There, I’ve said it. I’ve admitted it. And now you can go back to your regularly scheduled last-Saturday-of-summer barbeque or your back-to-school shopping and forget all about it.
I, however, cannot.
I don’t intend to show up at a family get-together and witness through words to my Catholic faith. I’d much rather blend in, discuss the weather and whatever book my nose is in and how the kids are growing, changing, and cracking me up. I prefer for my witness to happen by how I’m acting and how I’m living (though there’s arguably more pressure there, huh?).
My conversion to Catholicism has been ongoing. It was never one moment or even one series of moments. I wasn’t completely sold on Catholicism when I walked into the church for the Easter vigil when I was baptized and confirmed. I had an attitude, in fact, about the whole thing.
“Yeah, I’m here,” I muttered in my head to God, “but I don’t have to be. I could walk out at any time. So THERE.” And mentally I stuck out my tongue at him and wiggled my fingers in my ears.
During the year that I went through the RCIA process, I refused to do any extra reading, to research anything on my own. “If this is such a great thing,” I told God, “then it’s gotta just come to me. So THERE.”
(It still amazes me that I have made it this far, as big as my mental attitude has been. Why haven’t I been slapped upside the head by a lightening bolt or something?)
To me, therefore, it makes perfect sense that I have a natural DISinclination toward apologetics. Apologetics is for the experts, for the people with degrees, for the people who can remain calm in the face of a tempestuous discussion. I cannot remain calm, cool, or unruffled: I get bothered and I stay up at night and I speak too quickly. I forget all about charity in my need to be (and conviction that I am) right.
The most convincing witness to me, at all stages of my conversion, is the example of others, the way people live their faith, as opposed to how they talk about it. As a person with a gift for gab, actions are still the screaming proof I need.
When I say I hate being an apologist, I mean I hate defending my faith to people who are just looking to pick a fight. In fact, I have a whole repertoire of ways to get out of these situations. I don’t like these “heated discussions” (because they’re not “fights,” after all, at least not to the people starting them, though they always feel that way to me). I squirm, in part because I’m pretty sure I can’t win. I fidget, because I know that I can only plant seeds, not win hearts. I feel embarrassed, because I know they won’t change their mind and I won’t change mine. (So what’s the point of hashing it out, especially if we’re not going to be nice about it?)
Last night, though, during a long discussion with someone I love very dearly, who was asking me how I would have responded to just such a situation as the ones I most try to avoid, I couldn’t help but realize that we are all apologists, just as we are all catechists. We pass on our faith, whether we want to or not. We are living witnesses, no matter what life we’re living. We are teaching and testifying to who we are and what we stand for, and people are watching and listening.
So…am I going to be accidental about it or pay attention? And when the situation arises, can I turn myself over to the Holy Spirit to use me as He needs to?
The problem with apologetics is as you say: often it comes up with people who are just looking to pick a fight. I hate that, too. I’m not a debator. I have the knowledge now and the resources and even the degree, but I prefer to evangelize through simple discussion, answering questions, teaching, etc. Not in “defense” but rather, in outreach. That is a very different thing.
We are all called to give witness. I think it’s in 1 Peter, paraphrasing, we must all be ready to give witness to the reason for our hope. In WORDS. That doesn’t mean one has to be defensive, but simply able to share the joy that comes only from Christ.
And when that’s needed…the Holy Spirit will help, although perhaps in ways one wouldn’t always expect!
Oh, and part of apologetics is also knowing when to bow out and keep your pearls instead of casting them before the swine who seek only to trample them underfoot. 😉
As my SIL from New Orleans would say, Adoro, True Dat. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your wisdom.
Hi Sarah! Thank you for your candour! It is refreshing. There have been times in my life that I wasted a lot of time myself trying to convince those that did not want to be convinced of the truth. In time I realized that they did not possess the kind of intellectual honesty that could be labelled “good will”. Now I save my words for those with whom I can have an honest discussion. Nevertheless, I think you would agree with what the late Cardinal Avery Dulles said: “The living testimony of believers rather than philosophical arguments are what is needed today. In former days we focused on ‘how we get to God’; today it is more important to understand ‘how God comes to us'”. And I do think our personal–and candid–sharing of how God is acting in our life can be a huge source of inspiration and support to those around us. In keeping with this, may I please add a book for you to share with all those you love to share books with? It is called ‘Graffiti On My Soul’ by Johanna, and if you need convincing that faith is important and relevant in one’s life, this memoir, an experience of God-with-us even (and especially!)in the darkest moments of lifebook, may do the trick. It is funny, raw, mystical and real. Check it out at http://www.eloquentbooks.com/GraffitiOnMySoul.html
This is one of your best articles yet, Sarah! I am NOT a Catholic….just a believer…yet the more I read your articles, the more I wonder just what the difference is between “Catholic” and what I believe! Seemingly, not too much! I too despise argumentative discussions about my faith, because they are a waste of time! I cannot “convince” someone to believe….only the Holy Spirit can do that. I can only be a vessel through which the Holy Spirit can channel God’s call to someone who does not believe. However, it is my responsibility to allow the Holy Spirit to work. Altho none of my family and many of my friends would not believe this, I am basically shy and do not want someone to dislike me …yet many do…and I’d rather have my crown in Heaven…. than my laurels here on earth. I’m hoping that all of us, as believers…whether Catholic, or believers in the trinity with Christ as the Head, will unite to spread our faith before it is too late! God bless you, Sarah, for using your “gift of gab” to so clearly describe and spread your faith. May He use you to bring many, many souls into the Kingdom.
Sarah, well done. I too am a reluctant apologist because I am not a very good spontaneous debater. Those few times I have been confronted have been times the other was looking to “get me” so I would leave my heathen Catholic ways. I have a couple of short one-liners I have developed to fend off the preliminary questions, such as “I follow my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” and just repeat that with subsequent questions. It affirms my faith and stops the aggressive behavior. Not everyone is a debater and I am not one in that type of arena. Count me along with you.
This is a germane topic for me right now. I haven’t been a practicing Catholic for two decades; and prior to that my only exposure to the church was at school. Yet recently I find myself explaining Catholic doctrine and defending the Church on a regular basis.
I’m still trying to figure out how I got here and where it’s going.