.- Witnessing to the Catholic faith can be done in a variety of ways, depending on the situation, but they all must be founded on authenticity, love and prayer, pro-life advocate Jeanne Monahan said in a talk for Theology on Tap.
Building on an idea proposed by Pope John Paul II, Monahan explained that Catholics “don’t have to manipulate God’s plan,” lying and cajoling people into accepting it.
“Because when it’s taught in its authenticity, it’s inherently attractive,” she said. “It’s inherently beautiful, and people want to live it.”
“And so all we need to do, essentially, is to learn it and to live it ourselves,” she stated.
Monahan, who was recently elected as interim president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, spoke on Oct. 15 before a gathering of young adults for Theology on Tap in Arlington, Va.
Drawing on the examples of holy men and women, along with her own experiences working for the federal government and as the current director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council, she discussed different approaches to witnessing to the faith in a hostile environment.
“My own personal experiences are that most hostile environments with regard to the Church have to do with the Church’s teachings on marriage and family and sexuality,” Monahan said.
These environments are often unfriendly “because people are uncomfortable with those teachings, which can be highly, highly misunderstood,” she explained.
While she acknowledged that it can be tempting to keep quiet or even go along with a lie under the pressure of a challenging situation, she stressed that “we’re called to speak the truth,” in a loving and authentic manner and “it’s a disservice to the people around us when we don’t.”
“How this is going to be lived out in different scenarios is a matter of sensitive discernment,” Monahan said, emphasizing that there “is no cookie cutter approach” because each situation and set of individuals is unique.
And while Catholics must always be loving, this is sometimes expressed in tough love and other times in more gentle love, sometimes through words and other times through actions, she said.
It is important to keep in mind that the goal “is not necessarily to win the fight” but “to win souls” through acts of love, she noted.
She pointed to the examples of John the Baptist becoming a “martyr of marriage” for speaking the truth about Herod and Herodius; Pope John Paul II bringing hope to the oppressed people of Poland; and Mother Teresa speaking out against abortion in front of U.S. President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore at the 1994 National Prayer Breakfast.
She also told the story of Immaculee Ilibagiza, a Rwandan genocide survivor who hid for three months in a small bathroom as most of her family members were killed.
Instead of becoming bitter and resentful from what she had experienced, Ilibagiza allowed her relationship with God to grow in a profound way and eventually wrote a book about how her Catholic faith allowed her to forgive her family’s killers.
Monahan said that this “beautiful story of forgiveness” provides a model for all those struggling with the temptation to cling to anger against the sins of others.
She also told stories from her own life of being ridiculed and belittled by federal government coworkers for her beliefs on abstinence and how she tried to respond with prayer, love and invitations to dialogue.
An important part of being able to witness is a solid prayer life, which helps us “to talk with God, to have a relationship with him,” Monahan said, describing how she discovered “the adventure that it was to grow in a relationship with our Lord.”
Prayer also gives us strength in tough moments “to have incredible strength to do things that we never expected to be able to do,” she added, noting that sometimes we are “just given words to say” in a difficult situation.
She pointed to the example of Jesus during his agony in the garden, observing that “before he was about to go into a very hostile environment on Calvary, he spent time in prayer.”
Sometimes we are given the strength to just stand firm as a loving presence in a hostile environment, and this can plant seeds, Monahan said.
When we are overwhelmed and tempted to give up, we should keep in mind that “we’re just showing up and letting God do the work,” she emphasized.
This is important to remember, particularly when we feel inadequate, because if we allow ourselves to be instruments, “the grace of God really comes through,” she stated.