Friday, November 20, 2020 –
Oh boy! We are nearly halfway through our list of seven Spiritual Works of Mercy, which means we are rounding out the half that people misunderstand to mean “beat someone over the head with truth.” For today, we will be discussing: to counsel the doubtful.
Right off the bat I am going to quash any misunderstanding about who are the “doubtful” people. No! This is not talking about people on the fence about buying a car or whether they should have pizza for breakfast. By the way, the answer is always YES to pizza anytime!
Rather, we can gloriously turn to our Baltimore Catechism #3 for a concise answer as to whom these mysterious doubters are:
Q. 815. Who are meant by the “ignorant” we are to instruct, and the “doubtful” we are to counsel?
A. By the ignorant we are to instruct and the doubtful we are to counsel, are meant those particularly who are ignorant of the truths of religion and those who are in doubt about matters of faith. We must aid such persons as far as we can to know and believe the truths necessary for salvation.
Ahhh! There it is! We are talking about those who are unsteady about matters of faith. You know, like the people who say, “I do not have to go to Mass on Sunday or confess my sins to a Priest. God knows what is in my heart.” That is a doubt about the faith, and as a good Catholic, it is an incredible work of mercy to help them back to Rome.
Let’s look at what Bishop Morrow says on the matter:
Which are the chief spiritual works of mercy?—The chief spiritual works of mercy are seven:
3. To counsel the doubtful.—We should be most zealous in helping those whom a word may save or aid. How happy we should be if the word we say helps a doubtful one to become firm in his faith!
As in admonishing sinners, advising the doubtful should be done prudently and gently, to effect good results. It is seldom effective to rush into heated argument. Let us pray first, before giving counsel. (Bishop Morrow, My Catholic Faith, p. 181)
Oooo…stinger! There is that word prudent again. Shalt we recount what we said about prudence previously? Yes, we shall!
Acting prudently means we must act wisely, cautiously, sagacious (showing good judgement), and discreet. Boiling this down even further, we mean to say: do not beat someone over the head with their sins. Take a breath, find an appropriate moment to speak with them (i.e. not shouting in the grocery store), and calm, rational conversation with them addressing the fault in question.
Right. So I am sure you have run into a family member, friend, or random dude on the street who has expressed doubts about the Faith, or who has said, “I do not need XYZ in my life because God knows what is in my heart.” As a good and God-fearing Catholic your instinct is to hiss and scream, “get behind me Satan!”
Truthfully, though, this is not the best approach. Speaking from experience and with all my southern bell charm, you do in fact catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Seriously! Someone actually studied this, and you can read about it HERE.
Anyhoo, back to catching our doubtful flies…
When we do encounter someone doubting the Faith, we should first start with prayer. Stop and pray deeply for the person’s conversion. Next, we should calmly and prudently find an appropriate way to have a corrective (counseling) word with that person. As much as you may want to start the next crusade in defense of your Blessed Lord, beating someone over the head is not a great way to endear them to God’s message.
However, this is also not saying to bend over backward and accept whatever doubts they have as the new Gospel truth. There are some truths (all of them) that the Catholic Church will not and cannot ever change, despite what the Pope may or may not have said in a carefully edited documentary from ages ago.
Look, if you want to be truly merciful, speak the truth always! But, sometimes you need to speak softly. Sometimes you need to sugar coat your crusader self, lest you want to send the doubtful person you are consoling screaming into the streets. Yes, they might not listen, but your job is to purely speak the truth. You are not held accountable for other people doing stupid stuff or failing to repent their ways. Thank goodness!
Sancte Andrea, ora pro nobis!