Thursday, April 22, 2010

What is Apologetics?

The word "apologetics" comes from the Greek word "apologia" (sometimes spelled "apologeia") which means "to speak in defense" or "to give reason". The meaning of the word, in contemporary times, has become closely associated with saying "sorry", and when we have gone to offer an apology or ask for one, we do or receive just that: a "sorry" response. What we're really asking for or giving, however, when we make or receive an apology, is an explanation or reason. No, apologetics does not mean that we say sorry to other people for being Catholic!

Apologetics means that we speak in defense of our beliefs and to give reason(s) for the beliefs we hold to.

What's the biblical basis for apologetics? In his letters, St. Peter exhorts all Christians to always be ready to offer a reason for the hope that lives them (and that of course means us):

"But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you." - 1 Peter 3:15

... and the following verse which tells us to make this defense in an honourable manner:

"But with modesty and meekness, having a good conscience: that whereas they speak evil of you, they may be ashamed who falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ." - 1 Peter 3:16

When speaking in defense of our faith or giving reason(s) for the beliefs we hold to, what's not important is how much or how little we know, but how we use what we do know. It is possible to win the debate but lose the soul, so to speak. Unfortunately, while we can have a zeal for our faith and want to take every opportunity to give reason(s) for the hope that we have, we can do so in a manner that, in a sense, puts a lot of people off and does more harm than good. It's a bit like that "fire and brimstone" approach: "Repent, or you're going to burn in Hell!" Now, the underlying message there is true, but its delivery leaves much to be desired.

For apologetics to be truly effective, the apologist has to reach and speak to people where they're at and appeal to a certain logic and reasoning. For some, yes, it may be very effective to play scripture tennis and hurtle verses back and forth to each other. For others it may be most effective to use philosophy and reason with others perhaps by using a scientific approach. But here's the thing: no everyone's an expert on scripture, not everyone's a philosopher, and not everyone's a scientist. At best, the average person has a base level understanding of those three facets. The key is to work to what you know best and take opportunities to broaden your knowledge on a range of subject matter and always, always, always remember to give reason with "modesty and meekness": never be rude, never offend anyone intentionally, never palm-off arguments without basis (e.g. like when some might say, "That's stupid!" or "You're being silly now"), etc., but always do the following:

- Even when others are being rude to you, keep your cool; 
- It never hurts to ask someone to expound or to provide more information if they can (be prepared to do the same if you are giving reason);
- Paraphrase to clarify and confirm what another is saying to you;
- Read, research and reflect; and
- Pray and prepare!

Most importantly, it's never bad to say "I'm not sure about that" as long as it is always followed up with "... but I'm going to find out for you". These are the hallmarks of a good apologist.

Never be sorry for what you believe in, but always be ready to give reason for it.

May truth prevail.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Reflections on the recent clerical-abuse scandal...

As a very devout Catholic myself I often find myself answering questions shrouded in the context of the clerical-abuse scandal, and my non-Catholic Christian friends especially love to question my devotion to the Catholic faith in light of the apparent “corruption” within the Holy See.

A simple mantra that I have learned to live by whenever the Church has been attacked or I have been persecuted for my faith because of the reprehensible actions of other Catholics, is this:

“Don’t leave Peter because of Judas”.

Sin is sin; it is never to be tolerated, but in saying that we must demonstrate great compassion and love for the sinner. A good Christian should never tolerate such behaviour, but is leaving the Church the answer? Will that solve all or any of its problems?

As Catholics we have to remember that the Church itself - the church that Christ himself established - is perfect. It’s men (sic.), however, are not.

Christ promised himself that “... the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18) and it is through unfailing faith of the human body of the Church that it will see through this storm. 

What our priests and all of our clergy need is prayer, not blame.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

50 subscribers!

This is something of a milestone in Youtube-land...

Feel free to submit a question via my Youtube channel for a video response.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Introducing the latest edition to the Spiteri family:

Emilia Ruth Spiteri
Born: April 9, 2010 @ 9:42pm
7lbs. 2.5oz, 51.5cm from head to toe.

Both mum and baby are doing very well, and will hopefully be home tomorrow!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

How often should we forgive?

In Matthew 18:21-22, St. Peter posed the question to Christ: "Lord, how often shall my brother offend against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?" and Jesus answers with this: "I say not to thee, till seven times; but till seventy times seven times" (Douay-Rheims Bible).

Seventy times seven times? So we need to forgive as often as 490 times? In a single day, that means forgiving one individual as often as around 20 times an hour, and let me tell you: if you're being hurt by someone you know that often in a single hour, then you've got problems on your hands, and if you're willing to even put up with a person offending you that often in that short amount of time, then you're to be applauded for your saintly patience! But I digress...

How should we read into this figure of "seventy times seven times"? Is this a ball-park figure Jesus was giving us? Was this figure all we needed to fulfil to ensure that we were forgiving others? The short answer is 'no'.

What's important to realise about the way Christ often spoke to his followers, was that he would speak using hyperbole. A hyperbole is an extravagant statement, an obvious exaggeration or a figure of speech. Christ uses hyperboles fairly often. Another notable example of this is in Mark 9:47 where Jesus speaks of plucking out ones eye (and earlier mentioned your hand or foot) if it causes you to sin. Jesus does not expect us to literally pluck out an eye or amputate a hand or foot if they cause us to sin, but rather to scrutinise those things which lead us to sin in the first place, be it a bad habit, temptation, a friend or an acquaintance, certain websites, certain programs on television, certain content on the internet, etc. But on the other hand, things like temptations can lead us to do good things, so denying one self of all temptations may not be ideal lest promptings to do good for others and yourself not be done. What Christ asks of us in this instance is to be aware of the things that cause us to sin and discern them with a degree of scrupulosity. Much in the same way certain websites on the internet promote good, holy and positive messages so cutting yourself off from the internet may not also be ideal and may, in some cases, be detrimental to our mental and spiritual well-being. Obviously if there's a particular website, e.g. a porn site, that causes you to sin, then the best thing to do would be to block access to that particular website (Blogger's note: if you suffer from a porn addiction yourself, there is help available). The point is that work on that which causes us to sin until it causes us to sin no more, and as Christ teaches through his hyperbole, drastic measures may at times need to be taken!

Back to St. Peter's question...

So how often should we forgive? Well, there is no specific amount of times we should forgive those in our lives and around us. What Jesus is trying to tell us is to always be prepared to forgive others for wrong-doing. Just as our Father in Heaven is willing to forgive us as willing as often as we are willing to ask for forgiveness, we should also be prepared to forgive as often as those around us are prepared to ask for forgiveness. But being prepared to forgive also means being willing to forgive even before a friend or loved one asks for forgiveness as well, thus Christ's emphasis on a high frequency of forgiveness. The focal point is placed on the readiness to forgive until the matter is settled within our own heart.

The bottom line: always be ready to forgive, and forgive each other as the Lord forgives us (Colossians 3:13)!