I’m a history buff. So when people speak of "defending the faith" my mind conjures up images from long ago: the medieval crusader with his sword drawn Ã¢ Â¦ the second-century apologist speaking truth to imperial power Ã¢ Â¦ the 16th-century bishop choosing to die rather than affirm the king as supreme head of the church.
The phrase "defending the faith" can mean different things in different times and places. What should it mean to you and me? For there can be no doubt that the faith needs defenders today.
Think about it.
• Our co-religionists are suffering martyrdom in the countries that were the first in history to receive the Christian faith.
• Christians in our own land find it increasingly difficult to do business in a legal climate that is hostile to our morals.
• Meanwhile, a newly aggressive atheism rages in ads on the buses and rants on YouTube — dismissing doctrine it has never bothered to engage.
"Always be prepared," St. Peter said, "to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15).
You and I are certainly being called to account. Are we always prepared?
And how should we prepare? Not long ago, it seemed that our most relentless attackers were fundamentalist Christians. Their opposition could be summed up in a few propositions, easily (if not always effectively) countered by a handful of memorized Bible verses. Today, our challenges come at us from many different angles. How can we begin to store up answers enough for everyone’s questions and insults?
The only way we can be sure to be ready is to begin as our ancestors did. Whether they were orators, crusaders or martyrs, they prepared themselves in a few common ways.
1. Pray. And I don’t mean just ask for things or "say prayers." We need to cultivate a sustained and disciplined life of prayer. Unless we have the habit of speaking with Jesus Christ and resting in the arms of our Father God — every day, at appointed times — we will not be credible witnesses. Our neighbors and co-workers can smell phoniness. If God seems to be no more than an abstract idea for you and me, they’ll dismiss him as easily as they dismiss other abstractions. We make time for what’s important. What we do with our time is more persuasive than any argument we’ll ever make. Are we giving more time to entertainment than to prayer?
2. Live the faith. Nothing makes the faith seem sillier than people who say "I’m Catholic, but Ã¢ Â¦" If we choose to live in a church that claims to have teaching authority, then we should allow ourselves to be taught by it. We’re at a disadvantage in defending the faith if our Mass attendance is spotty Ã¢ Â¦ if we’re using contraceptives Ã¢ Â¦ or if we’re scoffing at the pope’s call to better stewardship of the environment. On the other hand, the best defense of the Catholic faith is a life well lived. There’s no better argument for Christian doctrine than the lives of the saints — both the saints who are canonized and the unheralded ones who live in your parish. They practice kindness; they exude peace; they serve others and don’t feel the need to impress anybody. That’s the life you and I are supposed to be living. It’s a most convincing argument.
3. Know the faith. The faith is as rich and complex as life itself. It encompasses everything in life. Established by the creator of the world, it is the simplest and most straightforward path through creation. It’s a life skill that requires attention and bids us to grow in its mastery.
We need to study the faith, and our study needs to be regular, like our prayer. Also like our prayer, our study will be individual. Some people may be drawn to Scripture study; they can find excellent resources, free of charge, at StPaulCenter.com. Some people prefer a more systematic treatment of doctrine; they’ll find it in the U.S. bishops’ "Catholic Catechism for Adults," also available free online, at USCCB.org. Still others will prefer books that integrate doctrine with the spiritual life. For that I recommend the books of two Pittsburgh natives, Cardinal Donald Wuerl and theologian Scott Hahn.
If we begin with the basics — the Bible and an authoritative catechism — we’ll find clear indicators of where to go next in our reading. And we do need to keep going!
4. Speak well of the faith. Nothing confirms the sneers of our persecutors as effectively as the whining and complaining of disgruntled Catholics. Yes, our parish priests are imperfect, and so is our bishop, and so is the pope. So what? So are you and I. We don’t need to broadcast anyone’s imperfections to the world.
If we’re Catholic we believe the church is our mother. We believe the pope is our Holy Father. If it’s trashy for celebrity kids to go on TV and badmouth their parents, then it’s worse for us to gripe about our clergy on Facebook or at the water cooler.
Sometimes the best defense begins when we choose not to say what needn’t be said.
Aquilina is the author of many books and a member of Holy Child Parish in Bridgeville.