Apologize and Don't Be Sorry!

A site dedicated to thinking through the common objections to the Catholic Faith as well as questions of a general religious nature.

Location: Prague, Oklahoma, United States

Just your basic 21st century priest trying to bring the Gospel to everyone who will give it a fair hearing.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

The Definition of Apologetics

In recent years, there has been a literal outburst of material concerning apologetic approaches to the Catholic Faith. The authors of these books and tracts have been either converts from various Protestant ecclesial communities or “reverts,” people who defected from the Catholic Faith only to return to the open arms of Holy Mother Church. Their experiences lead them to write about how they became Catholic and how they overcame the obstacles to embracing the fullness of the Christian Faith in the Catholic Church. But this begs the question. What is apologetics?

The word “apology” evokes, in most minds, an act of contrition and amends-making over wrongs done. This however, is only one side of the word. The older sense of the word means to make a reasoned explanation and defense for one’s actions and belief. It is in this sense that St. Justin Martyr and Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman used it when penning their great apologies. In the second century, the Roman world viewed the Christian Faith as seditious and an act of treason against the state. The Church lived underground. Naturally, because Christians kept to themselves and the powers that be encouraged hostility toward Christians, rumors and misconceptions concerning the Faith began to circulate. To combat these errors, St. Justin (d. 165 A.D.) began to debate with pagan philosophers of his time. When he saw the cruelty the agents of the Emperor heaped upon his fellow Christians, St. Justin penned the first apology. It was his hope that the apology would win some relief for those undergoing persecution. That was not meant to be. St. Justin meets a martyr’s fate, being beheaded. From this apology, we gain tremendous insight not only into the Faith but also a glimpse of liturgical practice of the time.

Our own times resemble the second century. The media and the entertainment industries see in the faith and the faithful an object of ridicule. If one lives the faith courageously and obviously, others advise him against becoming a “fanatic.” Our separated Christian brethren pass on the same confusion concerning the Catholic Church that they themselves received. Our age needs committed Christians. Our age needs literate Christians who can make clear the reason for their hope in Christ. In many ways, this is a role particularly suited to the laity. When I speak about the faith, it has a limited effect. The Roman collar creates the expectation that this guy “has to toe the party line.” Average Joe Parishioner being able to explain the faith over a cup of coffee or in the local supermarket impresses much more. It sounds counter intuitive, but it is the state of affairs.

If you live the faith with any degree of seriousness, people are going to come to you for information. The world hungers desperately to know God, but they don’t know how to enter into contact with him. This means that ALL Catholics must equip themselves to speak and defend the faith whenever the chance presents itself. There are three simple steps to becoming an effective apologist. First, study the faith. St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote, “One cannot give what one does not possess.” If you are confused about what the Church teaches, there is no way that you can effectively defend what she teaches. Start with the Catechism and dip into it through the topics that interest you. After you gain familiarity with its language and forms, read it from cover to cover. Another useful book is Karl Keating’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism from Ignatius Press. He addresses well the basic issues that separate Catholics and “Bible Only” Christians. Second, pray the faith daily. If you only know about the faith and the person of Christ, then your apologetic effort will lack vital force. We are most effective when we speak about someone we know. Through the life of prayer, we come to know God, to bask in the intimacy of his inner life. And it is important that this is a daily activity. Imagine what state your marriage would be in if you spoke to your beloved spouse once a week and for an hour only. Yet that is how so many Christians approach the Mass and the life of prayer. Third, frequent the sacraments and live the faith. Americans do not respond well to abstraction. Further, one cannot say “I possess the faith” if he is not first possessed by the faith. When one lives the faith well, it becomes “incarnated” in virtues promoted and the graces received. From this budding apologist finds strength sufficient to proclaim Christ.


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