Last month I took a CPR and First Aid training course. All I can say is: why is this not a high school graduation requirement?! Honestly, it’s so simple. CPR itself only takes about 45 minutes to learn. 45 minutes in exchange for being able to save someone’s life in an emergency. “Worth it” would be a huge understatement in my opinion.
Interestingly, many people who have CPR training don’t use it in a real emergency. It seems silly not to do everything you can to save someone’s life, especially if you have formal training to do so, but there are several common reasons that people give for holding back that actually make a lot of sense. Among these are the fear of being sued and fear of disease transmission, but the number one reason people give when asked why they didn’t (or wouldn’t) help someone in an emergency is this: I’m afraid I’ll do it wrong. Just because you can do it on a dummy doesn’t mean you feel confident to use your skills on a real person, with a real life, in a real life-or-death situation. People choose not to help victims in emergencies because they’re afraid of making the situation worse.
In addressing this fear with our class, my CPR instructor had this to say: If you don’t do something, they’re dead. They may die anyway, or they may be paralyzed or seriously injured. You may do something wrong, and the consequences could be serious. But if you do nothing, the victim is dead – there’s no maybe about it.
Those are very powerful words! Emergencies are scary – emotions run high, and every move emergency responders make carries serious weight. But in the case of cardiac arrest (when the heart stops beating), if nobody does anything, the victim will surely die. Hearts don’t just start beating again all on their own. And if those who have the knowledge to help don’t do what they’re trained to do, the victim dies. On the other hand, if someone uses their CPR training but makes a mistake, even if it’s a big mistake, the victim still has a better chance of survival than if he or she were simply left for dead.
And now for the part where I take all this and turn it into a quaint spiritual metaphor:
We all know someone whose heart has stopped beating. They are dead in their transgressions, and there is no life left in them. My question for you is this: Why aren’t you doing anything about it? This is a question I ask myself all the time.
Why do Catholics, generally speaking, keep their faith so much to themselves? I believe the answer to that question is quite similar to the reason people don’t respond to emergencies: We’re afraid of doing it wrong. Even those of us who know the faith well and who have been trained to defend it hesitate sometimes when we’re faced with the opportunity to share the Truth with someone – the Truth that we know full well would set them free and give them new life. We’ve all been paralyzed by this fear at some time or another. So how do we overcome it? I’m certainly no expert, but here are some tips from the CPR (Christ Promises Reconciliation) training I’ve received over the years:
1. Show up for training. If you’ve ever taken a Red Cross course, you know that they’re not free. They usually cost you at least $70 or so, and several hours of your weekend. This can be a downer, especially for those of us who don’t have a lot of time or money to spare, but if you never show up for class, you’ll never have the skills you need to help people in emergencies. The same goes for spiritual emergencies: if you never take the time to learn your faith well and to practice explaining it, you’ll never be able to respond when people have questions.
2. Review what you’ve learned, and keep your license up to date. Okay, so you took a Bible class, you got your Catechist’s Certificate, you went on a few retreats, and now you know everything you could ever know about Jesus and His Church. Right? Wrong. There’s always more to be learned, and new ways of explaining things you already know. The key to being a good evangelist is becoming a life-long learner. Cradle to Casket Catechism is the name of the game.
3. Feel the fear, and do it anyway. When the time comes, and you have to make a choice between speaking up or keeping quiet, look beyond your fear and see the spiritual calamity that is happening around you. People’s faith is dying every day. You’ve studied and practiced – and now you, Joe Catholic, have a responsibility to use what you know to bring life into dying hearts. Let’s look at an example to see what I mean.
Your moment has come. You’re in Starbucks, sipping your venti-non-fat-double-shot-something-or-other, reading Ignitum Today on your laptop, and listening to the new Audrey Assad CD that you just bought on iTunes. You are fierce. You are ready. You are hip, but that’s beside the point. Just then, the man sitting next to you makes a comment that is something along the lines of, “Hey, you seem Catholic.” You smile calmly and respond, “Yes, yes I am,” while inside you’re thinking, “OH MY GOODNESS DID HE JUST SAY THAT? IS HE GOING TO TELL ME HE WAS ABUSED BY A PRIEST AS A CHILD? WAS HE ONE OF THOSE ANGRY PROTESTERS OPPOSING THE HHS MANDATE RALLY? WHAT IF HE ASKS ME WHAT I THINK ABOUT JOHN 6? WHAT IF I SAY THE WRONG THING AND HE BECOMES BITTERLY ANTI-CATHOLIC? WHAT IF HE GOES TO HELL BECAUSE OF ME?!?!?!?!?!?” The man, oblivious to your inner terror, asks if you go to church at the Cathedral down the street. You keep your cool, and the conversation continues on nicely for a few minutes.
Before long though, your worst fears begin to come true. This strange man who you had no intention of talking to in the first place is baring his soul to you. You find out that he was once Catholic, and actually wanted to become a priest, before he fell away in his twenties, started worshiping with an evangelical community, and got married. His marriage recently fell apart and because he knows that God hates divorce, he has abandoned the faith altogether. This is the moment you’ve been training for! This man needs you to tell him the Truth – namely, that God still loves Him and wants a relationship with Him in the Sacraments. You might say it wrong.
He might not leave Starbucks and immediately go to Confession and enter the seminary. It’s unlikely if you’re well prepared, but there is a chance you will lead him to believe something that is less than true. But understand me when I tell you that as long as you are educated in your faith and making an honest effort to present God’s mercy in a way that is faithful to the Magisterium, you absolutely will not make matters worse. How do I know that? Because you can’t get worse than dead. This man in Starbucks (or the person next to you on the train, or your best friend, or whoever it may be) is dead inside. He has, by his own admission, given up on God and completely lost his faith. He’s talking to you because he’s hoping you have what it takes to give him life again. So go ahead! Tell him what you know, and more importantly what you’ve experienced. Tell him about how you too were once dead, but now you are becoming more and more alive each day. Tell him that you don’t have all the answers, but that you know they’re out there. Do your best, and don’t beat yourself up if you fail to present him with a perfect synopsis of Catholic teaching in one minute or less. Give him the address of the nearest church and the regular hours of confession. Promise you’ll be praying for him, and keep that promise! Pray for his conversion until your dying breath, because there is nothing more important than helping souls get to heaven, and there’s no better way to do that than through prayer.
So go on, closet Catholic! Grab your Bible and your Catechism and start studying – you never know when you’ll be confronted with a spiritual emergency. It’s your privilege and your responsibility to be prepared for whatever may come.
Resources for Spiritual CPR Training
1. Your local Parish – this is probably your best bet. Unless your parish is not very faithful to the Magisterium, your friendly neighborhood priest or Director of Religious Education can almost always point you to classes, resources, and study groups that will help you understand and experience your faith in a deeper way.
2. Catholic books – there are literally thousands upon thousands of books on every topic that even remotely has to do with Catholicism. Catholic Answers is a great place to start if you’re looking for books that are written from an apologetics stand point.
3. Catholic websites – if you’re reading this, it looks like you’ve already got this one on lock. Way to go! Check out the contributors page here on Ignitum Today for links to the fabulous blogs of all the crazy kids who write here. Most of those blogs have a blogroll or a links section, so you could realistically spend all day just searching through all those links (but please don’t – life is best lived in the real world).