Share the joy of the Gospel

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Most Catholics won't be able to answer every objection to the faith by quoting the Bible, but they can share the joy of the Gospel, Scott Hahn told a crowd of 500 people at a summer conference hosted by Christendom College in Front Royal July 11.

The conference was entitled "Encountering Christ: Apologetics and the New Evangelization," and the wide array of speakers approached that topic from several different perspectives.

The conference is held every two years, and this year set a record for attendance. In 2013, about 275 people attended, said Christendom President Timothy O'Donnell.

Why the uptick? O'Donnell thinks it's in part because of Pope Francis and in part because of the recent Supreme Court decision redefining marriage.

"We want to defend what we love," he said.

Speakers included O'Donnell; Scott Hahn; Patrick Madrid; R.J. Matava, a professor at Christendom's Notre Dame Graduate School; Brendan McGuire, professor of history at Christendom; and Marcus Grodi, a former Protestant minister.

"Pope Francis mentions you need apologetics in academic, professional and scientific circles. Bingo, let's do it," O'Donnell said.

Cardinal Francis Arinze attended the conference and celebrated Mass in Christendom's chapel.

Many of the speakers reminded the audience of some dismal-sounding statistics, including the finding that 30 percent of people born and baptized Catholic attend Mass at least once a month, Hahn said.

Grodi condensed the statistics.

"For every 10 people that die, nine of them die apart from the sacraments," he said.

Grodi, a Catholic convert, noted two difficulties many Protestants have when considering Catholicism. Neither included Mary, saints, Purgatory, or statues.

"Most Protestants don't believe that Catholics are Christians," he said. "Most non-Catholic Christians don't believe a church is necessary for salvation.

"We have a treasure to share," he added. "Evangelization is our job. If we don't tell, mea culpa."

The first step to effective evangelization, he said, is to be a faithful friend. That can be difficult in our world, where "every relationship is suspect," but it's important, he said, and this is why the devil wants to destroy friendship. The next step is to pray for open hearts.

"Like St. Monica," he said, referring to the saint who prayed for decades for her son - St. Augustine, a doctor of the church - to leave a sinful life and become Christian, "don't you give up."

"Friendship and prayer," he reiterated. "Even if they hate you, friendship and prayer."

After that, he said, it's important to show them that a faithful Catholic is a faithful Christian, and the Catholic Church is a Christian church. Catholic doctrines and devotions, even our beliefs about Mary, are all Christ-centered, and Scripture was never intended to be taken totally alone. Jesus established the church as the community of salvation. The sacraments are the normal means of grace, and the Eucharist is the normal means of abiding in Christ, he said.

McGuire approached the topic from an academic angle - John Henry Newman and historical epistemology, or the study of how we can be confident of what we know about history.

"You can't combat secular scholarship with two-bit Catholic apologetics," he said. "It's like going to a machine gun fight with a plastic fork. You need real scholarship."

Newman's historical scholarship about the early church ultimately brought him, unwillingly, into the Catholic Church. Writings from the early church fathers are difficult to read and understand, McGuire said. Many Protestants call it "a jungle," and many modern secular scholars conclude there were multiple forms of Christianity.

Newman actually did the hard work of sifting through the church fathers' writings, McGuire said, and realized the fathers were "not trying to hammer out orthodox Christianity in the face of heresy. They were trying to explain things" to people coming from a wide variety of backgrounds.

As a testament to Newman's historical impartiality, McGuire noted that after Newman converted to Catholicism, his historical work was republished and Newman only removed two sentences. He didn't need to rewrite it from a Catholic perspective.

"I knew vaguely of Newman," said Jack Hsu, a parishioner of St. John the Baptist Church in Front Royal. "Now I know more about him. I'm impressed by the giants of the Catholic intellectual tradition. It's a great reminder of how God works."

Sister Marguerite Weir of the Sisters of Our Lady Immaculate in Ontario, Canada, said she hadn't planned to attend the conference, but at the last minute, she saw the lineup of speakers and changed her mind.

"There's a lot of information, lots of things to unpack and take to prayer," she said.

Tillotson is a freelance writer from Front Royal.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015