At the recent Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference, I had the opportunity to sit down for a chat with the keynote speaker, Tim Staples, who has been a Catholic evangelist and apologist for the past 23 years. I asked Tim to discuss the term “apologetics.”
He laughed and then replied, “I set people up all the time. I ask what they do for a living, and after they’re done, they naturally say, ‘And what do you do?’ and I say, ‘I’m [a Catholic] apologist.’ They say, ‘Really? What’s that? Do you apologize for being Catholic? Are you that sorry?’ But actually, apologetics comes from a Greek word, apologia, which we find in Scripture in 1 Peter 3:15. Our first pope said, ‘Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts always and be ready to give everyone a reason for the hope that lives within you, with meekness and with respect.’ So, apologia is a reason or a response, an answer why we believe what we believe. And apologetics is the science of giving those answers.”
Tim went on to tell me about the beginnings of the organization where he works, Catholic Answers, based in San Diego. In those early days, there were very few people engaged in Catholic apologetics. He explained, “When I first started, there were very few of us. Scott Hahn and me, and there [weren’t] a whole lot of folks out there. And now there are organizations and apologetic apostolates all over the United States and growing around the world. It’s exciting. People are catching hold of the truth that we as Catholics are called to evangelize this world. And if you’re going to evangelize the world, you’ve got to know what you’re talking about.”
This is one of our biggest problems: most Catholics in the U.S. have never been properly trained about the basic doctrines of the Church. Since it’s impossible to clearly explain what you don’t know, ignorance of our faith has always been a glaring weakness among Catholics.
Before converting to Catholicism and becoming an apologist, Mr. Staples was a fire-breathing fundamentalist preacher. His passion for Jesus Christ and the Bible, combined with his speaking skills and high-energy personality, made him a very successful evangelist. He freely admits that back in those days, the easiest people to evangelize were Roman Catholics, who invariably did not understand the basics tenets of the Church. Whenever Tim and his fellow fundamentalists engaged Catholics in conversation, a few carefully phrased theological questions—along with Bible verses to back them up—would have the Catholics reeling, and in many cases, within 15 minutes, they’d be convinced the Church was a non-Christian cult and they’d be ready to join a fundamentalist congregation.
Nowadays Tim kind of cringes when he thinks about the multitude of people he led out of the Catholic Church, and he hopes all the hard work he’s done as a Catholic apologist during the past 23 years has helped to even the score.
Having a dynamic keynote speaker was a great experience for the approximately 600 men who attended the Men’s Conference. But I asked Tim what can be done to promote apologetics at the parish level, where bringing in a gifted speaker from California is not practical.
He told me, “We’ve got to start as Catholics doing what our Protestant friends have been doing for a hundred years—and that is these local Bible studies where folks get fired up. And then they have a vehicle, they have an instrument, where they can bring their friends.”
If you’re curious, go to YouTube and search for “Tim Staples.” You’ll find hours of amazing video of Tim hard at work. And hopefully you’ll be inspired to ask your pastor about forming an apologetics Bible study in your parish.