Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Come Home

I recently read a short piece by Fr. Zuhlsdorf that carries certain implications for apologetics.  The snippet below comes from an essay that can be read here:
Once upon a time I had an experience similar to what I think is happening here while I was working for the Pont. Comm. Ecclesia Dei in Rome.

We were having a terrible exchange with an American bishop. Volley of letters letters went back and forth across the Atlantic. People wanted the old Mass, and he refused absolutely. They petitioned. He rejected. They sent us the copies of the petitions. He would deny there was any interest. He would say he never got petitions.  We would mail back copies of his acknowledgment of the petitions.  He wrote stern letters telling us to mind our own business. We wrote back saying that this was our business. It became uglier and uglier.

One day a letter came from him that was so nasty it simply couldn’t be borne.

I wrote a draft of a response entirely proportioned to the tone and content of that bishop’s letter. My draft was intended to end the debate.

When the Cardinal came that afternoon, this was the great Augustine Card. Mayer, first President of Ecclesia Dei, he called me in to go over the various drafts that had to be finalized and then sent.  At last we came to my draft to that bishop.

Card. Mayer, nearly 80 at the time, had been a monk, an expert at the Council, an abbot, professor, curial Secretary, Prefect.  He is perhaps the holiest man I know.  He has a practically perfect grasp of English. He would normally make subtle changes in the language of all the letters he would sign. There was no question but that he could: he was the Cardinal and all the letters I wrote became his letters.  He was ready to hear a reason for or against a change, but he was usually right with each "suggestion".

So there was no surprise at all when my tough-minded letter came to the fore that he said,

"Here you write X. Do you suppose instead we could say Y?"

We went on to the next word in that manner… and the next… and the next, until – both of us chuckling a bit – there was nothing at all left of what I had written. The page was filled with corrections and cobwebs of lines and marks.

At last, I said "Clearly Your Eminence wants something else. It’s my job to make your job easier. Give me some direction."

He paused and looked at the large Murillo painting of the Blessed Mother on the wall of the office for a while and then said:

"At a certain point we must stop arguing and try to open their hearts."

With that I went back to my desk, pondered this for a while, and then rapidly wrote a short letter to that American bishop.

I took it in to the Cardinal, who make a minor change here and there, and off it went.

A few weeks later we received news from people in that bishop’s diocese that, not only had the bishop permitted the older form of Mass, he came to celebrate it himself for them.

"But Father! But Father!", you are no doubt saying.  "What did you write?  What saved the day?"

After the usual clink of incense at the beginning, common to all curial letters, I merely wrote that we regretted greatly the way our correspondence had gone. We hoped that it might improve. But given the earnest desire of the people in his diocese, ...

"Would Your Excellency please not open your heart to these people and help them?"

That seems to have been the real problem, after all.

At a certain point you have to realize that arguing isn’t going to achieve the result you desire.

At last you must strive to open hearts.
When sharing with non-Catholics about the Catholic faith (which, we must remember is their faith--their family--as much as it is ours), we must remember the importance of eventually putting aside our arguments and appealing to the heart.

From this perspective, perhaps the two most powerful words of Catholic apologetics for our non-Catholic brothers and sisters are:

Come home.

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