Is apologetics worth the bother? Sometimes you wonder.
You drive for hours, getting to a parish where the turnout is good, the audience is responsive, and your talk is unexceptional. A livelyquestion period is followed by kind applause and a late-night drive home.
But does it really do any good? Are hearts and minds moved?
"Well, sure," you say to yourself, but you say it more on faith than on facts. You'd like some confirmation; usually you get none. Then, quite unexpectedly, just when your spirits are flagging and you're thinking that maybe your old job wasn't so bad after all, something happens. Maybe it shouldn't be called a sign, but you take it as a sign. You take it as a heavenly thumb's up.
Recently Catholic Answers gave a seminar on Fundamentalism at a church that doubles as a city parish and a college chapel. Fliers were in the bulletin, and some got into the hands of non-Catholics. We're always grateful for that--the more non-Catholics at a seminar, the better, both for them and for the Catholics. We want to reach not just the "choir," but people who may be laboring under misconceptions about the Church. Many of them are former Catholics.
This particular seminar went off well. Our speaker, Mark Brumley, was able to use an "I was there" approach because he used to be a Fundamentalist. He knows Fundamentalism from the inside, and he knows its attractions and its deficiencies.
In the audience was an ex-priest and several of his followers. They asked polite questions and made no disruption. Other non-Catholics--some of them former Catholics--had good questions, all of which Mark handled with aplomb.
No two seminars are exactly alike, but after a while they all tend to merge in your mind. It's hard to remember what happened to whom at which seminar. This seminar probably would have remained undifferentiated from dozens of others had we not received, a few days after it, a note from the priest who had been our host.
He had received some letters, he said, from non-Catholics who had come with prejudices about the Catholic faith. He sent copies of the letters, and we were thrilled to read them. We think you'll be thrilled too.
We've eliminated the names of the writers and other identifying information, and we've added a few explanatory words in brackets. Otherwise, the letters are complete.
The first is from a student who attends a denominational college:
"We are presently attending or have graduated from [Such-and-So] College. I live with four girls in the Linda Vista area. We all attended your seminar put on by Catholic Answers.
"Two of my roommates are ex-Catholics. All of us are Christians, not Catholics. Something strange happened that night. All four of my roommates now want to become Catholic. I feel left out. They all read Catholicism and Fundamentalism and a stack of brochures your church gave out.
"Please pray for me for I'm very confused how people can change religions so quickly."
This second letter is from an attorney in his early thirties:
"I attend a small church at the YMCA on Sundays. We are a Bible-believing community church. I received your flier at our church and attended your seminar. I had all intentions to be very antagonistic and to prove according to the Bible the Catholic Church was dead wrong.
"I put on a seminar recently which was attended by 800 [Evangelicals]. My wife is an ex-Catholic who turned Evangelical. I have never been open to what the Catholic Church taught because of what my wife said about the Catholic Church. I'm very active in the Evangelical community and served on many different boards of directors for Evangelical causes.
"I want to relate to you my experience of divine Providence that took place that night.
"When I was attending [a state] University, I used to attend Campus Crusade for Christ. One of my teachers was a person named ["X"]. I recognized him at the seminar and introduced myself to him. I asked him why he didn't stand up during the question and answer period and show these Catholics where they were wrong. He said he had become a Catholic 5 years ago.
"This blew me away, for I had known him as the most dynamic, intense, passionate Evangelical Christian at [the] University. We set up an appointment so I could understand why he would ever want to become a Catholic. We spent 7 hours together going over the Catholic faith.
"He came loaded with Bible verses, Church Fathers' teachings, etc. He explained why Evangelical Christianity was not enough. He emphasized the sacraments and teaching full truths rather than partial truths.
"I was overwhelmed and that night told my wife I was convinced the Catholic faith was the truth and I wanted to become Catholic. She cried and couldn't understand how I could ever come to that conclusion intellectually.
"I have only Protestants in my family, so the news of my becoming a Catholic will be hard for them to understand. Please keep us in your prayers, for I would like to become a Catholic at the next Easter Vigil. This is the hardest thing I will ever do in my entire life. If I had not gone to this meeting, I would have never enetertained the Catholic Church's claims."
You might find the third letter the most surprising. We did:
"I want to thank you for putting on the Wednesday night Catholic Answers presentation. I am an ex-Catholic who left for Fundamentalism 13 years ago. I have been busy every weekend for the last five years passing out fliers against Catholics with [a former priest who runs an anti-Catholic ministry].
"After finishing passing out [tracts], I was approached by someone from [Catholic Answers]. We spent 2 hours in the Scriptures. This is the first time that anyone has really been able to show me through the Scriptures what Catholics really believe. I came away thinking that maybe I had been wrong all these years.
"He encouraged me to give him my address and he would send some literature to further explain the real Catholic position. He then followed up by phone to encourage me to ask any question I would like about the Catholic faith. This material is pretty convincing. I'm not saying I will ever come back to the Catholic Church, but I know one thing for sure, I will never go out with [the former priest] again to challenge biblical, Catholic Christians.
"Thanks, Pastor, for allowing them to come to your church, for it made me think of my roots in Christianity. Maybe Catholicism isn't that bad."
And maybe apologetics, no matter how frustrating at times, isn't that bad either. Just when you're getting tired, when you know you're doing what needs to be done but would appreciate a little independent confirmation, it arrives. (Thanks, Lord!)
[If you'd like a Catholic Answers seminar in your area, call us at (619) 541-0324. In this issue you'll find an advertisement listing some of the topics we're prepared to speak on.]