It was the perfect day for a trip to the farmers market by the beach. Middle of January and 80 degrees: California at its best.
Unfortunately, the farmers market was a huge disappointment. It took my husband and I about five minutes to walk through the whole thing, leaving us feeling like the trip was rather wasted, especially considering the hour-long fight with LA traffic it took to get there. But God had different plans for our visit to the Santa Monica Promenade.
After our rapid stroll through the anticlimactic street market, we decided to grab a quick bite at a café on the Promenade and people watch. Right as we took our seats on the patio by the street, a street preacher planted a microphone stand a few yards away. He opened his Bible and began:
“ … for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few…”
Sandwiched in the middle of the messages, “money won’t bring true happiness” and “Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior,” came a few comments quite unrelated to the topics of detachment and salvation:
“And, Catholics won’t like this, but Jesus tells us not to call men ‘father,’ yet they call their priests ‘father’…and they even worship Mary and the saints!”
I set down my fork and I looked up at my husband. “You know I’m going to have to talk to them now, honey.” He smiled at me. “Okay, let me finish this bite,” he answered. “I’ll let you take the lead.”
So, being the newlywed apologetic-loving duo that we are, we said our prayer for the conversation about to ensue, stood up, walked in the middle of the Promenade, and gave the street preacher the attention he was looking for.
After enlightening him on his misinterpretation of Catholic teaching, we proceeded to have our apologetic confab with the street preacher and his friend. I could go on at length about the lively conversation that followed, but I’ll keep my thoughts to just a few items of special interest.
First, their surprise at being challenged. The street preacher bluntly admitted to us that never in his decades of street preaching had he ever heard Scripture interpreted in the way that we were presenting. In other words, he had never been confronted by informed Catholics. In fact he was so flustered at having to defend his beliefs against knowledgeable, Bible-citing Catholics (as novice as we may be), that at the end of the conversation, when I asked for their names to pray for them, he was reluctant even to give me his name and almost angrily told me that he didn’t need my prayers and that I was much more in need of prayers than he was. As Catholics, we need to learn how to clearly and concisely defend our Catholic beliefs and the authentic interpretation of Scripture. More non-Catholics need to hear the true beliefs of the Catholic Church out of the mouths of orthodox Catholics. I’d like to think he went decades without hearing a Catholic challenge him because no Catholics ever walk the Santa Monica Promenade, but I doubt that be the case. I encourage you to keep studying, so that you can share the truth with the preacher God throws in your street.
Second, their use of Scripture as a shield against answering questions. Whenever my husband, Raymond, and I asked them a question they couldn’t answer, they deflected to reading another passage of Scripture (that was usually unrelated to the question at hand). In fact, the reason our conversation ended when it did was because of the endless circle we found ourselves in: We posed a question, then they would read to us beautiful and true but unrelated passages of Scripture, after all of which we replied with an emphatic “AMEN,” and then we would ask again if they could answer our question. I got the impression that they thought we would eventually disagree with them on a passage of Scripture, but as Catholics, how could we? All Scripture is inspired by God and inerrant. What we were trying to do was not to combat Scripture, but to challenge their interpretation of Scripture…which brings me to my final point.
Third, the street preacher’s dilemma. All non-Catholic Christian street preachers, in the face of a conversation like this one, will ultimately end up at the street preacher’s dilemma: the question of authority. The whole reason why we were going in circles, as described in my second point, was because they had no way to answer our primary question: How do you know your interpretation of the Bible is correct? They tried a few times. “I pray to the Holy Spirit and He guides me,” the street preacher said. “But I pray to the Holy Spirit and it seems He guides me to a different conclusion,” I replied. The question of authority is and always will be the street preachers dilemma. We need an authoritative Church. Fortunately, Christ gave us one.
Our friends on the Promenade never gave us the opportunity to ask them where their Bibles came from. Jesus didn’t come and hand out Bibles; He came and He founded a Church. It is through that Church that we receive the whole Word of God: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.
Ray and I will continue to keep these street preachers in our prayers. They are our brothers in Christ, and I am thankful that they give their time to proclaiming the Gospel to those who are living lives estranged from the God who loves them and gave His life for them. My hopes are only that some day, we may preach the Gospel in unison, as one (John 17:21).
As for us, we are reminded in our evangelization efforts to pray first, love first, study hard, and in our apologetic conversations always to refer back to the question of authority—the street preacher’s dilemma.
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