“An argument in apologetics, when actually used in dialogue, is an extension of the arguer. The arguer’s tone, sincerity, care, concern, listening, and respect matter as much as his or her logic—probably more. The world was won for Christ not by arguments but by sanctity: What you are speaks so loud, I can hardly hear what you say.” – Dr. Peter Kreeft, Handbook for Christian Apologetics
A couple of weeks ago, I walked up to begin a discussion with a friend of mine, but instead found myself—an hour later—still in the midst of an incredibly heated discussion with the gentleman next to him about my Catholic Faith. I am always grateful for these conversations and thank the Lord for them each time He presents them to me (especially since I ask for them—if you ask, you will receive). But I will also readily admit that these intense religious discussions are not always easy. In fact, this particular discussion was quite far from it.
I spent my entire conversation with “Richie,” as I will call him here, trying to understand how he can be both Catholic and non-Christian. You see, Richie is a fallen-away Catholic who believes Jesus is a “hoax” (among many other Catholic “hoaxes”) and he proclaims that Heaven and hell do not exist.
Now that you have the context, I would like to get to the heart of this particular situation. Amidst our deep philosophical and theological musings, Richie was persistent in insulting my intelligence, once going so far as to ask me if I have “ever read a book.” Richie presented me with countless opportunities to completely lose my patience and reciprocate his mocking tone. At the climax of our conversation, before my ears turned red in fury, I decided to pause for a second—and I prayed.
In that tremendously brief moment of silent prayer, the Lord reminded me of my only task in this mini-mission of evangelization: to love. It wasn’t my job to convince Richie that he was utterly misguided and his best option was to run home to the Catholic Church (though, to be honest, this would have been a pleasant side effect). It was my job, however, to love him, to love him as Christ loves him.
It is easy for us to forget when people insult our faith that we must love them all the more. We can all think of times when we have felt defensive at the moment someone tries to badmouth Our Lady or to demean Our Lord’s True Presence in the Holy Eucharist. I’ve been there…and many times, I have left these conversations only to release my tears in front of the Blessed Sacrament. No one likes to have someone make fun of her Mom or her Savior.
True, it is our task as followers of the Truth to defend that truth at all times. But we must defend the truth with love. If we forget this, our apologetic efforts will be fruitless. Christ was mocked unceasingly, ridiculed beyond our wildest dreams, crucified. And all the while He loved. Boy did He love.
You may rarely—if ever—change an obstinate heart on the spot. C.S. Lewis reminds us, however, “The very man who argued you down will sometimes be found, years later, to have been influenced by what you said.” But this will only happen if we approach all of these impassioned conversations with love. Remember, “The world was won for Christ not by arguments but by sanctity.”
Before your ears turn red, pause. Pray. Love. Then spread the truth.