Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, in the context of dealing with enquirers, and even with bigots, that ‘Instructing is not arguing. One can win an argument and lose a soul.’
At first sight, this is an obvious truth : and none of us would contest (at least when we are thinking about it calmly and rationally – I say nothing about the heat of the moment) that we have a duty to be patient and forbearing when dealing with those who disagree with us, and wish to contest, often strongly, those things which we believe.
At the same time, it does seem to me that there is also a potential danger : the danger of allowing forbearance to prevent us being true to the Faith we hold.
A couple of days ago I got involved in an online discussion with someone about Anglicanorum Cœtibus : and it rapidly became apparent that my correspondent – himself an ex-Anglican – was possessed more of a detestation of all things Anglican than of any desire to discuss the matter calmly. He was content to condemn the Holy Father, despite (what appeared to be) an imperfect appreciation of what had led His Holiness to make such a generous gesture, simply because he could not tolerate anything which – in his eyes – wasn’t Catholic; and nothing which was of or from the Church of England could possibly be Catholic.
I tried to make my comments in charity, but eventually concluded that there was nothing to be gained by continuing the discussion, because of my opposite number’s absolute refusal to accept any basis for discussion other than his own forthright condemnation of Anglicanism as a concept.
In that case, I don’t think I betrayed the Faith, because I was discussing something with another Catholic, and any shortcomings in his Faith are not matters on which I am properly qualified to comment : that is between himself and his Director.
On the other hand, it seems to me that things may be different when – as has also happened recently – I find myself involved in a discussion with a non-Catholic (in this case at least arguably an atheist; certainly an agnostic) about certain fundamental truths of the Faith.
Can I then back away, or qualify the truths of the Faith so as not to cause offence ? As it happened, the person I was talking to about the Church's teaching on such matters turned out to have a fairly strong ‘pro-Life’ position of her own; but could I justifiably have moderated the Church’s uncompromising teaching so as not to drive her away before I had an opportunity to discuss with her the merits of it as an expression of Divine will ?
Obviously I could quite properly have tried to direct the conversation so that I had an opportunity to convince her of the rightness of our teaching before confrontation occurred : but if I had been asked outright at the very start, could I properly have done other than spoken the unvarnished truth ? In love, of course; but nonetheless unpalatable ?
Of course one does not want to drive people away : but I do wonder whether there may just possibly be times when the need to be true to the Faith may justifiably lead to the private martyrdom which comes from recognzing that one has, by one’s own inadequacy, lost a chance to save a soul. The early Christians died horribly, and in their hundreds, rather than compromise in the slightest on the truths of the Faith : and though one might wonder whether they might have had more chance of converting others if they had been more moderate in their position, yet it is they whose ‘robes are washed white in the blood of the lamb’.
God lead me to discern how to deal with issues like this, so that I can always stay faithful to His will, true to His Faith, and yet also be a tender and loving exponent of His holy Word.