What is apologetics, and what does the word mean? The Catholic Encyclopedia has a beautiful explanation of what apologetics is:
A theological science which has for its purpose the explanation and defence of the Christian religion. Apologetics means, broadly speaking, a form of apology. The term is derived from the Latin adjective, apologeticus, which, in turn has its origin in the Greek adjective, apologetikos, the substantive being apologia, "apology", "defence"
So if apologetics is basically just giving a defense of the Faith, can any Catholic be an apologist, and do you need a degree? The Church teaches that every Catholic is called to defend the Faith and evangelize. This means you do not need to go to a Catholic university to become credited as an apologist and evangelist, but if you have an opportunity to receive a formal education in the Catholic faith, I would recommend taking the formal education opportunity. Any type of formal education in the Catholic faith is a benefit. If you can't take a college course, that is okay, self-study is ok. The only requirements that are necessary to be an apologist and evangelist includes the following:
Understand your Catholic faith
Be faithful to the authentic Teaching of the Church
Love God with your whole heart, mind, and soul
Live out your faith with zeal, so that through your faithful witness to the Gospel, souls may be drawn to Jesus and His Church by your good example
With the understanding that Catholics are called to defend the Faith and evangelize, I would like to give you some pointers and some resources to help you be successful in your task. Apologetics is complicated work, but through the grace of God, it is possible to be successful in being an instrument for Christ, which will lead souls to the authentic Teaching of His Church. My tips barely scratch the surface of apologetics, so I highly recommend learning more about apologetics through the resources which I have posted below.
The apologetic pointers are as follows:
The first area I see of importance, which I already briefly touched upon, is to know your Catholic faith very well. To do any form of apologetics successfully, you must study the authentic Teaching of the Catholic faith constantly. This does not mean you will 100% understand every mystery of the Faith by studying it. Understanding every aspect of the Faith is impossible, because the Faith is a mystery, meaning even in Heaven the Faith will be inexhaustible. So in other words, when you study the Catholic faith in order to become closer to Jesus and to defend the Faith, you will always learn something new, because the Faith is inexhaustible.
I would like to mention in this point, that if during a discussion with a non-Catholic, you do not know an answer to a question, you should never pretend to know the answer in order to not feel embarrassed. There is nothing wrong in not knowing an answer to a question. What is wrong is making up an answer in order to not feel embarrassed. What you should do is tell the non-Catholic that you do not know the answer to the question, but you will find the answer to the question and get back to him/her with the answer.
When entering into an apologetic discussion, ask the Holy Spirit to give you guidance on what to say. Also, pray daily to the the Holy Spirit in your morning prayers that throughout your day, you will proclaim the authentic teaching of the Gospel faithfully through your actions, and are compassionate to every person you encounter, so that if you encounter an individual who is trying to figure out what is truth, your witness may draw that soul to Jesus, who is truth incarnate. Lastly, if you do encounter a lost soul, remember to pray for the conversion of that person in your daily prayers.
It is necessary for Catholics to have an understanding of the beliefs of non-Catholics, so that they can become successful in showing how the beliefs of these other religions are incomplete, and that Catholicism has the fullness of the truth. This means in dealing with apologetics with Muslims for example, understanding the basic teachings of the Koran will help Catholics explain the complete truth of Catholicism in a way that a Muslim can comprehend. The same goes with those who are Jewish for example. An understanding of the basic fundamentals of the Jewish faith is essential for a fruitful dialogue.
Another important element Catholics need to remember, is that there are more differences than similarities between Catholics and those of other religious faiths (e.g., Protestants and Muslims). There are some truths in other religions, but the Catholic faith has the fullness of the truth (i.e., the fullness of Christ's Teaching). This means when Catholics enter into dialogue for unity with non-Catholics, Catholics must NEVER compromise the authentic Teaching of the Catholic faith for unity, but to achieve unity by speaking the authentic Teaching of the Catholic Church in season and out of season with compassion.
Does this mean that when Catholics enter into dialogue for unity with non-Catholics, the first course of action for Catholics to take is to talk about the differences between Catholicism and the non-Catholic religion? The answer is no! Dialogue with non-Catholics is not lecturing non-Catholics about Catholicism, but is a compassionate explanation of the Catholic faith in order to help non-Catholics see that Catholicism has the fullness of the truth. The correct course of action for Catholics to take is to start off with the areas of agreement first with the non-Catholic before talking about the differences. So for example, Catholics and Protestants both agree that Jesus; the second person of the Trinity, became a man in order to redeem us, by dying and rising from the dead. With this agreement in the divinity of Jesus and His mission of redemption, the common belief opens a door to dialogue, creating the possible setting for a working relationship between Catholics and Protestants in constructing a Culture of Life, and a friendly atmosphere that will allow a fruitful conversation between Catholics and Protestants on their different beliefs.
When entering into dialogue with other religious faiths that are not part of Christianity, such as Islam for example, Catholics must continue the process of starting off with common ground first before talking about the differences in beliefs. With Islam for example, there are way more differences in beliefs than similarities, but through starting off with the similarities first, friendship is created.
Two small examples of common beliefs between Muslims and Catholics is the belief in a one true God, and that abortion is evil. I must stress that even though Muslims and Catholics share a belief in a one true God, Muslims see this belief very differently than Christians. Muslims for example think Christians use the term "Trinity" to mean God, Mary, and Jesus; which of course is in error, and don't believe that there are three Divine Persons (Eternal Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit) in a one true God! Muslims also don't recognize the divinity of Jesus, nor do they accept that the one true God would enter into an intimate union with humanity (i.e., the incarnation of Jesus) and redeem us. Pope John Paul The Great in Crossing the Threshold of Hope, describes the differences between Islam and Christianity beautifully, by writing:
Some of the most beautiful names in the human language are given to the God of the Koran, but He is ultimately a God outside of the world, a God who is only Majesty, never Emmanuel, God-with-us. Islam is not a religion of redemption. There is no room for the Cross and the Resurrection. Jesus is mentioned, but only as a prophet who prepares for the last prophet, Muhammad. There is also mention of Mary, His Virgin Mother, but the tragedy of redemption is completely absent. For this reason not only the theology but also the anthropology of Islam is very distant from Christianity.
I must also stress, that even though Catholics and Muslims both see abortion to be evil, Catholics have the fullness of the Pro-Life teachings, while Muslims do not. For example, Muslims teach that the degree of sin incurred by an abortion varies according to the stage of pregnancy, so that less sin would be incurred if the abortion took place during the early stages, while it becomes increasingly haram (forbidden) as the pregnancy advances. Muslims even teach that Abortion can be permitted in some cases, such as aborting a disabled child, only if determined by at least two reliable medical experts, that the child will be deprived of a normal life if born. Catholics on the other hand teach that abortion at any stage of development is always mortal sin, and that disabled children are a gift from God; deserving to be born.
Through discussing the similar beliefs between Catholics and Muslims as the first topic of discussion, a friendly atmosphere will truly be created, producing a fruitful dialogue between Catholics and Muslims on their different beliefs, and create the possible setting for a working relationship between Catholics and Muslims in constructing a Culture of Life.
What makes the saints perfect role models, is that while they were explaining the authentic Teaching of the Church to the non-Catholics, the saints were courteous and compassionate to the people they were debating. The saints would never attack the personhood of a non-Catholic, only the falsehood the non-Catholic held, because the saints saw Jesus in every human person. Simply put, the saints treated everybody with respect and dignity. So if a Protestant for example believes that the Eucharist is only a symbol; not the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus, very compassionately use the authentic Teaching of the Church to unravel the Protestant's disbelief by attacking the theological error, not the person. You see, it is un-Christian to attack a person's human dignity. By only attacking error in a compassionate way, you allow the authentic Teaching of Jesus which you are presenting to hopefully inspire the soul you are debating with, to see the Catholic Church in a positive light.
When entering into a study of other faiths, so that you can enter into dialogue with them, you must protect yourself from falling into heresy and to the temptation of leaving the Catholic Church. In order to protect yourself from falling into heresy and to the temptation of leaving the Catholic Church, you must first tell your plans of study to your spiritual director, and to your Catholic family and friends. By informing your plans of studying other faiths to your spiritual director and to your Catholic family and friends, you create a spiritual support team. The purpose of a spiritual support team is to provide you with spiritual assistance, so that when you are tempted to question your Catholic faith through the study of other faiths, you are provided with the authentic Teaching of the Catholic faith through your spiritual support team, allowing you to remain faithful to the Church. You can basically consider a spiritual support team to be a spiritual lifeguard of the soul, who is there to provide a spiritual rescue if needed.
Sometimes it is necessary to make the authentic Teaching of the Church palatable to a non-Catholic, by cloaking the authentic Teaching of the Church in secular/common sense terminology. Simply put, you explain the authentic Teaching of the Church by using common sense examples. For example, let us say a Protestant says to you, "Why must I be a Catholic to receive the Eucharist?", and a secularist says to you, "Why is it wrong to have premarital sex?" By using a simplistic common sense approach, you can disguise the authentic Teaching of the Church in a palatable way to help the individual understand Catholicism. So here are some examples of disguising the authentic Teaching of the Church in secular/ common sense terminology:
Q. Why must I be a Catholic to receive the Eucharist?
A. If a Person from another country moved to America legally without becoming a citizen, should he/she be allowed to vote? Of course not! The act of voting speaks a language of submission to the authority of the Constitution. This means if a non-American citizen voted, he/she would be speaking a language of perjury, because that non-American citizen is doing a constitutional act which he/she has no authority to do. Only American citizens have the constitutional authority to vote for political candidates in America. To be empowered by the Constitution to vote, citizenship is required.
When a Catholic says Amen to the statement, "The body of Christ", he/she is saying that he/she believes in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, that he/she wants to submit himself/herself to the authority of Jesus Christ through the Catholic Church, that he/she wants unity with Jesus and fellow Catholics, and that he/she believes all of the doctrines of the Church. So if a non-Catholic received the Eucharist without becoming a Catholic, it would be like a non-American citizen voting in an American election. Simply put, become an American to vote in America, and become a Catholic to receive the Eucharist in the Catholic Church. (Read "Who Can Receive Communion?" for more information.)
Q. Why is it wrong to have premarital sex?
A. It is wrong to have premarital sex, because sexual intercourse speaks a language of commitment. For what is the purpose of sexuality? The purpose of sex is to physically express (sexual intercourse) the love between a married man and woman, in order for the possibility of a child to be conceived. By having a man and a woman express their love for each other before marriage, where is the commitment? Is it not true that sex says, "I give my entire self to you, my beloved?" Sadly, our society says that the biological stimulus of sexual intercourse is everything, and that being promiscuous produces a satisfying lifestyle. The truth about promiscuity, is that it is destroying society. Just look at the following examples in what sexual promiscuity has produced: a rise in no fault divorce, an increase in sexually-transmitted diseases, the acceptance of abortion and contraception, and the huge financial support from the public towards the sex industry (e.g., "Playboy" magazine). Is this what we want sexual pleasure to lead to, the collapse of society?
Through common sense, we can see that the pleasure in sexual intercourse is not the biological stimulus as an end in itself, but is in the self donation of spouses to each other; open to life. In other words, satisfying sex can only be found between a married man and a woman who are open to conceiving babies. (Read "Theology of The Body" for more information.)
Q. Do Catholics worship Mary?
A. Catholics do not build statues of Mary in order to worship her. Just like how Americans build statues of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington to honor their heroic deeds, Catholics make tributes to Mary in order to honor her heroic deeds as well. It is important to mention that when Catholics honor Mary, they are actually praising God for the wonderful things He did in Mary's life. God receives delight when we complement His masterpiece; the Virgin Mary, just like how an artist enjoys receiving complements for an artistic masterpiece he/she created. (Read "Hail Holy Queen" for more information.)
For you to be successful in using common sense examples to explain the authentic Teaching of the Church, you must fully understand your Catholic faith. Also, you must pray to the Holy Spirit to help you cloak the authentic Teaching of the Church in secular/common sense terminology. It is also important to mention, that cloaking the teachings of the Catholic Church, can also be done through using culture as a tool to evangelize. The Church throughout history, has constantly used beautiful elements within a nation's culture, as a vehicle to spread the Gospel. For example, the pagan Roman Empire became the Christian nation of Italy, thanks to the Catholic Church. Catholicism always elevates and sanctifies the beautiful elements within a pagan culture, transforming it into a Christian society.
Sadly, we live in a time where our Christian culture is reverting to paganism. Our people are embracing immorality, and are not being properly educated; turning into a society of low-information people, who are more interested in what is happening in Hollywood, than reading the Catechism for example. We need to be creative on how we engage the New Evangelization. Using the beautiful aspects within culture, such as literature as a tool to condition an individual to be open to studying the Catholic faith in greater detail; is an example of how we can use stealth Catholicism to evangelize! "The Lord of the Rings" is a beautiful example of how fiction can be used in a way that disguises Catholic teaching, making it palatable for a non-Catholic to be open for further study of the Faith. So use the good things in culture, as a tool to cloak the teachings of Christ; making it palatable to evangelize the joy of the Gospel ("Fides et Ratio" Paragraphs 70-72 by St. Pope John Paul II).
As St. Pope John Paul II constantly reminded us; "be not afraid". The examples I have given for this point, are just the tip of the iceberg. Doing stealth evangelizing and apologetics, can look complicated, but if you love Jesus with your whole heart, you can accomplish anything!
It is important for you to remember that when a non-Catholic is converted to the Catholic faith through a successful debate, the person who did the apologetics is not the one who converted the individual, Christ did. Through using people as His instruments, Jesus is the one who converts and saves people. To help illustrate my point, the following analogy can be applied:
Catholics can be thought of as salesmen in Christ's company (i.e., the Catholic Church). Christ can be thought of as being the CEO and President of His company, who has the patent rights of His product (i.e., the Catholic faith). In view of the fact that a salesman's job is to tell a shopper everything about his/her product in order to make a shopper interested in making a purchase, our job as salesmen is kind of similar. For us Catholics, our job as salesmen is to only tell people what the product (i.e., the Catholic faith) is. Simply put, our responsibility is to only present the authentic Teaching of the Church in love, so that souls will freely be drawn to Jesus through our faithful witness to Christ. Since Christ is in management, He is the boss and is in control of the conversion process, meaning He is the one who closes the sale (i.e., converts people) and profits from the sale (i.e., receives a soul into His fold).
It is important to mention that since the conversion process belongs to the Holy Spirit, this process of conversion happens on God's time, not our time. This means that the conversion process can take years to happen. There is also a possibility that conversion may not happen at all, because every human being has the free will to reject God. We must always remember that God desires every human being to spend eternity with Him, and will do everything to help that person choose Him. God will never force Himself upon us, because we were not made to be robotic followers. The decision to accept or reject God is ours. So let us pray daily that non-Catholics choose Jesus and the Catholic Church.
Here are some apologetic resources to help you:
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