I can certainly sympathize with you! I’m signing up for RCIA classes this month and am dreading having to break the news to some of my closest friends, who will think I’ve gone completely off my rocker! I have managed to have some pretty good conversations with my dad (an ex-Catholic) about Catholicism though. (It helps that he comes from a Catholic background in that he understands a lot of things people who never were Catholic wouldn’t. But then I also have gotten reactions from other family members, like, "You’re what?? But they worship saints!!) It is very trying on the patience when you have been studying and praying about something for a few years, and then you have to field tons of uninformed criticism. It takes so much prayer and dependence on Christ not to react defensively, but to be charitable.
I think to be charitable, we have to keep reminding ourselves of several things.
- I find it good to remember how long it took me to accept a lot of Catholic doctrines. Can I really expect someone else to come to a conclusion in five minutes that took me five years?
- It helps me to remember when I thought the same way as those who are critical of me now. (I myself am actually guilty of trying to talk one of my friends out of converting to Catholicism several years ago. Thanks be to God I failed:) However, that experience has served as a good way to humble me. I can’t count myself any better than those who might try to dissuade me now, and it helps me to identify with them.)
- A lot of the criticism you receive might be malicious or spiteful, but if there is any at all that comes out of genuine concern or love, then try to appreciate at least the motive behind it. Part of why I have found Catholicism so difficult to talk about with people who are close to me is that I know that it will cause them quite genuine pain and worry. We can’t sacrifice the truth just to make everyone around us happy, but we can sympathise with them.
I also find that it helps to be really honest. It’s okay to say things like, “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find the doctrine of mortal vs. venial sins pretty horrifying at first.” Then you can go on to explain why your convictions have changed. You can also try to indicate that you see things from their side. Sharing a common background, you have the advantage of understanding their thought-processes much better than they understand yours. So you might say something like, “I can appreciate that this might be troubling you.” Or “I used to feel exactly that way.” (Note with a sentence like the last one, it’s important not to come off in a “Back when I was unenlightened like you, I also believed many silly things.” If you appear to be arrogant, it doesn’t matter how convincing your arguments may be, you will usually hit a brick wall.
Finally, I think it is a mistake to assume full responsibility for having your family understand or appreciate Catholicism. Of course, you should set a good example with your actions, and try to be genuinely helpful with any honest concerns they have. But you can’t make their choices for them. To be honest, I have been quite surprised to find myself considering Catholicism so seriously. I certainly never intended to be where I am now. I really see it as a grace of God to me. I believe that prayer will be the most important thing for your relationship with your family. God is much better at changing hearts than the best arguments. (Not that arguments aren’t important, especially for those who are earnestly grappling with something! Also it is important to dispell outright misinformation.) It’s okay to set limits on what you will discuss, or to set a standard of respect for conversation about your faith. I also don’t think you should take all of the work of examining Catholicism upon yourself. I think it would be perfectly alright to say, “You know, if you’re really interested in learning about the Catholic view of communion, I have a really great book I can lend you.” If they are unwilling to take on a share of the work, then I think it would be okay to postpone discussing something with them until they had. I hope you might find some of these ideas useful. You have a tough row to hoe right now. I pray that God will grant you some fruits along the way to encourage you!
"But in the meantime you must be content, I say, to be misunderstood for awhile. We are all very anxious to be understood, and it is very hard not to be. But there is one thing much more necessary."
"What is it grandmother?"
"To understand other people."
The Princess and the Goblin