Yesterday I was chatting with a couple of my students. A propos of nothing, one of them said, "Of course, I have real issues with the Catholic Church. It's because I went to a Catholic school."
I mildly responded, "I went to a Catholic school, and I have no problems with the Church."
She explained the areas in which she has issues with the Church. It was all the usual suspects - the Catholic Church is responsible for the spread of AIDS in Africa because it doesn't encourage the use of condoms and its aid organisations don't give them out free; the Catholic Church forces young girls who have been raped to go through with the pregnancies that result; the Catholic Church makes people have too many children because it opposes contraception...
For each statement she made, I explained the Church's teaching and pointed out the flaw in her arguments. On the issue of AIDS, I referred to this article. I also pointed out the logical absurdity in claiming that people who refuse to adhere to the Church's teaching on abstinence and monogamy should be catching AIDS because they ARE adhering to the Church's teaching on the use of condoms. She accepted my argument that the Church can't be blamed if people suffer the consequences of behaviour which it actively discourages.
We moved on to abortion, and I agreed with her that hard cases make bad law. I then said, "The Catholic Church teaches that life begins at conception. If you accept that basic premise, then how can you possibly say that because the mother has suffered, it's OK to take a human life? At what point would you draw the line and say it's no longer OK to kill that baby, despite the hardship that its existence might cause its mother?"
Again, she accepted the logic of what I said (though not necessarily the basic premise on which the argument was built). And for every other "I hate Catholicism" argument she came out with, she ended up accepting that there was no inconsistency in the Church's teaching on that issue.
I'm sure we've all had hundreds of conversations like this, and it's not really noteworthy at all. What made me stop and think was her final comment:
"Nobody has ever explained these things to me before. When you say it, everything makes sense. But all the so-called Catholics I've talked to in the past just told me that's the way it is, they don't know why, and they won't discuss it. And most of them don't follow half the rules they bang on about anyway."
God gives us the most unexpected opportunities to evangelise - and I do believe it's our duty to know what the Church teaches, to be able to explain it, and to take the time whenever possible to respond clearly, thoughtfully and appropriately to people who don't understand.
Because of our conversation yesterday, there's one person in the world who understands a bit more and feels less hostile as a result. She may not come back to the Church, but at least she'll think twice before rubbishing its teachings in future. Thank God for throwaway comments and the opportunity to respond.