I definitely understand your frustration and have found myself struggling over the years to find that balance of being charitable in conflict while standing up for truth. I fell in love with the Faith as a sophomore in high school and have spent the (many) years since trying to better understand it, live it, and grow in it. Because of my own passion, I have found it difficult to understand others’ indifference or hostility toward the Faith. We’re meant to be evangelists who bring our love for the Lord to the harsh world, and it can be hard to face rejection and mockery in the process.
I am a high school theology teacher, so I face the challenge of teaching the Faith to skeptical teenagers who are bombarded daily by secular messaging. When I first began teaching, it was hard not to take their comments or criticisms personally and to not respond to their hostility with my own. Over the years, I have been humbled and, in the process, have learned a few lessons on how to meet criticism with charity:
1. I remind myself that I am a mere messenger and that only the Holy Spirit can convert hearts.
When I first started teaching, I thought it was my job to convince my students that God is real, that Jesus is their Savior, and that His Church is part of His plan for our salvation. I became frustrated when they “just didn’t get it” or when they failed to accept the perfectly reasonable argument that I presented to them. Because I experienced a personal commitment to the Gospel in high school, I thought that I needed to impose the same experience on them.
During my time as a teacher, we had an amazing chaplain at my school who served as my spiritual director. At one point, while I was complaining about my failing at converting my students, he simply laughed and said to me, “Well, it makes sense that you’re failing. That’s not your job.” He reminded me that our job is to preach and live the Gospel. Only God can change hearts — and even then, it’s only when the person freely lets Him do so.
Most people who work in a teaching or mentoring position could comment on how frustrating it can be to plant seeds and never see them grow. When I feel as though I’m throwing seeds that land on hard soil, I try to turn the situation over to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to nurture the soil so the seeds can grow.
When I feel as though I’m throwing seeds that land on hard soil, I try to turn the situation over to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to nurture the soil so the seeds can grow.
2. When you’re passionate about theology and the Christian life, it can be difficult to stop talking about it and listen.
As a teacher, I initially thought that I was there to tell students things and they were there to listen and learn. Active listening helped me understand why my students were struggling and what their questions and problems really were, rather than imposing my own ideas about these things onto them.
Will some people we interact with make the jokes and hurl the invectives just to be hurtful? Yes, and in this case, we must remember that Christ told us it would happen. However, I have also found that when I truly listen to others’ experiences, I see what has shaped their thinking in a given area. Active listening leads to empathy, which can, in turn, lead to loving those who hurt us.
3. Faith is a gift from God.
I often take for granted that I received the gift of faith at such a pivotal time in my life. Not all people are ready or able to see and receive it. The more that I learned about how to teach different students based on their unique skills, gifts, and interests, the easier it was to connect with them.
In passing on the Faith, it can be hard to remember that just because you have received this amazing gift doesn’t mean that everyone has or that everyone finds it as amazing as you do. Some people have experiences and circumstances that have led them to be hurt by the Church or to become hostile toward it. Tapping into the gifts of empathy and maternal care from our feminine genius, coupled with active listening, can open us up to responding with love. If we remember that we don’t know everyone’s story and that only God can read our hearts, we can more patiently bear those jokes, criticisms, and insults. We can share our experience in having received the gift of faith, but only God is able to give it.
Tapping into the gifts of empathy and maternal care from our feminine genius, coupled with active listening, can open us up to responding with love.
Your question speaks to this task that we have been given. We’re here to build the Kingdom of God in a world that has always fought against His reign. What I have struggled with most is that we are called to be charitable and loving in the face of hostility, which often seems unfair. But Christ didn’t promise us fairness on Earth — He promised us salvation.
In reflecting on your letter, I am reminded of a Jesuit maxim: “I will enter through your door, but we will both come out of my door.” Pope Francis taps into this maxim in his own theology of accompaniment, challenging us to charitably walk with people along the Gospel path. If you’re willing to sincerely and empathetically enter others’ doors, you may be surprised by how many people eventually come back out the Catholic door.