many grave social obligations. Perhaps the most grave is to evangelize. And what is evangelization? It is simply sharing truth with other souls. Since so many have lost the ability to think, a vital part of evangelization is to re-teach them that ability. Unless they can think in objective terms and follow logic and right reason, they cannot be evangelized.
Before I came to prison fourteen years ago, I brokered insurance and performed several types of business consulting. This meant, of course, that I met daily with a diverse clientele. It also meant that if I expected to earn a decent living, I had to become an expert at human nature, in judging how people react to all sorts of verbal and nonverbal stimuli. This experience has served me well in evangelizing other prisoners. Prison evangelization has taught me many things. I suppose the greatest lesson I have learned is that there is not a dime’s worth of difference between most prisoners and most free-worlders.
Prisoners have the same hopes, dreams, likes, and dislikes as you have. They love and want to be loved. Most men serving time for murder are not bloodthirsty savages. Most men who do time for rape are not sex-crazed perverts who wait behind trees for every woman who comes along. The only exceptions are child molesters—most of them are incurable sociopaths who will always tend to prey on kids. Yet grace has been sufficiently given that even some of them are cured of their compulsion. Beyond that group, however, most of these men are just like you—sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers.
Because people are all the same, experience has taught me that those you wish to evangelize frequently must be taught to think. A dictum of the sales profession says the salesman must think for the prospect. This is not as arrogant or condescending as it sounds. It means simply that the sales professional must tell the prospect what he should think until the latter’s natural intellectual capacities kick in, and he is capable of thought on the sales pro’s level and subject matter.
For example, few people actually think about what sort of financial hardships would be faced by their families if they were to die suddenly. A life insurance salesman must think along those lines for his prospect until the prospect can pick up on that line of thought himself. Believing his death will occur some years after his retirement, probably he has planned well for his widow. He figures his mortgage will have been paid, he will have a stable retirement check, and his savings and investments will be solid. The insurance agent must make the prospect think in terms of dying today. How will the mortgage be paid next month? What happens to the cars? How will the kids go to college? Will the family be forced to go from eating beef roast and pork chops to eating beans and rice?
Evangelizing people is no different. If people give any thought at all to God or the afterlife, usually they have a mental picture of being elderly and deciding then to join a religion because they are too old to have fun anyway. It is our job to think for them, to help their minds to conform to reality.
The advent of the new millennium brought on a tremendous interest in the book of Revelation and end-time thinking. Christians and non-Christians caught the last-days fever that swept the nation. Everybody wanted to know about the end of the world so they could get ready before it happened. Because of this morbid interest in the end times, we were able to make great inroads with evangelization.
How? Well, we thought for the prospect. We pointed out that no one can count on the end of the world. We helped him see that the end of his own world could be a breath away. No one is guaranteed another minute of earthly life, so preparation for one’s own personal end of the world is necessary. That line of reasoning worked quite well, as the prospect shifted mental gears and quickly became an inquirer.
Back now to our Church of Christ, Southern Baptist, and Oneness Pentecostal members who disagreed about baptism. By pointing out it’s logically impossible that the Holy Spirit led each to a different conclusion, we were able to move into a discussion of the objective reality of the Church. Why get bogged down in discussing baptismal theology when we can get to the root of determining the authorityof that theology?
When spotting a logical fallacy on the part of another in regular daily conversations, our natural tendency is to make note of it in our own thoughts and let it go. Most of us loathe confrontations. This natural tendency has killed evangelization in the modern world. It never ceases to amaze me how many Catholics will say, “Religion is too controversial to discuss” or “Religion is too private a matter to discuss.” These are the statements of intellectual cowards. How can Catholics hold these attitudes when Christ plainly commanded us to share the faith? We must share the wealth of Catholicism as best we can with all whom God sends us.
Evangelization always boils down to one thing: teaching. How we teach, though, can take many forms. If you are a “people person,” then you can engage countless others in religious dialogue by drawing them in with little comments or questions. This is a form of teaching, because learning comes through the sharing of ideas. If you can instruct, then undertake the purest form of teaching. CCD and RCIA instructors who are competent and orthodox are badly needed all over America. By teaching, you can give others the burning desire to share the faith, a contagion that occurs naturally from possessing truth.
Perhaps your talent is in writing. The late Jesuit priest John Hardon, who was a dear and cherished friend of mine, once told me that Catholic writers are needed now more than ever in the history of the Church. At the end of 1999, I quietly decided to take a sabbatical from writing and most other activities. I decided that I needed to work on learning humility and to grow closer to Christ.
Some months into my sabbatical, Fr. Hardon learned what I was doing—or not doing, as he put it. He asked why I had quit writing. After I told him my reasons, the saintly Jesuit gently reminded me of my mission to evangelize, both directly (personal activity) and indirectly (writing). He insisted that I could grow and write at the same time. Fr. Hardon, who waived certain requirements for me so I could become a Marian catechist, was adamant that writing can be as much a part of meeting our obligation to evangelize as is speaking directly to people.
Speaking is another means of evangelization. There are scores of Catholic evangelists on the Catholic lecture circuit, but where are those who are out speaking to non-Catholics? Why are there no Catholic evangelists—priestly or lay—using all the modern means of communication and doing today what Billy Graham has been doing for fifty years? We should be filling stadiums and auditoriums across the country with souls to hear the dynamic truths of Catholicism from competent Catholic evangelists. Many such “crusades,” as Graham calls his gatherings, should be televised to reach millions more.
“What is truth?” Two thousand years ago, the man who uttered that question was looking Truth right in the eyes. Today, we possess the fullness of that truth, but we are too afraid or too intimidated to share it. Unless we recover the zeal and the spirit of the first-century Christians—unless we are willing to do what they did and to pay price they paid—the days of America are numbered. So what about you?