On my way home from the tall ships, I stopped at St Anthony's shrine in downtown Boston. As I was walking toward it I noticed a man who was hanging around in front of the church, sort of huddled into a corner wall. He didn't appear to be begging, so I wasn't sure what he was doing. True to my New York upbringing, I walked quickly past pretending not to notice. (In NY, you learn never to make eye contact on the sidewalk with someone who may be out to get you.) He was holding a plastic bag, the kind you get in the grocery store, close to himself. As I went by, suddenly he reached into the bag, pulled out a leaflet, and shoved it into my face. I realized immediately that it was one of those anti-Catholic tracts, so I didn't take it.
I spent a few minutes in church (they were having Eucharistic adoration just then) and I got an inspiration that on my way out I should stop and talk to that man. Now, anyone who knows me will realize that this is totally out of character for me. I never approach strangers on the street and talk to them. But I thought, here's this guy handing out anti-Catholic leaflets in front of a Catholic church, so why should I just go by without responding in some way? So feeling very much like I did in my days in the Catholic Evidence Guild, I went up and asked him, "What's that you're handing out?"
He handed me the leaflet--you know the kind, you've probably seen them before. They list in a few pages everything that's wrong with the Catholic Church and why it could just never, never be the truth. He said he had been Catholic but now was going to the Lutheran church. Since his big point was that the Catholic Church has "man-made" beliefs and practices, I pointed out to him that Martin Luther came 1500 years too late, 1500 years after Jesus Christ. Wasn't what he established "man-made?" So I did a little street preaching of my own to him, quoting the Bible and responding to his objections.
Only the grace of God can bring back a fallen-away Catholic to the Church. So I didn't think I was converting him back. But at least I was able to give him something to think about, so that hopefully he'll realize that the Catholic Church does have responses to the typical fundamentalist objections to it. I also asked him if he really wants to evangelize, why doesn't he go talk to Muslims, or atheists, or other people who have no belief and no religion? It's pretty easy to try and get Catholics out of their church, because religious ignorance is so rampant among Catholics. But what would happen if he stood outside a mosque handing out anti-Islamic leaflets? I suspect that he wouldn't last too long doing that!
I was talking about this at breakfast this morning, and Sr Anne Joan (of Nunblog fame) made a really good point when she had a similar experience talking to someone preying on ignorant Catholics: "There may be a lot of ignorant Catholics, but that doesn't mean that the Catholic Church doesn't have a really good response to the objections made against it!"