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How to talk about the thing you’re not supposed to talk about

Christians are called to share their faith, but knowing how to do it—and doing it well—isn’t always easy, particularly with family members who have drifted away from the Church.

“Company is coming for the holidays and we’re all called to share our faith, but don’t want to fight over Christmas dinner,” said Aimee Cooper, founder of the Catholic Gospel Project, an organization that provides courses in understanding, living and sharing the faith.

Cooper recently taught a course titled “Sharing, Not Scaring,” at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Northglenn, in which she gave tips to Catholics who want to share their faith with family and friends over the holidays.

“Family gatherings can be really tense,” she told the Denver Catholic Register. “One of the biggest problems is fallen away Catholics you’re trying to ‘get back.'”

At times like that, Cooper reminds Catholics who are eager to share their faith, it’s not always what one says, but how one says it. She noted that Catholics don’t tend to focus on the personal elements of faith, but rather “focus on defending what’s under attack,” adding that most people don’t hear messages from Catholics about “personally receiving God.”

“You have to share the message first,” she said, “then you have to do the catechesis.”

Her message reflects what Pope Francis said on the topic of evangelizing last year when he told America magazine that “proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives.”

Cooper, a convert to Catholicism, has been on both sides of the conversation. She entered the Church in 1999 after a long journey through new age spirituality, mainstream feminism and Evangelical Protestantism.

“You have to respect others’ tempo and pace,” Cooper continued.

Patience plays an important role since conversions generally do not happen overnight, or over the course of one holiday gathering.

“For anyone who wants to evangelize, you really have to be patient,” she said. “You have to journey with them over a long period of time. It takes a lot of practice.”

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Tips for sharing, not scaring

– Don’t make it all about religion.
– Do make it all about the person. Ask about their life, family, work. Show genuine interest.
– Talk about your faith in a personal way. Share how you have a relationship with Jesus.
– Don’t argue. Do engage in dialogue. Show respect for where others are in their journey.
– Ask others why they think what they think, then listen to the answer.
– If someone needs to vent, let them, for a long time if necessary.
– Do be honest about faults in the Church.
– Don’t make dogmatic assertions about “what the Church says.”
– Keep body language and tone of voice relaxed, keep shoulders down, be gentle and low-key.
– Pay attention to the body language of others, back off if they begin to tense up.
– Apologize if you accidentally offend anyone.
– Find commonality: We all desire to help people, we all want happiness for our loved ones.
– Let others know they are safe with you, build a relationship of safety and trust.
– Pray for help to be a good witness in a personal way.

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