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Questions and Answers

It is obvious that we live in very sinful times and are bombarded with encountering people with no knowledge or with antipathy of the teachings of Christ and His Church.  Now, during my social interaction with others, when am I bound, under pain of mortal sin, to admonish sinners, correct them, and tell them that this or that is wrong in the eyes of God? I don’t know if I am just a wimp with no thick skin when I fail to correct them and tell them the truth or not. Say for instance at my . . . job, my boss or co-worker takes the name of the Lord in vain habitually or speaks of impure stories as if they are innocent and inconsequential. Am I bound, under pain of mortal sin, to break into the conversation and correct them or not? It is frustrating to not know what to do—I am almost totally pre-occupied with such moral questions . . . Should I give in to human respect for the time being and not say anything and go “along with the crowd” but at the same time make a mental note to speak up at a more appropriate time? Or am I bound to speak up right at that moment without hesitation no matter how inconvenient or awkward? Also, can I speak of stories in which I was drunk at the time or stoned without offending God—though the story is centering around what happened and not the sinful state of mind I put myself in? (By the way is it a mortal sin to laugh at conversation or jokes about drunkenness or impurity?) . . . Am I a victim of erroneous conscience or a weakling who has failed to trust in Jesus?

Outline of the Answer
• The Martyrs
• Preaching, Teaching, and Witnessing
• Elements of Witnessing the Faith
• A Quiet Refusal, Not a Public Protest
• The Real Battle
• The Psychology of Responsibility
• Taking Responsibility for Your Own Behavior
• Explaining Yourself
• Summary

Martyr. What comes to mind when you think of that word? Early Christians killed under Roman persecution? Missionaries put to a brutal death in hostile, heathen countries? Yet what about today? Where have all the martyrs gone?

Well, it is true that in the modern world many persons would not sacrifice even their TVs, let alone their lives, for the sake of Christ. 

Still, even though many so-called Christians today have compromised the true faith, some genuine Christians continue to defend the faith. The word martyr is actually the Greek word for witness, and so anyone who witnesses the faith is technically a martyr. Moreover, you do not have to be killed to be a martyr; you can be martyred by love. That is, you can, like Saint Paul, so love Christ that you lose an interest in everything but the message of holy love that Christ brought us.

Read about the martyrdom of love
by Saint Jane Frances de Chantal

Let’s see, then, how all Christians are called to be martyrs of love.

Preaching, Teaching, and Witnessing

If you have been ordained to the priesthood or diaconate and have the right to preach, or, if you have some other teaching ministry (e.g., teacher, catechist, counselor), then you can use your intellectual skills to tell others how to go about living their lives in full Christian love.

Also, every Christian has an obligation—without fear of being judgmental—to point out errors in love to others to whom he or she has some acquaintance. That is, it wouldn’t be advisable to walk up to strangers on the street and tell them that their tattoos are a defilement of the body and a grave offense to God. But you could say this to a friend. 

Witnessing the faith is another Christian responsibility. It’s something different from teaching; it also has nothing to do with telling others how to act.[1] To witness the faith you show others, through your own personal example, how to live a faithful life of love.

Witnessing the faith is also a responsibility that many Christians take too lightly, if they take it at all.

Elements of Witnessing the Faith

Witnessing the faith is really a simple process; that is, it does not depend on intellectual and philosophical sophistication. It requires only that you live a life of true love in every moment, as Christ told us to live. Because assaults from the anti-Christian world around us can tempt us to defile love, the two essential elements of our witnessing the faith can be expressed according to what we refuse to do, regardless of what anyone does to us:

Refuse to compromise the true faith.

Refuse to hate anyone.

Martyrs proclaim their refusal to hate, for in blessing even those who persecute them they keep open the hope that the persecutors may repent their mistakes. And this explains why no one who is killed for his or her political opposition to rivals, who is killed in the act of killing others, or who commits suicide—by itself or in the course of killing others—can be a martyr, for all these acts psychologically foreclose all possibility of forgiveness and healing.


A Quiet Refusal, Not a Public Protest

Even though we have an obligation to respect civil authority, there are limits to this respect. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this perfectly clear: “The citizen is obligated in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons, or the teachings of the Gospel” (§ 2242).

This philosophy has its support from the Old Testament. For example, in the book of Esther we have the story of Mordecai who refused to kneel and bow down to a king’s servant. In the book of Daniel we have the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who were thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship the golden statue that Nebuchadnezzar had made (Daniel 3:1–97). In the same book we also have the story of Daniel himself who was thrown into a lion’s den for refusing to follow a law prohibiting prayer to any god or man except the king (Daniel 6:1–29). In the book of Maccabees we have the story of the martyrdom of a mother and her sons for refusing to eat pork in violation of God’s law (2 Maccabees 7:1–42).

Moreover, we have the stories of countless Christian martyrs. It began with Christians who refused to worship the Roman emperor, and it has continued through the centuries with those who suffered persecution and death rather than betray their faith.


Notice that the directive here is not to protest laws contrary to the faith but to refuse to follow any such laws imposed on us personally.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes no mention of the price of such refusal, but Scripture makes it perfectly clear what that price can be: persecution even unto death.


The Real Battle

Every Christian has taken baptismal vows to renounce Satan, to turn away from evil and sin, and to turn to Christ in chaste and holy service. Therefore, every Christian, in everything he or she does—no matter whether trivial or important—has an obligation to be a good and holy representative of the Church to all of society. That’s a serious responsibility.


The real battle of life is between Satan and your soul, not between you and other persons. Have no doubts that Satan will tempt you through others in every way he can, to induce you to lose your patience, to fall into hatred, or to defile chastity. And God will allow him to tempt you, as a way of strengthening and purifying your soul. The wicked are not here for us to eradicate them; they are here to help us become saints, and in the process, maybe to convert some of them.


So no matter how others bait you, your responsibility is to act always in total imitation of Christ, as a faithful and fruitful representative of the Church. If you fail in this, then the enemies of the Church will just sneer, and say, “See? Those Catholics are all just a bunch of hypocrites.” You will be labeled a fanatic and fall into ruin, and your enemies will be strengthened. Thus everyone will lose.

But, before you fly into a panic of scruples, it will help to understand something about psychology here.

The Psychology of Responsibility

Consider this fundamental axiom in psychology: It’s nearly impossible for you to change the behavior of anyone other than yourself.

Children in dysfunctional families, for example, feel the intense urge to want to fix the family, such as by changing the behavior of their father or mother (e.g., stopping one of them from being an alcoholic). But, being children and lacking an understanding of the fundamental axiom in psychology, many of these children will feel frustrated at their failure to fix their parents; having no way to cope with feelings of intense helplessness, they end up blaming themselves—and often blaming God—that they have not been able to stop their father’s or mother’s irresponsible and self-destructive behavior.

And so these poor lost children grow up to find their lives stained with emotional and interpersonal instability, stained with confusion about their purpose in life, and stained with depression—with unconscious anger at the core of it all.

Therefore, understanding basic psychology, all you can do is take responsibility for your own behavior.

Taking Responsibility for Your Own Behavior

If a co-worker uses foul language on the job, then say, “I can’t listen to this kind of talk.” Then walk away.


If you know the person well enough to know that you will be harrassed for your beliefs, then just leave without saying anything.


If a friend or family member invites you to watch a movie (perhaps insisting you watch it, even after you have explained that you don’t like to watch movies) and something offensive to Christian morality (e.g., foul language, a sexual scene, violence, etc.) appears, say, “I can’t watch this sort of thing.” Then stand up and leave the room.

If you’re in a car and someone starts smoking marijuana, say, “I can’t participate in this sort of thing.” Oops . . . what if the car is moving and the driver refuses to stop? Well, just fling open the door and act like you are willing to jump out, and the driver will bring the car to a screeching halt in no time. Then get out. 

If anyone does anything that contradicts the faith, then refuse to go along, regardless of the cost. Walk away. Take your money elsewhere. Resign your position.[2] Allow yourself to get fired. What profit will it be if you gain the world and lose your soul?


Remember, in showing to others what a pure Christian life-style is all about, your consistent behavior might just influence a few to examine their lives and, ultimately, to repent their sins.


Explaining Yourself

After all the uproar dies down, and if circumstances allow, then you can start to explain your behavior.

Now, in the course of your explaining yourself you might tell stories about your past sins as illustration. That’s fine. But if you tell the story for the sake of humor, you run the risk of leading others into sin, and that’s scandal (see below). Laughing at impure jokes or conversation does only one thing: it encourages the behavior. And if the impurity is about grave matter, then the scandal becomes mortal sin.


Needless to say, after you start witnessing the Gospel as you should, you might not have many friends left. You might even lose your job. So listen to what Christ said:


Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.


—Matthew 5-10

Christ has few friends today. So if you are going to profess to be His friend, be a good friend.


What the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

2471 Before Pilate, Christ proclaims that he “has come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.” The Christian is not to “be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord.” In situations that require witness to the faith, the Christian must profess it without equivocation, after the example of St. Paul before his judges. We must keep “a clear conscience toward God and toward men.”

2472 The duty of Christians to take part in the life of the Church impels them to act as witnesses of the Gospel and of the obligations that flow from it. This witness is a transmission of the faith in words and deeds. Witness is an act of justice that establishes the truth or makes it known.

All Christians by the example of their lives and the witness of their word, wherever they live, have an obligation to manifest the new man which they have put on in Baptism and to reveal the power of the Holy Spirit by whom they were strengthened at Confirmation. 

2284 Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.

2287 Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged. “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come!” (Luke 17:1).


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1. Being agrumentative or accusatory, or demanding that others change their behavior will only drive them deeper into their behavior and may provoke hostility. Moreover, it will cause you stress, along with physiological complications such as high blood pressure, when others refuse to do what you want them to do. Also, the obstinacy of others will be a wound to your pride, and that can drive you right into the snares of hatred and spiritual murder. So when you need to speak up to someone about an offense, speak from the place of your sorrow for what that person has done, not from your indignation about how you have been hurt.

2. Note that, in contrast to witnessing the faith in a social setting, witnessing the faith in a family calls for special patience and gentleness. Keep in mind here that a Christian wife or husband has been bound to his or her spouse by sacramental vows, so walking away from the family because of persecution for the faith would amount to abandoning the family and running from the Cross. Moreover, even though actual violence in the family may require police intervention or temporary separation, violence is usually the result of some kind of subtle provocation. It can be difficult for an investigator to get to the truth here because each person will tell his or her side of the story with bias toward the self. In this case, only honest and humble scrutiny on the part of the person being threatened will reveal the depths of mutual culpability.


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