Pete Vere Asks the Musical Question….

Pete Vere Asks the Musical Question…. May 4, 2018

“Is it time for a New Catholic Apologetics Movement?”

He’s got a bunch of good ideas, all of which I more or less agree with.

I’m mostly riffing off his piece here, not really to add or subtract or dispute, but just because he got me thinking about my own experience with that work.

Other people call me an apologist, I don’t.  It’s a fair cop.  I have, after all, written a lot of apologetics about Catholicky stuff. But that was mostly because it was of interest to me at the time since I was myself learning that stuff and wanting to talk about it out loud since that’s what I always do when I am excited about learning new stuff.

My big motivation is and always has been the thrill of learning new things and then the thrill of watching the lights come on when other see it too.  I’m an extrovert trapped in an introvert’s job.  So my way of connecting with people is to either write about it and work through the explanation of Whatever I’m Learning or else to speak to an audience about it and watch the thrill as they Get It.

But the Learning Edge is important to me.  So I am unmoved by people who come and say, “Why don’t you write By What Authority? again?  We liked you when you told Protestants they were wrong about Sacred Tradition and made us feel good.  Why are you on about all this Catholic Social Teaching stuff that sounds like liberal crackpot Bergoglio? We don’t like it when you suggest that we might be wrong and the Pope right. Tell us more about us and how awesome we are!

The answer is that I am still learning the Faith and the Church’s social teaching is an amazing new vein of rich information and wisdom and I am still trying to wrap my head around it.

And I am disturbed by how hostile those who have boasted of the Non-Cafeteria Catholic Super Fidelity are to it and the Holy Father. To quote, yet again, Russell Moore: The Religious Right are the people the Religious Right warned you about twenty years ago.

That brings me to Pete’s article, because I agree a New Apologetics is necessary since the Church’s engagement with the culture has changed.  We are not living in Evangelical-dominated America any more.  A lot of Evangelical culture has, in fact, entered the Church since a lot of Evangelicals (including me) have entered the Church.  And with us, a lot of social and political assumptions have entered too.

The trouble is, they are assumptions that are at odds–sometime radical odds–with the Church and the teaching of the Magisterium.  And so we now live in a time when things I never dreamed would happen 20 years ago are the norm.  Things like “faithful conservative Catholics” cheering for a pornocratic racist Nazi swine who embodies the seven deadly sins and war with the corporal and spiritual works of mercy–and making open war on the Holy Father as some kind of enemy of the Faith.

Twenty years ago, the mission was to persuade conservative Evangelicals that the Catholic faith was biblical faith.  Today, it is to speak to postmodern non-Christians, many of whom are attracted to the Faith by the witness of Pope Francis and the Church’s mission  to the least of these. But they are also rightly repelled by the scandalous and appalling cruelty of the false gospel of Christianism and need a clear witness that this is not the gospel of Jesus Christ but a diabolical parody. 

Accordingly, the apologetics I did twenty years ago still hold and I still stand by what I wrote then.  I still say what I said then about Sacred Tradition, the Real Presence, Mary, the saints, the sacraments, the creed, and all the rest of it.  Nothing has changed about my faith in the Church’s dogmatic teaching.  I believe all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims is revealed  by God.

But the change in the culture requires new wineskins for new wine.  Postmoderns are not puzzling their heads about the Real Presence or justification by faith or the other struggles about 16th century quarrels or the Second Vatican Council.  They are asking “If the Faith is true, then why are the loudest Catholics in the culture gloating with sadistic cruelty at the deportation of DACA kids?  If Jesus is real, why are Catholics talking incessantly about their terrified need to blow somebody’s head off to keep their stuff safe?  Why does a universal Church have so many members ready to scream at desperate little kids at the border and call them “invaders” or make excuses for Nazis running as Republicans?”

It is the scandalous behavior of Catholics that is the biggest apologetic challenge in our culture.  Twenty years ago, you could say, “Sure there are bad Catholics, but look to the ones who are faithful to the teaching of the pope and the Magisterium.”

Now it is the “Good Catholics” of yesterday who are today, the loudest, most ugly enemies of the Holy Father and the Magisterium while the ones they denounce as “fake Catholics” are listening to the Pope and the Magisterium–and leading the charge to care for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.  It was not liberals who spent 15 years defending a war opposed by two popes and all the bishops of the world.  It was not liberals who spent the past decade coming up with elaborate theological rationales for torture.  It was not liberals who spent the past decade rationalizing spitting on refugees, calling Francis a heretic, explaining why “grab ’em by the pussy” is fine, and all the rest of the freak show stuff that is now normal for self-described “Real Catholics”.

That’s what I have to deal with when I write apologetics for the sake of some inquirer who is drawn to the Faith, but appalled by so many of the Faithful.  Most of the people I run into who are attracted to the Faith are not struggling with Calvin’s doctrine of predestination or torn apart by banners in the sanctuary or grappling with whether Mary is a pagan goddess.  They are crossing much more elemental threshholds of trust and asking “Will I find love there?  I’m trying to feed my baby after my husband left.  Do they think I’m a lazy slut looking for a handout?  I think I’m gay, but I also think Jesus is God.  Are they more interested in sending me away or in getting to know me?”

In short, most of the apologetics stuff seems to be about personal matters and not about doctrinal issues.  And when I look at the pope, what he seems to consistently do is try to figure out how to welcome people at their growing edge, not find ways to drive them out.

There is no office of apologist in the Church. There is an office of Evangelist (“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, pastors, and teachers” says Paul to the Ephesians.)  Apologetics is merely the handmaid to evangelism.  I am leery of giving it primacy or imagining it is more than it is: a mechanism for clearing away intellectual doubts so that the disciple can approach the evangel.  I’ve seen it become a weapon too many times and most of the nastiness that has been dished out to Francis from the apologetics subculture seems to me to be coming from people who decided they had a System and it was more important than the human being Francis seeks for Christ.

Not really sure how to wind this up other than to say that a New Apologetics will need to take into account Francis’ approach to evangelism, which is summarized easily as “He has preached good news to the poor.”  Pete gets that, I think, which is why he is such a fan of this pope and has done a fine job of defending the Faith as it is preached by Good Pope Francis.

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