A New Apologetic

The Author

Geoffrey is a catechist, cantor, and subdiaconate candidate at Our Lady's Maronite Catholic Parish in Austin, TX. He is also a Camaldolese Benedictine Oblate. As a twenty-six-year-old graduate student at Texas State University-San Marcos, he lives the evangelical counsel of poverty by force of circumstance, not by choice. When not consuming ramen noodles or writing papers, Geoffrey enjoys learning about everything. As a mathematics educator, he is passionate about teaching the next generation the skills they will need to successfully navigate a rapidly changing world. He loves science fiction literature and hopes that some of its more positive ideas will become a reality within his life time. He also blogs at http://lestweforgetourselves.wordpress.com. Check it out!

Catholic Apologetics

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:

Pope FrancisSpiritual 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.

  1. 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).
  2. 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).
  3. 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.

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  • Trenton Henrichson

    Good article. I’m not sure I agree with 1 completely but after rereading it several times I reduced my issue down to two words “and concerns” I think we do need to be concerned about the worlds problems to properly communicate Christ’s message to the world. But I thing I agree with the overall point. If we become afraid that the world is falling apart or convince ourselves Christ has placed the burden on *us* to fix it instead of accepting the Burdon entirely with the cross then we will get blown off course by our own pride/fear and anger. 3) I wholeheartedly agree with but as you have probably witnessed when I’m not blogging I struggle greatly to be “gentle and reverent” with people whom I disagree. …please pray for me… In fact I am planning to have my second post of this month focus on the “culture wars” and why I think its a misguided approach to winning hearts for Christ. But part of the reason on dragging my feet is I wonder how I will write it without being a giant hypocrite. There will necessarily be a lot of “correct people with charity and love” … “don’t follow my example”

    • Geoffrey Miller

      You raise a valid point about Principle 1. I shall revise it.

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  • Mark

    Wonderful idea that is appreciated deeply, Geoffrey.
    As a protestant (sorry, I was born that way:), I have experienced my own frustrations with my traditions tendency to caught in being defensive, reactive and overly complicated. As a seminary student, I had the opportunity to read volumes and volumes of apologetics and theological concepts until my brain turned to mush. Always looking for the “deeper meaning” and sometimes missing the obvious that is right in front of my face.
    It is interesting and perhaps ironic that Jesus’ words were very few and he spoke simply and directly. HIs longest recorded dialogue was with a Samaritan woman (not of his tradition whatsoever) who had multiple marriages and was living with a man not her husband. He told her more about who he was than he told his own disciples….and she went out and evangelized. Beautiful story.
    As a pastoral therapist, I have had and do have many, many Catholics in my practice. Often they are not there for that reason, but me being a pastor, the subject of religion comes up more often than not. What I hear a WHOLE LOT is how they are confused and befuddled by their own traditions and just how they don’t feel they are “faithful” enough or “good enough” to go to church or Mass. Not just Catholics, mind you, but people of all denominations. Somewhere the message is getting lost. As my own tradition jokes (darkly), “church is the only place that shoots their wounded”…
    It makes me sad because we spend so much time in cultural wars or worrying about “correct belief” (all churches are guilty of that) that we forget that there are people out there hurting and confused. Deeply. I have done it, too. I get caught in my head or trying to be “profound”. But my clients usually are not confused by ideologies, but just by things like “how do I get by every day?” “what does my life mean?” and “am I a bad person?”. It is often as simple as that. But very profound and core.
    As Pope Francis said, (paraphrase) when you see a patient in the hospital who is wounded you don’t check their cholesterol level. You tend their wounds” That “sound byte” (I often hear that word like it is always negative) put tears of joy to the eyes of several of my clients, Catholic, Protestant and yes, atheist.
    As a person who is quite capable of running my mouth way too much, I wholeheartedly agree that we need to sometimes simplify our message (not the same as dumbing it down) and focus on people who are hurting. Open the doors, let them feel loved and accepted. And then allow the gratitude of that love (amazing how the spirit moves from that direction) to change hearts.
    Franklin Roosevelt had “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”, John Kennedy said “ask not what you country can do for you but what you can do for your country”. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “we shall overcome”. Ronald Reagan “tear this wall down.”
    Sound bytes. Yes. But deeply remembered.
    Pope Francis said “who am I to judge?” and “communion is not a reward for good behavior”. Yes, sound bytes. Yes, there is a much larger context. No, he is not changing any dogma. But it will be remembered for years and I hear those words repeated by people I never thought would even mention anything about church at all. And that is NOT disparaging any other Pope or church leader. It just hits home, to the churched and the unchurched.
    And he sounds a lot like a certain man I know and respect and worship.
    Jesus Christ….
    Thanks, Geoffrey for your thoughts. Catholicism is beautiful and profound. Let that beauty speak loud and clearly. I can sense from experience that there are many who will flock to it…. and are.
    Grace and peace.

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