Tag Archives: Apologetics

The evangelical force hiding in plain sight

For decades, Catholics have been working to evangelize neighbors and the broader culture. Unfortunately, we have limited what evangelization means to a very narrow skill set, namely, apologetics. Shortly after publishing my book, Nudging Conversions: Bringing Those You Love Back to the Church, I spoke with a friend about her lukewarm husband. “If only I could find the right argument,” she said to me. So many of us tend to think this way – that evangelization is merely an argument to be won. This was my thinking for years and a motivation behind my doctorate in philosophy. I was rudely awakened by the realization that we truly live in a post-logical, post-rational culture, and even the most perfectly argued points will often miss their intended mark.

Shifting gears, I’ve spent years trying to get to what really works. More than anything, evangelization boils down to relationships. Successful business owners know this, and business book after business book points to the fact that it isn’t intelligence that makes success, but good people edified by good relationships.

As a result of the emphasis of apologetics over relationships, as Catholics, we have overlooked a most promising source of evangelization: women. Women have an incredible capacity to form relationships and to share their faith. Historically, the Church is dotted with Margarets, Theresas, Catherines, Monicas, and Bridgets, who have passed their faith on to their families and neighbors. Moreover, women are the very soil of every civilization. We have to ask how we have been cultivating them.

As I explore in my book, The Anti-Mary Exposed, our culture has embraced decadence largely because of the overwhelming influence magazines, daytime television, Hollywood, and pop music have had upon all women. We don’t notice it because it seems normal, but the corruption of our culture wasn’t because women were reading Marx and Margaret Sanger, but because they were reading Cosmo and Vogue while listening to Madonna and Beyoncé. These are the kinds of sources that have led to our post-logical culture.

By contrast, there are organizations for Catholic women, but they pale in comparison to the tsunami of secular information that paints the pro-choice woman as stylish, smart, and happy, while Catholic women are frequently depicted as out-of-touch, poorly educated, and door-matty. Far too many have bought into this narrative.

Truly supporting and cultivating healthy Catholic women needs to become a priority, with the reminder that simply by living and sharing the faith, WE are evangelizing. We need to go on the offense instead of always feeling like we are merely defending the faith. We need to know that our homes, our families, our warmth, and compassion are gifts to the culture and that they are beautiful, compelling, and vitally important. How much easier it is to share the faith when we realize it isn’t something to be hidden or ashamed of, but an incredible gift to be shared.

This was the approach I took with my co-authors, Noelle Mering and Legate Megan Schrieber, in our book, Theology of Home. Women love the visual, coupled with engaging content, as evidenced by the still-robust print magazine industry. Historically, there has been no greater patron of the arts than the Church. Additionally, years of philosophy and theology ensure that we can answer the questions of why and not just how to live and love. We would love to see more projects like this proliferate to truly give women alternatives beyond the checkout stand.

Catholic women can do the important and rich work of evangelizing; we just need to be reminded that it isn’t what we think it is, and we aren’t who they say we are.

CARRIE GRESS has a doctorate in philosophy from The Catholic University of America. She is the author of seven books, including her most recent, The Anti-Mary Exposed and Theology of Home. Carrie is also the editor of the online women’s magazine, TheologyofHome.com. Expecting her fifth child, Carrie and her family live in Virginia.

On battling Arianism: then and now

The Church has confronted a dazzling and depressing number of heresies in her long history – Gnosticism, Pelagianism, Jansenism, to name just a few – and one that for a time seemed on the verge of establishing its dark ascendancy over Christianity was Arianism.

Dr. Matthew E. Bunson

At its heart, Arianism proposed that the Son of God was not eternal but was created by the Father from nothing. Christ was thus a changeable creature, his dignity bestowed upon him as Son of God.

The heresy was condemned at the Council of Nicaea in 325 thanks in large measure to the heroic stand by St. Athanasius of Alexandria. But by the cunning of its supporters, it was rehabilitated and forced upon the common faithful by heretical Roman emperors and their ecclesiastical minions. As St. Jerome wrote during the crisis, the world “awoke with a groan to find itself Arian.”

Arianism was finally defeated in 381 at the Council of Constantinople through the unflagging labors of several Fathers and Doctors of the Church, including St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Gregory of Nyssa.

It would be a mistake, however, to think that heresy – especially the Arian heresy – is a relic of the past that cannot happen again. In fact, we are seeing a resurgence of it today. The great historian and Catholic apologist Hilaire Belloc once observed, “As all heresies necessarily breathe the air of the time in which they arise, and are necessarily a reflection of the philosophy of whatever non-Catholic ideas are prevalent at that moment they arise, Arianism spoke in the terms of its day.”

And our times are a most fertile environment for a kind of NeoArianism. Original Arianism taught that Jesus was a mere creature, while today’s version exists in a therapeutic, materialistic, and secularizing culture that also rejects a Jesus Who is the Son of God and the Second Person of the Trinity. Instead, He is a revolutionary who called for Marxist liberation against existing power structures, or He is a kind of guru or teacher who encourages us toward a journey of spiritual exploration that demands neither repentance nor even an awareness of sin. If He was divine at all it is because He was able to “self-actualize his divine potential,” and He most certainly never intended to establish a Church, because after all, since we are more spiritual than religious we don’t need a Church to limit our freedom with rules and judgement.

Neo-Arians are found in great numbers today even in the Church. As Fr. Dwight Longenecker wrote several years ago in the National Catholic Register, “The difference between Arius and the modern heretics is that Arius was actually explicit in his teaching. The modern heretics are not. They inhabit our seminaries, our monasteries, our rectories and presbyteries. They are the modernist clergy who dominate the mainstream Protestant denominations and who are too many in number within the Catholic Church as well.”

What is the antidote?

It is the same as it was in the 4th century. We begin by deepening our own knowledge of the Faith, by proclaiming Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Second Person of the Trinity. It is also vital to be willing to speak with clarity but with charity with our families, friends, and those we meet about what the Church actually teaches and asks us to believe. In a society where even the words “truth,” “Christ,” “judgment,” “sin,” and “authority” can trigger hostile responses, we should also be prepared to face criticism, ostracism, mockery, and one day soon perhaps persecution for identifying them. Athanasius faced the same challenges and endured five exiles from his beloved Alexandria for speaking out. He was willing to stand against the whole world, and though in the end the true faith triumphed, it came at a high price for him and many others. We are asked to speak and to live the truth. Are we also willing to pay the price?

DR. MATTHEW E. BUNSON serves as EWTN senior contributor and a senior editor for the National Catholic Register. He writes from Washington, D.C.

Going Deeper: A Reasoned Exploration of God and Truth

Leo Severino
Ignatius Press, 155 pages

“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth,” Pope John Paul II began his 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio. Yet many Christians cannot adequately explain why they believe as they do.

Beginning with the evidence for God, Leo Severino — who wrote and produced the popular faith-based films Bella and Little Boy — invites the reader on a journey of simple logic that considers the meaning of human existence, the purpose of suffering, free will, and the quest for truth. He uses brief chapters to explain philosophical ideas in language accessible to everyone. It’s a taste of Thomas Aquinas for the masses.

Order: Ignatius Press, Amazon

How to Do Apologetics

Patrick Madrid
Our Sunday Visitor, 2016
208 pages, paperback $15.95

Legates — like all Christians — are charged with spreading the faith. In Madrid’s latest, subtitled Making the Case for Our Faith, he confronts seismic cultural shifts and increased attacks on religious liberty. These attacks often place Christians in the uncomfortable position of having to defend their beliefs when their faith is called into question by atheists, agnostics, or people from other religions.

Madrid has penned an apologist’s toolkit covering all the topics you need to understand and apply. This is his own successful approach to providing reasons for skeptics to believe. He gives special advice and examples for use with non-believers, Protestants and inactive Catholics.

OrderAmazonOur Sunday Visitor

Envoy for Christ

Veteran evangelist Patrick Madrid shares his insights and experiences as an evangelist . . .

Envoy for Christ
Servant Books, 2012
392 pages, $19.99 paperback

Over the past 25 years, author and apologist Patrick Madrid has explained and defended the Catholic faith worldwide. Envoy for Christ is a fascinating look inside Catholic apologetics from his vantage point on the frontlines. A fixture on Catholic radio apologetics programs, Madrid covers a variety of topics from comparative religions to all things Catholic — and he includes insights into how his own thinking has matured over the years.

He points out that learning about our own faith and that of our detractors is basic to fulfilling our call to evangelize. Full of his “man on the street” observations, this book is a legacy of his far-reaching public ministry.

Order: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

The parts of the Mass

The publication of  the new Roman Missal means it’s time to review the Mass . . .

Al Kresta

The Mass is a spiritual banquet, best appreciated as you read the menu ahead of time and anticipate the flow of the courses. The Mass splits into two balanced halves: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

In the Introductory Rites we prepare to meet God. They consist of the Entrance Song (Introit), the Greeting, the Penitential Rite and the Opening Prayer. Now we are prepared to enter into the heart of the Mass.

God speaks to us in the Liturgy of the Word. Only Scripture is read, and we find ourselves exhorted, rebuked, consoled, encouraged, challenged and instructed. The first reading is usually taken from the Old Testament or Acts. Then comes a Psalm response, followed by the second reading, usually taken from the epistles or the Book of Revelation. The Gospel has pride of place among the readings. The homily applies the Word to everyday life and the liturgical year.

Then follows the Profession of Faith (the Creed). If one cannot say the Creed with confidence, he is not ready to enter into full communion with Christ. After the General Intercessions (Prayers of the Faithful), the priest concludes the Liturgy of the Word with a prayer, making us ready for the greatest mystery: the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Word made flesh.

Just as the Liturgy of the Word was preceded by a period of preparation, so too the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The preparation of the altar and the gifts and the presentation of and prayer over the gifts (the Offertory) precede the Eucharistic Prayer, which begins with the priest and people wishing that the Lord be with one another’s spirit. The Preface, the Sanctus and the Benedictus build anticipation of the Lord’s coming. Next the Holy Spirit is invoked (the Epiclesis) to transform the gifts into the Body and Blood of Christ. Christ’s Words of Institution (the Consecration) follow. The people then offer the Memorial Acclamation, followed by prayers for the Church and her leaders.

Next comes the Communion Rite, which includes the Lord’s Prayer, the Sign of Peace, the breaking of the bread, the Lamb of God (Agnus Dei), and Communion. The prayer after Communion and the cleansing of the sacred vessels conclude the Communion Rite and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In the Concluding Rite, we are dismissed to go forth as God’s ambassadors, transforming the world into the kingdom of God.

This column is reprinted with permission from the book “Why Do Catholics Genuflect?” by Al Kresta, CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of Kresta in the Afternoon on Ave Maria Radio.

Are the gospels contradictory?

The gospels may tell stories a little differently, but they don’t have contradictions . . .

Karl Keating

There may be a few inconsistencies in the Gospels, but there certainly aren’t any outright contradictions. Passages that seem to be saying different things? There are some, but they can be harmonized — that is, they can be read together to make a sensible account.

Consider the incident in which Jesus heals two blind men outside Jericho. In Matthew, the men are unnamed and are healed as Jesus leaves the city. In Mark, only one blind man, Bartimaeus, is mentioned, and he is also healed as Jesus leaves the city. In Luke, only one blind man is mentioned, but he is not named, and he seems to be healed as Jesus enters the city, not as he leaves it.

Certainly all these passages refer to the same incident, so how can the two apparent inconsistencies (one man versus two, entering the city versus leaving it) be reconciled? Here is one way: Bartimaeus called out to Jesus as he and the crowd entered Jericho, but in the commotion Bartimaeus was not heard. By the time Jesus left the city, Bartimaeus had been joined by another blind man. Bartimaeus calls out again and this time is heard because the crowd is now subdued. Jesus cures him and the other man.

Here is another apparent inconsistency. In Matthew, the mother of James and John approached Jesus and asked that her sons might sit at his right and left when he came into his kingdom. In Mark, James and John themselves made the request.

Which evangelist are we to believe? Both. There is no inconsistency. The mother of James and John first approached Jesus, paving the way for her sons to make the second request. We see something similar in Kings. Nathan first had Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, approach the aged King David with the news that Adonijah was seizing power. Then Nathan himself went to the king with the same information.

Now consider you’re taking a vacation. You go to Hawaii and on the way home stop at the Grand Canyon. You tell one friend, “On my vacation I went to Hawaii.” You tell another, “On my vacation I visited the Grand Canyon.” If the friends compare notes, they’ll find an apparent inconsistency. Surely they’ll conclude, “Well, he must have gone to both places. After all, going to one doesn’t exclude going to the other.” So it is with the gospel stories. We find what appear to be inconsistencies, but they appear such only because the Gospels are themselves fragmentary accounts of Christ’s life, each account including different fragments.

Karl Keating is the founder of Catholic Answers. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “What Catholics Really Believe — Setting the Record Straight: 52 Answers to Common Misconceptions About the Catholic Faith,” pages 34-35 (Ignatius Press, San Francisco 1995).

The role of conscience

Conscience warns you when you’re doing something wrong, but it needs to be formed. . .

Karl Keating

Karl Keating

Conscience is the faculty which warns you that you’re doing something wrong — or neglecting to do something right that should be undertaken. But it doesn’t work in a vacuum. You first have to learn what’s right and what’s wrong, and that’s a job for your intellect. If you learn well, your conscience will guide you well. If you learn poorly, your conscience won’t be trustworthy.

For instance, if you learn that stealing is no sin, and if you really believe that, your conscience won’t bother you when you knock over the bank. Often someone will say, “My conscience tells me this is right,” even though, objectively, the act in question is wrong.

The problem is that the person’s conscience has been inadequately formed. Although we have a duty to follow conscience, we also have a duty to make sure our conscience has been formed rightly. We do this by following the moral teaching of the Church, through prayer and through close attention to Scripture. If we neglect these, we will end up either with an empty conscience, which won’t be able to guide us rightly at all, or a cramped conscience, which sees sin where there is no sin.

The former condition is licentiousness, the latter is scrupulosity. The one never seems to see any sin except the grossest; and the other seems to see sin even in innocent things. Someone who is burdened either by no guilt at all or by much guilt should see a solid priest-confessor. These conditions are signs of spiritual malformation, and they can be corrected.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “the education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart”.

Karl Keating is the founder of Catholic Answers. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “What Catholics Really Believe — Setting the Record Straight: 52 Answers to Common Misconceptions About the Catholic Faith,” page 63 (Ignatius Press, San Francisco 1995).