To be honest, for weeks prior to this, months, even, I dread the annual affair, for my own experience of it took something I once enjoyed and warped it into one of my worst nightmares.
In my first year in my job, when I gave a speech on this same topic, I was nearly crucified...after the audience got over their shock at Catholic teaching. Their reaction took exactly one week to percolate before the outrage overflowed upon my boss, the school principal, and the Pastor. Not a single one of the outraged souls confronted me directly, and even at the end of the year their negative evaluations remained anonymous.
It made me realize that, first of all...angry Catholics are largely passive-aggressive. Very few are willing to be hostile to my face, and most, if forced to confront me, find their desire to be hostile melting away. There is a simple reason for this: humanity speaks to humanity, compassion speaks to compassion, truth speaks to truth.
It's unfortunate, but it's our fallen nature that drives this.
That knowledge does not make it any easier to handle, however, when one is on the end of receiving the passive-aggressive and sometimes even outright in-your-face hostility.
My first experience of outright anger in an audience was so palpable that if I hadn't had some serious training in speech competetion and in speaking to groups that were open to the Gospel, I probably would not have been able to finish.
As it is, I still bear scars from that horrible encounter, for now, every time I have to go before this kind of crowd, I hit a level of anxiety which, in normal people, has to be medicated. (tongue-in-cheek).
I thought, upon entering my position, that the opportunity to speak to groups on my favorite topic of Eternal Salvation was an incredible, and...FUN...blessing! I imagined all the happy people who would be there ready to receive the Word of God, the Traditions of the Apostles, and revel in our shared Faith, especially in light of the benefit to their children.
In spite of my Pollyanna attitude and my incredibly brilliant soapbox, I learned that the typical condition of humanity in any given Church involves backbiting, passive-aggressiveness and outright hostility, with a little frosting of a few supportive souls who are glad to be there but thrilled they don't have to stand there on the gallows, singing to their executioners.
Every year now, I recognize the gallows for what they are, and I approach in trepidation. What I once loved has become an object of dread. What I once saw as a chance for Hope has become an object of despair. What I once saw as a chance to share our Faith has become the recognition of a Faith rejected. What I once saw as simple charity has become the fulfillment of what Divine Charity is all about.
It's taken several years, and I've groaned and complained, I've tried to get out of it by hiring speakers, but always, my supervisor has intervened and told me, "No, YOU have to do this. Maybe next year will be different, but this time, YOU have to step up to the plate again and deliver this message for Our Lord."
Each time, inwardly, I've groaned, and outwardly, I've complained to my friends and to some of my co-workers, even my boss.
But I've carried on because there is no one else and I simply haven't anywhere to go if I quit.
63 It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe." Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. 65 And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father." 66 As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. 67 Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" 68 Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (John 6:63-68)
Every year I agonize, I practice, and I've even been hauled into Father's office for a critique on what is wrong, technically, with my speaking abilities. (He is always right, by the way, and I'm grateful for his suggestions.)
And every year as the date approaches, I sleep less, dread more deeply, and look more and more askance at Jesus, wondering what I'm doing here and why I am doing this.
Each year is a new purgation, skinning layers of my pride as deeply and painfully as St. Bartholomew was skinned by his own persecutors. (I do believe he had it worse).
Although I've often thought of it, sometimes have written of it, I know that the privilege of speaking on the central beliefs of our Faith to such an audience as this is truly a gift of God's Grace. It's a gift I don't always want to receive, but I must at least admit to the fact that I have been formally called to it (outside of my own desires) and have had to cooperate with that directive.
I know that in my first year, the reaction of others was partially my own faulty delivery of the message, for I was not as nuanced as I could have been and did not realize how my words would be taken - which was far from the way intended.
Part of what I suffer, even in having been correct in teaching, was still my fault, for even the proper message when delivered improperly ends up in the same place as every other piece of misdelivered mail. Some remember that misdirected mail and still hold me in suspicion.
What I struggle so hard to live, though, is the gift of being able to speak to an audience much like those to whom Jesus and the Apostles spoke: hostile, unreceptive, unwelcoming, indifferent, outright angry.
Yes. When I have to speak and deliver certain Biblical teachings, certain teachings of our beliefs, and know that unreceptivity of the audience, I know, intellectually, that it is what Our Lord suffered, too, and still suffers.
As I've asked before, WHY SHOULD I BE ANY DIFFERENT???
Indeed. It is a gift to suffer what He did.
I only pray I can learn to bear it so patiently.