You are beginning your day at work as you always do — getting your morning cup of coffee in the office kitchen. A couple of co-workers are nearby having a discussion — and you realize they are talking about a recent case in the news of a local teacher being arrested for abusing a child. One of your co-workers makes a joke that “at least it wasn’t a priest — he probably would have been promoted.” Some of your co-workers laugh loudly in response.
For a Catholic who loves the Church and the sacred priesthood, there seem to be two options on how to respond, both of them bad:
Aggressively attack your co-worker and start defending the priesthood, giving stats on the abuse scandal and explaining that priests were not more susceptible to being an abuser than the public at large. Most likely, this will cause most of your office to look at you as the source of discontent and offense in your workplace.
Say nothing and seethe and/or feel guilty at your desk all day. In this scenario, you will feel like the Church has been attacked and you didn’t have the courage to stand up for it.
Unfortunately, this is not just a hypothetical scenario: It is all too common to have people publicly denigrate the Catholic Church and then look at you as the problem if you speak up to defend your faith. As most Catholics know, anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice in America. But what other possible response does a Catholic have in a situation like this?
Don’t aim for wit
First, don’t try to have a “zinger.” Living in a sitcom-drenched culture, we can be tempted to want a snappy comeback for every situation. This comeback would not only disarm our opponent, but would also put everyone else on our side. But this is not a realistic view of the world, nor is it the proper attitude for a Christian. We don’t have 20 sitcom writers developing our lines and giving us three takes to get it right.
And we are not trying to win a “most witty” contest, we are trying to win souls for Christ. So we need to save the “zingers” for tryout night at the local comedy club and concentrate on how to bring people over to the Church.
Pray for guidance
Second, don’t get discouraged if nothing comes to mind and you end up walking away silent. Often we are caught unprepared, and saying nothing is better than saying something uncharitable.
Yes, we must “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pt 3:15), but most of us struggle to say the right thing to our spouse, much less to an antagonistic crowd.
Helping others is a long-term effort, not a matter of a few right words at the right time. We must pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance and know that he will give us the words that need to be said.
Formulating the proper response is not a matter of talent, but of trust — trust that God will show us what to say and when to say nothing.
Talk in private
Also, consider the possibility of talking to the person in private. He might be much less defensive and open to correction if he doesn’t have to admit he is wrong in front of his co-workers and friends. This also gives you an opportunity to gather your thoughts and control your emotions, which always leads to better results.
There is a chance that he will still reject what you say, but we can only control how the truth is presented to another, not what the other person’s reaction will be.
Finally, recognize the limitations of workplace relationships. Most of your co-workers are not close friends, so you are not going to have a major impact on their lives. Your goal is to simply draw others a step closer to Christ, not necessarily to be the one to lead them in that last step that brings them into the Church.
Recognize your limits and simply witness to your faith in a charitable and simple way; God will be sure to use your faithfulness to help others — even those who tell anti-Catholic jokes.
Read more: What every Catholic needs to know about witnessing your faith at work