Apologetic comes from the Greek word “apologia,” which means “a speech in one’s own defense.” But let’s face it. Catholics don’t always put our best foot forward when it comes to defending our beliefs. Our apologetic can sometimes come across as somewhat angry, defensive, self-absorbed, sensationalistic, or just plain impenetrable. That doesn’t mean there aren’t diamonds in the rough—there’s plenty—but they’re mostly in the form of physical, 200+ page nonfiction books. And that’s not where the average non-Catholic young person is looking for information about Catholicism. They’re looking online, or at their local parish, or at their friends and family. And the ugliness they often find there can be truly heartbreaking.
Pope Francis calls this ugliness “spiritual worldliness.” It’s become an epidemic. The infection is spreading throughout the Body of Christ, and if we don’t overcome it, it will kill our Gospel witness to modern society. Our Pope’s words on the matter deserve to be quoted in full:
Spiritual worldliness, which hides behind the appearance of piety and even love for the Church, consists in seeking not the Lord’s glory but human glory and personal well-being. It is what the Lord reprimanded the Pharisees for: “How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (Jn 5:44). It is a subtle way of seeking one’s “own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Phil 2:21). It takes on many forms, depending on the kinds of persons and groups into which it seeps. Since it is based on carefully cultivated appearances, it is not always linked to outward sin; from without, everything appears as it should be. But if it were to seep into the Church, “it would be infinitely more disastrous than any other worldliness which is simply moral”.
This worldliness can be fuelled in two deeply interrelated ways. One is the attraction of gnosticism, a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings. The other is the self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others. These are manifestations of an anthropocentric immanentism. It is impossible to think that a genuine evangelizing thrust could emerge from these adulterated forms of Christianity. (Evangelii Gaudium, 93-94)
We need a new apologetic for the Catholic faith. One that focuses on the beauty and unity of God’s revelation rather than getting bogged down in trying to answer a million objections. We need an apologetic that doesn’t exhaust itself fighting culture wars that will never truly be resolved until the return of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We need an approach based on the following three Biblical principles of evangelization.
- The truth doesn’t need defending; the truth defends us. We need to set aside our enslavement to fears about the world’s problems. We can certainly comment on current issues, but we should not obsess over them. We must always keep our Christian spirit of joy. The Catholic faith will remain intact without us scampering to defend it from every little perceived threat that blips on the radar. We must learn to rest at peace in the truth, “and the truth will make [us] free” (Jn. 8:32).
- Our apologetic needs to emphasize the beauty of our faith. As Saint Paul instructs us, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).
- We don’t need to mock other people’s beliefs to justify our own. “But in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Pt. 3:15-16).
Together, let’s work to practice these three Gospel principles in the way we live and talk about our Catholic faith. Only then can our Church reach people effectively. After all, a new evangelization requires a new apologetic. For my own part, I have started a new blog to experiment with the concept of this new apologetic. Please, join me at Lest We Forget Ourselves, and together we can refine the art of presenting timeless truths to a modern world.