Apologetics can never be an end unto itself. The essence must always be about the Gospel; the good news that God has made us in His image and that He loves us, and that this love exists most perfectly in the person of His Son whom He sent to us in order that we might be saved from our sins (John 3:16-17). Apologetics can be many things; a profession, a passion, an avocation, a deep desire, a meaningful hobby or activity, even a general bias of style or tone in communication depending on the skill, experience and intent of the apologist – yet like any other vehicle or medium whether music, or writing or art, it can never be the essence of what (or who!) it communicates. The container can never be the content.
I have been thinking a lot about this in particular within the context of Pope Francis’ papacy. The Holy Father has placed such a heavy emphasis on the purity of the Gospel message. His point, simply put, is that the Gospel is so attractive, so compelling and magnetic (which of course it is!) that by its very existence and by its sharing, those within the Church and those without it are called to a deeper relationship with her Spouse. In effect, he is reminding us, in a substantive way, that the Word of God is not a book, but a Person, and that He is who we are all ultimately searching for. His Holiness has ever so gently, but firmly, tilted the many-faceted jewel that is the Church to the gleam from a facet called Evangelical Joy. He does this not to suggest that the other facets of evangelization vanish, since we know that the Church has many members, and many gifts and that the charism of one particular Christian is not necessarily applicable to another (1 Cor 12: 4-31), but instead he does this to amplify the need for a real assent to, and focus on, the spirits of Joy and Mission so fundamentally necessary at this moment in our journey as a “pilgrim people” (Lumen Gentium, Ch 7).
It is true that Christian apologetics seeks to explain and defend the faith, but why does the faith need explanation or defense? By definition, true apologetics is conditional on an environment of ignorance and/or attack, an environment where explanation and defense are necessary… but that defense and explanation are individually and must collectively be oriented to the goal of sharing the Gospel. And in our apologetics, whether amateur or professional, whether in length or in brief, whether in person or via media, we must actually share the Gospel! I have experienced in myself and witnessed at times in others a proclivity of stopping short of that reality; we see a need, we take action, we explain, we defend, we rebut, and God-willing, we even resolve whatever issue may have been in question, but we don’t always follow the dynamic all the way through. It’s about winning souls, not debates or arguments, no matter how important and necessary those debates and arguments might be in clearing the way for the transmission of reason and faith.
I am certain that many of those whose digital or analog pages I frequent, came to this realization many moons ago, but for me it has been something a bit new. A new emphasis! One which I am trying now to consistently apply!
I picked up a copy of the Wall Street Journal today before a flight to Chicago. I haven’t purchased a newspaper in years, and I am not generally a fan of news content, but years ago, when I was a different person, I cared about the news of the secular world and would devote time to it much more than I do now – and at that time I was a huge fan of the WSJ. So it was perhaps a nod to nostalgia – despite the fact that I am actually not nostalgic for that time! Who knows, but I bought the paper (and incidentally was shocked to see it cost $2 – the last time I paid attention, I think I paid 75 cents!). But before checking out, I walked the aisles of the store and what I found, for the most part, was aisle upon aisle neatly arranged in honor to what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has called the “Dictatorship of Relativism” (Homily, 2005)… a veritable gallery of products dedicated to the oppression of superficiality. Magazines promoting thinner bodies, sexier this or that, money making schemes, how to have more, keep more, make more all while spending less and less time doing any one particular thing. Saving time. Doing more in less time. Collapsing time. I saw Altars to efficiency and solvency. Sacrifices to exercise and sex. Devotionals to material. A new world chapel. Nothing of the eternal was anywhere to be found in this store. No item or product to make you more apt to help your brother in need, nothing to make you more interested in looking up, instead of constantly looking at.
It reminded me of an estate sale I had gone to a couple months before in a relatively affluent neighborhood. The home, I would find out, had belonged to an older man who had recently passed away. An estate sale company was managing the flogging of every item in the home. Judging by how packed the house was with items and how undisturbed things looked, it appeared to me that no one had even walked in to claim items of sentimental value – it looked as if the owner had died and the next of kin had simply called the estate sale company, handed them the keys and now was somewhere else waiting for the proceeds. As I walked around the home of this recently-deceased person, it struck me that everything seemed so sad. The décor was decades old – the echoes of an era long gone could still be heard as I walked the hallways – A healthy layer of dust had settled on all the items in the house and there were mountains of brick-a-brack everywhere… boxes of items unopened, magazines that had never been read, popular books on meaningless topics lined the bookshelves, bottles of wine uncorked, pallets full of tools everywhere, appliances… this person may not have been a “hoarder” but the amount of “stuff” was very significant, and yet had someone handed me a bag and said “go through and take anything you like” I would have probably walked out empty handed. The things in the house were simply sad. And as I stayed longer, I started to understand why: the most notable characteristic of this home was that there was not a single religious item anywhere in the house. Nothing of the transcendent. Not a crucifix, or mantra or painting, not a Bible or single book anywhere on a topic of the eternal, or even on philosophy, or metaphysics or spirituality. Not a single picture of a family member on the walls. The home was as dead as its previous owner. Why was that the case? Even the most recalcitrant skeptic longs for something greater than themselves – they may call it the “Greater Good” or “Friends & Family” or a “Higher Order” but it leads them to value things of a transcendent nature. But not here it seemed. Why? That is when I made a discovery that saddened me further and yet answered my questions. In one corner of the house was a small room, too big to be a closet, too small to be guest quarters, where there was a book shelf, a recliner, a large TV set and a VCR. The TV set was a decade old at least, no flat screen or light weight plasma, but a gigantic, heavy, dull box sitting on the floor. The VCR was the same vintage as the TV, and to its side sat a plastic auto-rewinder of Chinese origin in the shape of a red 1957 Chevy hardtop, the kind of thing you would have seen 15 years ago at a Spencer’s Gifts or near the check-out line at a drug store where all the other “impulse” items that no one would ever consciously leave their home specifically to buy would be merchandised.
And lining the book shelf, neatly arranged, was row after row of pornography on VHS. The titles were absurd. And grotesque.
It struck me as I looked around this little room that everything was arranged for efficiency of use. The recliner was positioned directly in front of the TV less than 3 feet from the screen of the television, the bookshelf and the tapes, could have been accessed easily from a seated position, and the ’57 Chevy was positioned directly next to the VCR for immediate rewinding. This person had designed for themselves an altar, a private corner to work in their own corruption. I would never, could never, judge that person’s soul – even the most hardened sinners have turned back to God and been forgiven – but objectively what that room represented was gravely sinful and I prayed for the man’s soul and asked God to be merciful as I quickly exited the room, and the house.
When we’re focused on the world and its allurements, distracted by temptations, God’s grace cannot truly work in our hearts or in our homes. God will never tire of giving us the grace to recognize him, to believe and to love him, but we need to cooperate with Him, to be co-workers in Christ (1 Cor 3:9; 2 Cor 6:1; Romans 16:3), and take action to allow his love to be efficacious in our lives. One excellent way to ensure our cooperation is by staying close to the Sacraments and to Sacred Scripture. In this way, we can be transformed from a focus on “saving time” and “solely making profits” to “profiting our souls” by “making time to be Saved”.
Husband, Father (Bio, Adoptive, Step, Foster, Grand, God & Sponsor), Catholic Deacon, Speaker, Apologist, Evangelist, Digital Media & Advertising Professional, Writer, Business Owner, Motorcycle Enthusiast, Californian, World Traveler, Et Cetera.