I grew up in Southern California, home to the burgeoning Catholic apologetics movement that began in the 1990s and maintains a prominent presence today. St. Joseph Radio, based in Orange, and Catholic Answers in El Cajon began their operations in the area. Apologists like Tim Staples, Karl Keating, and Jesse Romero taught practically in my backyard. During this time, my father listened to talks by popular figures like Dr. Scott Hahn on cassette tapes during his three-hour round-trip daily commute. I also listened to and read Catholic apologetics material during this time, and as a result I received extensive catechesis in the faith during my teens and early twenties. The apologists’ passion for the Catholic faith deepened my desire to share it with others.
Moreover, discovering Catholic apologetics at this time of my life was truly providential. During the 90s, my family became very active in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. I admired the preaching and valued the spiritual gifts of the priests and lay Catholics involved in this movement, but at the same time I also became curious about the evangelical preachers and faith healers like Benny Hinn that I saw on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. I thank what I learned about Catholic apologetics at this formative time for preventing me from following the evangelical Protestant path.
Recently, I have been reflecting on the upheaval in the Church and in Catholic culture that has resulted from the Coronavirus pandemic and the spotlight that has been shining on racial injustice over the past year. I now realize that Catholic apologetics should not only focus on the beliefs of those outside the Church who challenge Catholic beliefs, but in must also address those within the Church who do the same.
Apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia (ἀπολογία) meaning a defense—as in a rebuttal to a claim, accusation, or charge. The literal translation of apologia is “from reason.” Catholic apologetics, understood in this manner, is offering defense from accusations against the faith by utilizing reason. The apologetics I learned in my tweens certainly satisfied this definition, preparing me to answer challenges from non-Catholics such as, “Why do Catholics worship statues?” and “Why do Catholics pray to the saints?”
But we should not limit the defense of the faith to baseline challenges like these, as relevant as they are.
The Prophet Isaiah exhorts, “Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow” (1:17).
As Catholics, our defense of the faith must include the defense of the people who are oppressed. Oppression is the result of sin—namely “structures of sin,” as Pope St. John Paul II described in Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (36). Our Catholic witness demands that we work to combat these evils. If we do not love and defend the marginalized, many of whom Jesus names in Matthew 25:35-36, we are not following Jesus, and therefore we are not living our faith.
While this may not sound revolutionary—after all, Scripture and the ministry of Jesus validate defending and caring for the oppressed—many Catholics openly disregard social justice, deploring it as political or leftist in nature. The Catholic Church has a wealth of apologetics resources to defend the faith from challenges by non-Catholics, but there is much room for growth in drawing attention to and developing resources to uphold the teachings of the faith that are so often challenged (or even rejected) by our fellow Catholics.
The USCCB has a resource on “Seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching.” This is an excellent primer for Catholics to learn the basis from Scripture and Tradition for the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, workers’ rights, and human dignity, among many other important themes. When Catholics challenge the Church on matters of social justice practices, apologists ought to be directing these individuals to the Church’s teachings and Scriptural citations for social ministries, just as they would if someone challenged transubstantiation or the succession of Peter. Given its rootedness to Scripture and Tradition, it is wrong to dismiss the social teachings as leftist when they are wholly orthodox. This is an area where Catholic apologetics can undergo its own metanoia and become apologists of the Catholic faith comprehensively. Many people, including a large number of Catholics, are ignorant of these teaching or reject them outright. Yet despite the widespread confusion and dissent on these teachings, many apologetics organizations clearly treat Catholic social teaching a lower priority than other doctrines and traditions of the Church, if they mention it at all.
One specific area of metanoia for the Catholic apologetics movement is in its silence amid the recurring loss of Black lives in the US.
It’s time for the Catholic apologetics movement to turn their focus to defending Black lives. There’s no valid reason not to.
— Matt Kappadakunnel (@matt_k007) April 16, 2021
From George Floyd to Daunte Wright, Black persons have lost their lives due to unjust and untimely circumstances. These are people who died at the hands of law enforcement without a trial, judge, or jury, let alone a defense attorney. We as Catholics are called to defend the defenseless, including defenseless Black lives. Drawing from the above passage from Isaiah, our faith calls us to make justice our aim and to redress this wrong. Daunte Wright’s child is an orphan; and we must defend this orphan. We must do so rooted in the social doctrine of our Church, by upholding the dignity of human life. This includes every human person, regardless of race, creed, gender, or sexual orientation. Especially in light of current situation in our society, Catholics must defend a Black person’s right to live.
As St. John Paul II stated in Evangelium Vitae,
“Every individual, precisely by reason of the mystery of the Word of God who was made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14), is entrusted to the maternal care of the Church. Therefore every threat to human dignity and life must necessarily be felt in the Church’s very heart; it cannot but affect her at the core of her faith in the Redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God, and engage her in her mission of proclaiming the Gospel of life in all the world and to every creature (cf. Mk 16:15)” (3).
The Church, therefore, experiences the threat against Black lives in her very heart. Fighting against injustice towards Black lives is at the core of our faith in Jesus and the proclamation of his Gospel. Catholic orthodoxy and praxis call for the defense of Black lives, and therefore Catholic apologists ought to do the same, as a matter of defense of our social teachings. A renewal of Catholic apologetics is greatly needed, and it must honor the Church’s teachings in their entirety. This renewed apologetics movement must embrace and defend our Gospel duty towards the oppressed.
Without prioritizing an apologia for marginalized and vulnerable people, Catholic apologetics are inauthentic and incomplete. As Pope Francis has said, “The Gospel of the marginalized is where our credibility is found and revealed.” Integral to any true Catholic apologetics is our conscious awareness that the periphery is the heart of the Church and the heart of Christ.
Image: Catholic leaders participate in a 2020 demonstration for racial justice in Washington, DC. Photo Credit: © Franciscan Action Network. Used with permission.
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Matt Kappadakunnel is a finance professional who lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children Previously, Matt spent a few years studying to be a Catholic priest. He is a graduate of Creighton University and is a CFA Charterholder.