It is an unfortunate reality that a majority of Catholics in the world today cannot adequately explain and defend the faith that they hold dear to. Catholics are very good at "being" Catholic, but there are those in the world today who want nothing more than for Catholics churches around the world to have empty pews and Catholics must be able to make a solid defense.
Apologetics. What is it and why we need it. Before I get into the meat of this presentation I want to share a little bit about myself to give you some context. I am, as the program indicates, an apologist. I wasn’t always an apologist; so let me tell you where it all began.
I was born and raised in a traditional Catholic Maltese family. Malta, as you may or may not be aware, was one of the many places St. Paul visited in his journeys, but with Malta he was shipwrecked. Let me read to you this account found in the Book of Acts, just after St. Paul had been delivered as prisoner to a centurion named Julius in Acts 27:
“After we had escaped, we then learned that the island was called Malta. And the natives showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, when a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, ‘No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.’ He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They waited, expecting him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead; but when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.” - Acts 28:1-6
And they since that day that the vipers (the snakes) In Malta have never since been venomous.
Malta, prior to the visit of St. Paul was a pagan nation; a place of many gods from the Neolithic age. The Maltese were devout and highly superstitious yet Christianity influenced the Maltese people very quickly and deeply. So much so that up until a matter of years ago, Malta was 100 per cent Catholic (nowadays it’s more like 90 per cent); Catholicism is the official religion of the country. Malta was a country untouched and unaffected by the Protestant Reformation. The Maltese remain devout to the Catholic faith and the only challenge they face in this era is globalisation; the influence of non-Catholic Christian faith traditions and non-Christian religions, i.e. Islam. By the grace of God Malta overcame the Ottoman invasion in 1565AD thanks to the Knights Hospitallers and the Spanish Empire. Malta’s Catholic way of life was under siege and under threat. The Knights Hospitallers - also known as the Knights of the Order of St. John, of which I am a descendant - defended that Catholic faith of the island and people of Malta.
So this is my history; I am descendant of Catholic knights; defenders of the Catholic faith. And as I went through the years I found myself defending myself in a variety of ways. As a school kid I was bullied for being “odd” or “different”, and as a young Catholic I defended my devotion to my faith. At this very Catholic College, I was mocked and ridiculed for attending Mass every Friday morning before classes and I was even mocked for choosing to read the Bible during free time in Religious Education classes! As a matter of fact by the time graduation came around I was voted the one most likely to become a priest, something I wish I had taken as a compliment at the time. This was and is the kind of world we live in; we are under attack for merely practicing our faith! But more about that in a moment; more on how I came to be an apologist…
I’ve always had a love for fact and for truth. I remember as a youngster being handed a book by my mother. It wasn’t a book about Christianity or religion; the title was ‘1000 Questions and Answers’. And as the title suggests there was in that book 1000 questions and answers. During school holidays and weekends when my brothers were either fighting over the Commodore 64 or fighting outside over who had to get the cricket ball that landed over the fence, I was reading that book. I must have read that book from cover to cover a dozen times whilst I had it and took in pretty much everything. I could tell you when the Battle of Hastings was (1066AD), when the Gutenburg Press was invented (1439AD), and when the Chinese invented and utilised gun powder (9th century AD), etc., etc. I was and still am a seeker and lover of truth and this is why I am madly and deeply passionate about my Catholic faith today; I am a lover of Catholic truth.
Now speaking of defense of the Catholic faith - and I know you’ve been waiting to hear it now - the answer to the pressing question: What is apologetics?
The word “apologetics” comes from the Greek word “apologia” which - when translated literally form classical Greek - means “to give reason” or “to give a defense”. So the next time your spouse does something wrong and offers an apology with a simple “sorry”, you tell them “No… not good enough; I want an explanation!” But no, an apologist is not someone who goes around saying “sorry” for being Catholic. “Hi, I’m Catholic… sorry!” or “Sorry; I’m Catholic”. No! A Catholic apologist is someone who gives reason or gives a defense for the Catholic faith; they explain and defend Catholicism because Catholicism has many critics and many enemies. Do I need to give a few examples? Where do I start?
- Non-Catholic Christians;
- Secular society; and
- Particular forms of government
… just to name a few, and we might brand these group under the title of “anti-Catholic”. But it’s not just enemies outside of the city gates that criticise and attack. How many of you have had fellow Catholics attack a particular doctrine or discipline of the Church? So yes: even our Catholic brothers and sisters may call us to give a defense, and on what matters? And these are Catholics who may have been poorly taught and catechised over the years, or simply have not bothered to seek out the answers themselves from a reliable Catholic source.
The questions may be about why Catholics have to go to Mass every Sunday, why the Holy See has apparently “done nothing” (and they have taken measures) about clergy found guilty of sexual abuse, or why the Church apparently hates gay people (for the record, it doesn't; we're just opposed to homosxual behaviour and other sins, the things that Christ came to save us from).
Unfortunately the people asking these questions have not even bothered to go to a reliable Catholic source for the answer. They move with the grain; they follow the popular media, they would rather listen to a well-meaning, softly spoken, concerned, and Jesus-loving, “I just wanna help you get saved” anti-Catholic than an educated Catholic him or herself! They’re worried about Catholic “bias”. Excuse me?!? What about the anti-Catholic bias? And since when was “bias” such a dirty thing? I am a biased Catholic because I love my Catholic Church biasedly! I’m pro-Catholic! Amen??
Let me put this in perspective just on the whole “bias thing”: if you’re sick and you go to a doctor, you’re going to want to find out what’s wrong with you; the doctor is going to be biased because he or she knows what they’re talking about! You’re there for the truth, right?!? If I don’t hear what I like I’m not going to accuse the doctor of being biased; all I want as a seeker of truth is accuracy and consistency, and if more questions spring from my original questions then Amen… a further opportunity for me to learn and understand more. And isn’t that what we want? Answers? The truth? Don’t let Jack Nicholson fool you; YOU CAN HANDLE THE TRUTH! You wouldn’t be seeking it in the first place if you thought you couldn’t handle it. And if it’s not what you wanted to hear, deal with it, because I promise you it’s a golden opportunity to ask more questions. As scripture says:
“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” - John 8:32
And they don’t speak about the Catholic Church as having the “fullness of truth” right? Amen? And being of the “fullness of faith”? Amen?
So why apologetics? What’s the scriptural motivation for it? I can guarantee you that your average atheist or anti-Catholic would prefer for Catholics to just be seen and not heard, like that old adage: “live and let live”. I’m sorry, but that just screams “I choose to sit on the fence” to me. Guess who owns the fence, folks, and it’s not God! But scripture - and not to mention the Church herself (it is in fact Church law)- actually exhorts us to defend our faith and have answers for those who bring it to question:
“… 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.” - 1 Peter 3:15
And I’ll talk about that “gentleness and reverence” a bit later, but Church law - and I’ve become somewhat of a geek for canon law over the last few months, and when I read this I just about jumped out of my socks:
Can. 748 §1 All are bound to seek the truth in the matters which concern God and his Church; when they have found it, then by divine law they are bound, and they have the right, to embrace and keep it.
That’s the “always be prepared…” part. As Catholics we have an obligation to seek truth in Catholic matters. How many of you can honestly say that you proactively seek for the truth? Do you go out of your way? Do you search unrelentingly? Unfortunately many Catholics today are perfectly content with “coasting along”. If the majority of us Catholics are good at anything, it’s being sacramental, i.e. going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist, getting married in the Catholic Church, attending Confession, and so on, but do the majority of the Catholics know why they should be doing these things? Imagine if one day you’re asked by an anti-Catholic of some stripe and they ask you, “Why do you attend the Catholic Mass?” Guess what: responding to them with just “Because I want to” as noble and admirable as that answer may be, it’s not enough! Right now I want a Double Whopper with Cheese but that doesn’t tell you why I want one. Always be prepared …
Can. 748 §2 It is never lawful for anyone to force others to embrace the catholic faith against their conscience.
This is the “… yet do it with gentleness and reverence” part. To force someone to be Catholic is not what apologetics is all about or how evangelisation works. Apologetics is about presenting the truth; winning debates and arguments in pursuit of the truth, yes, but straight talking truth. Nothing more, nothing less. Present the facts, and do it respectfully. I’ve seen other Catholics engage in debates and while they were knowledgeable, they were downright arrogant and belittled the other person. Jesus didn’t win anyone over by being rude; he was quick and witty, yes, but he spoke the truth; the bare bones truth; that’s how he won hearts over. For us, we present the truth and make an attempt to make others fully Catholic on an intellectual level; the Holy Spirit does the rest.
So why do we need apologetics? So many are opposed to Catholicism today both on an intellectual and spiritual level. We need fired up Catholics to defend the faith in the spirit that the Church exhorts all its faithful, that is to know your religion and always be prepared to make a defense in a gentle and reverent manner. And the key to apologetics is not to know everything, but even to know a few things very well and work with those; you can always learn more later. And if there ever is something you don’t know about, don’t side step the question. You will win hearts over sooner by being honest, and believe me: even in my years of teaching I’ve had to use this one a few times. It’s as simple as saying, “I don’t know the answer to that question right now, but I’m going to find the answer for you”. The trademark of a good apologist is their desire to always want to know and learn more. And to conclude I would like to leave you with something Bishop Fulton J. Sheen once said which sums up the need to defend our Catholic faith today:
“There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church.”
Audio of my presentations and others from the congress will be available for purchase from the Flame Ministries International online store very, very soon.