Here is an excerpt from my new book, A Well-Built Faith: A Catholic’s Guide to Knowing and Sharing What We Believe:
Shortly after the events of September 11, 2001, there was a great deal of tension between Muslims and non-Muslims in many parts of the United States. In an effort to respond to the situation with Gospel values, I invited the Imam of a local Muslim community in the Chicago suburbs to meet with a number of catechetical leaders from the surrounding Catholic parishes for a dialogue. He agreed and the catechetical leaders were excited to have an opportunity to participate in a positive interreligious experience.
A week before the meeting, the Imam called me and said that he regretted that he would not be able to attend but that he would send a representative in his place, which he did. At the meeting, the catechetical leaders and I listened as this gracious gentleman explained the basic precepts of Islam in a very straightforward manner. When all was said and done, I thanked him for joining us and sharing his knowledge of Islam with us. I asked him what his position at the Mosque was. He laughed and said, “Oh, no, I do not work at the Mosque. I own a video store on 95th Street!” I was flabbergasted as were those standing nearby who overheard. We thought he was the Muslim equivalent of a catechetical leader or an associate pastor in a Catholic parish. In essence, what had happened was, the “pastor” (the Imam) had invited one of his “parishioners” to speak about Islam in his place!
Could you do the same if your pastor asked you to represent him at a meeting of non-Catholics who wanted to learn more about the Catholic faith?
I’ve asked this question to numerous groups of Catholics, especially catechists, and the number of people who feel they would have the right tools to represent the Catholic faith properly is extremely low. Why is this? Is the Catholic faith so complex that we cannot summarize it in some simple ways? Muslims can speak of the five pillars of Islam – the five duties required of every Muslim – and Buddhists can speak of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path,
So, what can Catholics speak of? For the answer to that, we can go to the four pillars of our Catholic faith as outlined in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. If someone were to ask us to explain the Catholic faith to them, we should be able to turn to these four pillars – Creed, Sacraments, Morality, and Prayer – for guidance. When it comes to talking about our faith, these four pillars provide us with all of the H.E.L.P. that we need:
H = We Hold on to our faith that is revealed to us through Scripture and Tradition and is summarized in the Creed.
E = We Express our faith in the liturgy and sacraments of the Church.
L = We Live our faith according to Catholic morality.
P = We Pray our faith by maintaining a healthy prayer life.
With H.E.L.P., we should be able to do as St. Peter urged in his Letter: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” 1Peter 3:15.