Sunday, January 1, 2017

Why do Apologetics?

Q:     Nothing personal, but I’m really not a big fan of what you do.  All of this apologetics stuff just seems to be filled with so much conflict and tension. How does that evangelize anyone?   Whatever happened to St. Francis’ way of evangelization, “Preach the Gospel always and, when necessary, use words.” 
A:    Well, first of all, and I know this may be difficult for some to read, but St. Francis actually never said that, at least, not that anyone has been able to find in anything his early biographers wrote about him.  Secondly, if you read about St. Francis, he actually used a whole lot of words in his evangelization efforts.  One story in particular, about his meeting with the Sultan of Egypt during one of the Crusades, would probably stun a lot of folks as to how “in your face” he was with the Sultan.

       Anyway, to your point about apologetics being filled with conflict and tension, before I tell you why I disagree with what you’re saying, I want to first address what I believe is a larger societal issue that seems to underlie your contention.  It seems, in my humble opinion, that just about the only mortal sin a person can commit in our society today, is to tell someone else they are wrong about something.  

       We can’t tell the adulterer that he is wrong, so let’s have no-fault divorce.  We can’t tell anyone abortion is wrong, so let’s just respect everyone’s privacy.  We can’t tell homosexuals that same-sex relations are wrong, so let’s just live and let live.  Again, telling someone they are wrong is just about the only sin one can commit in today’s society.  So, in such an environment, debate becomes inherently wrong.  Argument, in the classical sense of the word, becomes inherently wrong.  Disagreeing with someone on issues of faith and morals becomes inherently wrong.

       Thus, engaging in apologetics seems to be inherently wrong under such a prevailing societal attitude.  To tell those who disagree with Catholic teaching they are wrong, becomes a sin, of sorts.  It is viewed as being filled with “conflict and tension,” and as being unnecessarily adversarial.  But, it just isn’t so.  

       First and foremost, apologetics is about seeking the truth.  Jesus said, “Know the truth and the truth shall make you free,” (John 8:32).  Apologetics is not about argument for argument’s sake, but about discovering truth.  In order to help my separated brethren in Christ discover the truth that the Eucharist is indeed the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, and not merely a symbol, I have to engage in apologetics.  

       Second, and closely related to the above, apologetics is about love.  If I truly love those who are not Catholic - whether they be Baptist, Evangelical, Presbyterian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, or even atheist - would I not want to do everything...everything! my power to bring them to Jesus Christ in the Sacraments, and, particularly, to bring them to Him in the Eucharist?

        I mean, if I really and truly believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, and that a Catholic can receive Him at any given Mass, then why would I not want to do all that I could to bring everyone into the Catholic Church so as to receive Him?  Why would I not want to share the truth with them?  Can I truly be said to love someone if I am unwilling to step out of my comfort zone to share the truths of the Catholic Faith with them?  

       Now, do discussions about faith and morals sometimes involve conflict and tension?  Absolutely.  But, does searching for truth sometimes involve conflict and tension?  Does loving others sometimes involve conflict and tension?  Indeed they do.

       So, apologetics, just like any search for truth and anything that involves love, sometimes involves conflict and tension.  But, do you want to know what can cause more conflict and tension than a Catholic who is versed in apologetics conferring with a non-Catholic on some issue of faith or morals?  A Catholic who is not versed in apologetics conferring with a non-Catholic on some issue of faith or morals.  

       I would be willing to bet that the percentage of Protestant churches in Birmingham that do not have at least one former Catholic in them is very, very low.  There are, in fact, some very large Protestant churches in Birmingham that are made up of 20%, 30%, and even as much as 50% former Catholics.

       Why?  Because those former Catholics were never taught how to defend their faith, so they had no answer when someone came up to them and asked them, “Are you saved?”  Or, “Have you been born again?”  Or, “Why do you Catholics call your priests ‘father’ when the Bible says ‘Call no man father?”’  Or, “Why do you Catholics say Mary was ever virgin when the Bible says Jesus had brothers and sisters?”  

       Any one of those - or dozens of other - leading questions have started many a Catholic down the path that leads straight out of the Catholic Church.  Why?  Because they were defenseless.  They didn’t know apologetics.  And do you know the kind of conflict and tension that is caused in Catholic families when a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a mother or father leaves the Faith?  And, even worse, the tension and conflict caused when these former Catholics come to a Thanksgiving or Christmas gathering of the family and sometimes talk about how Catholics are not “saved” and constantly question the faith of their family members?  

       So, not only can apologetics bring non-Catholics, and fallen-away Catholics, closer to, and even into, the faith, but it can help keep Catholics in the faith and help them to deepen their understanding and love of that faith, while enabling them to defend that faith.  Conflict and tension?  Sometimes.  But is love worth the risk?  Is bringing people to Jesus Christ in the Eucharist worth the risk?  

       I’ll close with a story about something that happened to me a few years ago.  My family and I had just moved to a new parish.  A few weeks after being there, a young lady came up to me and said, “Do you remember me?”  I told her she looked familiar, but that I couldn’t place where I knew her from.  She said, “You spoke at a Theology on Tap meeting a few years ago and I was the one who hit you with a whole bunch of questions.”  Immediately I remembered the exchange I’d had with her.  She continued, “I was Baptist at the time and I was really mad at you that night, and so I started doing a lot of research so that I could prove you wrong.”  

       In other words, my apologetics talk had caused a lot of conflict and tension.  And then she told me where that research born of conflict and tension led an RCIA program and, a few months later, into the Church.  She now receives Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.  

       So, yes, what I did caused conflict and tension.  Should I not, then, have given the talk?  Was it somehow wrong, then, to speak about the truths of the Catholic Faith in an unapologetic manner and thus upset one or more of my listeners?  Was that counterproductive to evangelization?  Well, I’ll just let the young lady who now receives Christ in the Eucharist answer those questions...     

       Here’s the thing, if we are afraid of speaking the truths of the Faith - of proclaiming them, explaining them, and defending them - because of some overblown fear of offending someone, then we will never truly be like Christ.  He spoke the truth - in season and out.  He offended people.  He afflicted people.  He was crucified for it.  And He did it all out of love. 

God Bless

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