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

Rules of (faith) engagement

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.

COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

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The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”