Well, his name isn’t really Fred, but when I’m telling a real story about real people and maybe the people don’t come out sounding too good, I like to make up a pseudonym. I just think it’s the decent thing to do. I’m writing about Fred because he’s an example of really bad, I mean epically bad evangelization. Also, if I may say, and you may disagree, because of the sort of successful way I tried to handle it, and how there weren’t any great machinations on my part, just giving him what I had to give.
After I appeared on the show The Journey Home, I received a few phone calls, e-mails, and even letters in the mail. Mostly I got Facebook requests and private messages. Some of the feedback was positive and some was negative — I expected that. Fred pulled a fast one, though, and I fell for it.
He private messaged me on Facebook asking me, “I was wondering, Nicole, how did you finally get past the barrier of the teaching on the Eucharist being the Real and True Body and Blood of Jesus?” He framed it in a way that conveyed to me that he, Fred, was a seeker, investigating Catholicism. And that this was his final hurdle.
I practically salivated. I could reel him in! All I had to do was talk about the beauty, the intimacy, the perfection, the everythingness of the Eucharist. I had plenty to say and I said it all to him in a return message. I put my heart into my response, including some very personal revelations and supernatural experiences I had while praying before the Blessed Sacrament.
That’s when Fred got me. His return message was a hateful diatribe, full of mockery of men and women religious, their “pointy hats,” and their robes. He drew extended metaphors between the Catholic Church and the Jehovah’s Witnesses and how we were all damned to Hell. He didn’t express concern for my soul; rather, he questioned again and again how I could be so Scripturally stupid as to fall for the ruse of the Real Presence.
Now I was in a quandary. He had taken me off guard, for sure. I felt a little foolish, played, and hurt. But I had to decide if answering him was casting pearls at swine or my responsibility as a Catholic Christian. I decided to keep up the correspondence. This went on for weeks. Everything I wrote was footnoted with sources both Scriptural and from the Catechism. Everything he wrote was footnoted with Scripture and previous letters he had written to other Catholics he considered “prominent” like bloggers and television personalities from EWTN.
I almost got scared for a few days; had I let a madman into my life? Still, I persisted in trying to take a twofold approach: calm him down and gain his trust. If he could stop using ALL CAPS TO MAKE HIS POINTS and cease the ad hominem, we could get somewhere. I tried to portray myself pretty realistically, a mom, a school teacher, and, most importantly, someone who was already Protestant for forty years so was not likely to go back there, particularly at the urgings of a very angry man who seemed to devote most of his time NOT to the service of others, NOT to study and prayers, but to seeking out converts, specifically ones he had taken the time to watch on EWTN, to Catholicism and torturing them.
Well, the thing took a turn for the worse. My words had an odd effect on him. The kinder and more patient I was, the more I indulged his questions without rancor and merely with information and dispassionate honesty, the more outraged he became. It was driving him crazy that he wasn’t driving me crazy. But now I faced another problem: I wasn’t helping him. To make him madder was not my goal. I started to see how unproductive our exchanges were for him, but for me they were a great brushing up on my faith! I can’t say any of his questions really challenged me; he didn’t throw anything at me we all haven’t heard a million times before from our anti-Catholic Aunt Betty. But I did spend time in The Word and in The Catechism, and that is always time well spent.
Finally, I chose to end the relationship, if you can call it that. I simply told him that I thought his time would be better spent, as would mine, in service to others, than in going back and forth in an exercise that I assured him would never result in my regressing to Protestantism in any form whatsoever. I even gave examples of things we could both do in service to our fellow man that were not exclusive to either his non-denominational/Baptist leaning theology nor my Catholicism. And that was the last I ever heard from him.
What did I learn from Fred (not his real name)? What can you learn? I’ve often thought of him since, and wondered what on earth happened to him to make him loathe the idea of the Catholic Church and to cling so doggedly to impressions of it that were utterly false, based in nothing but his own conjecture and a twisting of cherry-picked Scripture. He laughed at my notion of reading the early Church Fathers. He laughed at infallibility, yet his own personal, private interpretation of Scripture was, to him, patently infallible. The whole thing left me feeling cold for a while. I had done nothing to help him. Or had I?
I would like to think that I planted a seed, a very tiny one, and if it was not anything strictly “theological,” maybe it was de facto theological, because I as a Catholic never stooped to any words below the dignity of my faith nor did I ever say anything to attempt to chew away at his dignity as a man or even a Christian. I like to think that he can at least say now that one Catholic he met was kind and patient. How can he go on believing the religion is evil if he finds even one adherent who is not? After all, if we cannot be a good advertisement for Catholicism, the least we can do is avoid being a bad one. Had I lost my temper with him, had I cussed or practiced one-upmanship, then I would have only been fulfilling the caricature he already had of me. If I refused to waste my time finding him answers, he would have been able to walk away and call me a dupe who fell under the spell of the smells and bells.
At the very least, he has to say that I studied and read in order to provide thoughtful, researched answers to his questions and accusations. I don’t know what else I learned from Fred. I hope Fred isn’t rabidly anti-Catholic anymore, but he probably is. There was a lot of ego there, and that’s a powerful drug. Maybe there was ego in it for me in the beginning, too! ; I was eager to produce a convert from my appearance on a television show. Certainly, if that was part of my motivation, it was a spectacular failure. But I held my own. And I wasn’t delivered to the temptation to nastiness. I have to believe, and I do believe, that the Holy Spirit is solely and completely responsible for that.
So, will you pray for Fred? Don’t worry; God knows his real name.