This is a work we perform often; whether we do it as a work of mercy is another matter. It might be helpful to give this work a different name: share the good news. We are not called to impart information, but to “make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pt 3:15). We are to share with others the heart of the Gospel, which Pope Francis describes in this way: “In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead” (Evangelium gaudii 36).
We cannot share what we do not have. This work of mercy obliges us to deepen our knowledge of and love for our Catholic faith. We are challenged to give what Blessed John Henry Newman called “real assent” to our beliefs. He contrasted this with what he called “notional assent.” The difference is that notional assent to truth is merely informational, whereas real assent is something that changes our entire life. It is when we see the Creed, the liturgy, the commandments, and the spiritual life as so many expressions of a deep personal relationship with Jesus that they come alive. We have a rich patrimony of faith in the Catholic Church, but without this essential personal relationship it is nothing more than a cultural inheritance.
Thus to carry out this work we need to deepen our own knowledge in a way that nurtures our union with God. There are educational opportunities offered in our diocese and parishes, and if time allows we should take advantage of them. (Like the Jubilee of Mercy Enrichment Series, the Saint Francis de Sales School for Pastoral Ministry and the Serra Catechetical Institute)
We can also explore the faith on our own, by a prayerful reading of the Scriptures with a useful commentary, studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and prayerfully reading over the prayers of the liturgy.
The best instruction comes from example. We are told at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles that St. Luke dealt in his gospel “with all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). It is noteworthy that Jesus first did, and only then taught. If people see that our faith makes a difference in the way we live our daily lives – how we treat people, how we deal with setbacks and difficulties, and how we set our priorities – they may want to learn more about it.
We live in a culture that is very secular, in which there is growing hostility to religion in general and to the Catholic Church in particular. It is incumbent on us to be able to answer criticisms, but always, as St. Peter says, “with gentleness and reverence”. We should look on every conversation as an opportunity to draw others closer to God and to “the truth that sets us free” (see Jn 8:32). Our society is increasingly polarized and there seems to be more and more hostility and verbal aggression; “civil discourse” is becoming rare. If we are deeply rooted in our faith and knowledgeable about it, we will not be insecure. There should be a kind of serenity and meekness in the way we share what we believe. It should be good as well as news; a truth that really sets people free.