A short conversation about lay Catholic apologists

A short conversation about lay Catholic apologists January 26, 2018

A reader asks:

Morning Coffee Thought:

This mornings ‘coffee thought’ is designed for Catholics. If you are not Catholic, feel free to keep scrolling.

They say debate changes no mind, it simply entrenches us further into previously held opinions.

I have evolved over the past decade from being very supportive of lay Catholic speakers and ‘apologists’, to being very suspicious and (I believe rightly), critical.

There are a myriad of reasons.

I was absent from the Church for almost two decades, and returned largely because of lay Catholics who assisted in my journey home. Not because of their persuasive arguments, but because they pointed me in the right direction and let me make up my own mind. In that sense, they were not ‘apologists’, but rather ‘direction pointers’. Which any lay Catholic can do and precisely what Pope Francis is referring to when he speaks of evangelization.

I spent some time among lay ‘apologists’ when I was connected to an organization I will not bother to name. While there I encountered ‘apologists’ who I can only described as “prima donnas”. The old influences of tribal loyalties (political or ideological), charisma, and yes affluence seemed to take precedence over whatever religious topics that were their hobby horse. Triumphalism reigned in their discourse, insulting not only Protestants but other world religions as well.

Not content with just attacking non-Catholics, they also feel zealous enough to attack clergy, up to and including the Pontiff himself. When I asked one ‘speaker’ in person why I should listen to him and purchase his book (to which he was vigorously counting his cash as I approached him) he immediately informed me that clergy do not ‘have all the answers’.
If I encountered these people years ago, I would have stayed evangelical. And rightly so as they resemble very much fundamentalist evangelists gathering ‘followers’ into an exclusive Catholic club with cash in their pockets.

Anytime I attempt to gently point this out, I am accused of “clericalism”, to which the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition is: a policy of maintaining or increasing the power of a religious hierarchy. An effort I suppose is designed to shut me up. Emptying the roles, gifts and responsibilities of those to whom our souls are entrusted is not clericalism.
However, holding oneself up in a self-appointed role as a kind of “Catholic guru” with lots of followers is not far removed from the TV evangelist who appoints himself as a mouthpiece for God or the personality cults of which Paul warned us.

In my opinion, Catholic parishes had better get a handle on this, otherwise it very well could lead to schisms.

This is not designed to insult, but rather to warn and force us all to think and reason. If you are offended, I am sorry. That is not the intent.

I think it is very wise to be careful of lay Catholic apologists (pause for irony to sink in). Essentially, you are dealing with people who may or may not have a charism, may or may not know what they are talking about, and may or may not be stable, orthodox, bright, honest, etc.

There is, as a priest friend used to point out, no office of apologist in the Church. Apologetics is the handmaid of evangelism. It is only needed if somebody’s reason cavils at the teaching of the Church. If you propose the gospel and somebody says, “Right! Makes sense!” you don’t need apologetics. If you *start* with apologetics, you are often putting the cart before the horse. And apologetics *tends* to attract young, unmarried males who are spoiling for a fight, not seeking to woo hearts and minds.

Don’t get me wrong. I owe a huge debt to the work of apologists because I was that guy with a thousand questions that needed answered. And I started writing because, once I got answers, my big thrill was watching the lights come on for other people.

But apologetics is not the Faith. Jesus is the faith. Apologetics is just for clearing roadblocks. If you build your life around it, it can become an idol. And if you start thinking your mission is to correct the Magisterium, the milk has surely started to sour.  The current war on Francis that is being conducted by a disturbing percentage of American conservative lay Catholics who spend their time in apologetics circles is a troubling manifestation of that.  I want nothing to do with it.

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