3 Keys to Sharing Your Faith with Joy

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Every day I talk with atheists, Protestants, and other non-Catholics about my faith. Sometimes the discussion is personal, with me sharing how Jesus has changed my life. Other times it centers on moral issues like abortion, homosexuality, or contraception. And still other times I deal with objections to things like the male-only ordination, the Church’s “anti-science” stance, or her bold claims to authority.

Through it all, I’ve learned that no matter what the topic is, what matters most is the way I choose to dialogue. Reason and logic are important. It’s certainly necessary to deliver sharp, well-reasoned explanations of why I believe what I believe. But even when I present an air-tight defense of Jesus’ divinity, for example, if I’m a jerk, nobody cares.

The key to evangelizing is joy.

Everyone is drawn to joy, as St. Thomas notes, which makes it the ultimate magnet. Look at the best evangelists down through the centuries and you’ll see this. Most drew people in through their warmth and charity. They were gracious people first, great intellects second. And they prove that most people respond to kindness before logic and charity before truth.

Now don’t get me wrong. This isn’t an either/or situation. We need both charity and truth (see: Caritas in Veritate). Yet I think we emphasize the latter more often than not. You can see this by scanning Catholic websites and bookstores. You’ll find thousands of good resources on apologetics, philosophy, logic and more. But there aren’t many that teach you how to share your faith with joy and love.

So to that end, here are three ways I evangelize with joy in my own life:
 

1. Smile profusely.

A smile is perhaps our most powerful evangelistic tool–and one of the most neglected. St. Teresa of Avila famously said, “a sad saint is a bad saint,” and the same is true for evangelists.

Just look at Mother Teresa. Despite her dark night of the soul, she walked around with a beaming grin and it was contagious. She knew its value and liked to remind people that, “peace begins with a smile.”

As does evangelization.

When discussing your faith, keep reminding yourself to smile. This small act communicates joy more than almost anything else. You’ll find that smiling actually improves your tone as well, making it more jovial and upbeat.

During my interview on FoxNews a few months back, several friends told me the Fox online chat room was filled with atheists claiming I “smiled too much” and was “too happy.”

I loved hearing that.

It meant most of them had only experienced dry, solemn Catholics. Perhaps I gave them a new face. Maybe I showed them that joy and Catholicism are not mutually exclusive.

As an aside, it should be noted that smiles are just as powerful online. Not because your dialogue partners can see it, but because it affects the way you write. When you participate in a heated combox discussion, try to smile as you type. Just as your physical position shapes the way you pray, so smiling will affect your words and tone online.
 

2. Practice “affirmative orthodoxy.”

When discussing faith with non-Catholics, you’ll undoubtedly receive angry comments regarding several controversial subjects: the sexual abuse crisis, the Church’s shrinking numbers, her “retrograde” stance on women, abortion, contraception, homosexuality, science, and more.

When this happens, it’s often tempting to go on the defensive. You want to launch a powerful natural law defense or fight back with statistics and sharp rebuttals.

But don’t fall into that trap. Don’t feel as if you’re the lone ranger, bulwarking the Church against a vicious onslaught. Instead, spin the critique around, go on the offense, and calmly emphasize the positive.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan is great at this. He practices what John Allen calls “affirmative orthodoxy,” which emphasizes what the Church is for rather than what she’s against. It focuses on her huge “Yes!” to life, love, and joy rather than her “No” to evil and sin.

Here’s what it looks like in practice. Suppose someone frames a question about “homosexual marriage” by asking, “Why does the Church discriminate against homosexuals? Why doesn’t it want them to be happy?”

Your first inclination may be to angrily fire back with reasons why homosexual activity is sinful. That may be true, but it’s not winsome.

A good alternative would be to respond like this (with, of course, a smile):

“Oh, we Catholics want everyone to be happy! We cherish each man, woman, and child and we’re convinced that every person deserves a life full of love and joy. We vigorously protect that.

And you’re right that regardless of one’s sexual orientation, all people were created by God with supreme dignity, which means nobody should ever be unjustly discriminated against. I’m with you there.

And when it comes to marriage, the Church is the biggest proponent. We’re convinced that marriage is the bedrock of society and worth fighting for. Yet central to that institution is the procreation and education of children. Without that, marriage collapses, and so does the society around it.

So we value both the dignity of every person and the supreme value of marriage. We’re the strongest proponents of each and will support them till the end of time.”

See how instead of beginning with a “no” to homosexual marriage, we start with the Church’s “yes” to dignity and love. This is so important since it’s easier to communicate joy with a “yes” than a “no.”

Now later on in the conversation, you can move to the particular reasons why the Church says “no” to certain things like homosexual marriage. There’s a time for that. And I think Cardinal Dolan handles it best again when he explains that the Church only says “no” to other “no’s”. For example, when people say “no” to the life of an unborn child, the Church is forced to reply with a stronger countering “no.”

But begin with affirmative orthodoxy. When facing a prickly question, don’t let your blood boil. Don’t feel like a crusader against a vicious onslaught. Instead, think “OK, how can I emphasize the Church’s great ‘Yes!’ to all that’s good, true, and beautiful?”
 

3. Learn from the greats.

In my mind, the two most effective evangelists today are Cardinal Dolan and Fr. Robert Barron. Both are brilliant by any measure. Both are clear thinkers and great writers. However most people are drawn to them because of their warmth and charisma.

We can learn a lot by studying their joyful style. In Dolan’s case, I highly suggest his new book-length interview with John Allen titled A People of Hope. There he tackles controversial issues, again and again, with great joy and aplomb.

You can also see Dolan Mode in action through many videos online, including this one:

Click here if video doesn’t load, and Google “Cardinal Dolan video” for many more.

To learn from Fr. Barron, read his marvelous book, Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith, or catch any of his 180+ YouTube vignettes. Here’s one where he explicitly discusses the power of joy in evangelization:

To Cardinal Dolan and Fr. Barron I’d also add Fulton Sheen, Fr. Jim Martin, Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI. Read their writings, watch them on YouTube, and study their methods. By learning from the greats, you’ll discover how to evangelize through smiling, humor, and happiness in your own life.


 
So there are my three strategies. For even more check out a wonderful new book by Austen Ivereigh titled How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice. It’s a field-guide to “affirmative orthodoxy” which will help you share your faith with clarity and joy. The book was just released by Our Sunday Visitor and I’m hoping to review it soon. Here’s the publisher’s description:

“It is about winning friends, not arguments. It is about shedding light, not heat. It’s about reframing the argument so hearts can be opened and minds can be inspired.

How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice is a new sort of apologetics. It is for those moments when you are thrust into the spotlight as the token Catholic whether the spotlight is simply at the office water cooler or whether it is front and center at the in-laws Thanksgiving celebration.

The book gives Catholics a fresh way of explaining the Church’s teaching on contentious issues humanly, compellingly, and succinctly.

But this book does not pretend to suggest it is as simple as memorizing a speech. Every conversation is different. Every day’s news cycle will bring new arguments and new challenges. Instead, it is a book about what the issues really are and where the criticisms are coming from so you can understand and communicate effectively.

It is the fruit of a group of speakers and experts brought together by a single idea: to make sure that Catholics and the Church were represented properly in the media when Pope Benedict came to visit the UK in 2010. Their original and thoughtful approach helped make that visit a triumph and now it can be expanded for a much broader use.

Whether read in groups or alone, studied in schools or parishes, How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice offers the same thorough briefings on hot topics and the same top tips for effective communication which helped make the project such a success.”

Image Credit: NY Daily News, St. Louis Review, AsiaNews

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  • KellyWahlquist

    Wow! I’ve been giving a talk that so incorporate these concepts for the past year. In fact both Mother Theresa and Cardinal Dolan are in the talk… so is the fact that I’m pretty sure the Holy Father has re-tweeted if not favorite-ed some of my comments on the matter. Just saying, I think the Vicar of Christ is digging the JOY of the new evangelization!

    Thanks Brandon. As always, a great post!

  • http://leadersthatfollow.com/ Ricky Jones

    Thanks Brandon. I really like the idea of affirmative orthodoxy and I’m definitely going to start putting that into practice. Keep up the good work brother!

  • http://inspiredangela.wordpress.com/ Angela Sealana

    Brandon always comes up with the best blog post ideas!! You must be inspired by the Spirit! I’ll choose to be happy for you and the Church instead of jealous. :P

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      Thanks, Angela! You’re too kind.

  • JoyandHope

    I have found this necessary inside the Catholic Church as well. We have such a beautiful, rich faith and whenever we choose to focus on only one part or aspect we can have people who miss so much of the joy and beauty of our faith. As a religion teacher, I have had discussions with well meaning Catholics as well that want to argue about everything from girls serving at mass to the Church’s stand on contraception. All of the Church’s teaching is better received with your “affirmative orthodoxy” even by our own members.

  • catholicboyrichard

    Well I am nearly as old as the hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains but still have so much to learn, and you are one of those I can learn much from. God bless your smiling face. It might help if we all had those dimples though…where’s that plastic surgeon’s number…

  • aslide

    Great article!

  • Kayleen

    Great post! I have found this to be true in my own life as a wife and mother. When I talk about the enjoyable, happy parts of this lifestyle I always draw in more people than if I complain all the time. I try to show how God has blessed my family in the domestic church and then simply wait to see if anyone wonders where the blessings come from. When I speak about controversial Catholic topics I always try and remember this too.

    Love the part about smiling, too. It’s easier to smile genuinely when you keep in mind how much God loves you and other people!

  • http://www.goodsaints.com/ Jeremy Steck

    Great post! Sharing!

  • Peter Ascosi

    thanks Brandon, wonderful article. “Joy is prayer – Joy is strength – Joy is love – Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” -Mother Theresa

  • Cowtown13

    very helpful article.

  • Bethie

    Thanks so much for this terrific article! I shared a link to it on my blog, “Catholic Frontier…Promise of the New Evangelization”.
    If we all could express our faith in such a joyful way as those in this article do, there would be ‘standing room only’ in daily Mass!

  • http://www.catholicinfertilityjourney.com/ Angelique

    These are great tips, Brandon! Thanks for this info and for the book suggestions. Will certainly implement these as we answer hot-button questions on bioethics and the Church’s stance on infertility.

  • http://scrutinies.net/ Dorian Speed

    This is great, Brandon, and I totally agree with you about Fr. Barron and Cardinal Dolan.

  • http://www.explainingchristianity.com/ Shane Kapler

    A much-needed piece of advice; thanks Brandon! These sound like wonderful resources too. Cardinal Dolan’s book with Allen (who I also enjoy reading) had not come across my radar yet, and Ivereigh’s to my Amazon wish list.

  • RUTH_ANN

    Thank you for these tips, Brandon.

  • "There is only one tragedy in the end, not to have been a saint." - Léon Bloy