My dictionary defines apologetics as a "systematic and logical defence of Christianity against its detractors and unbelievers." In 1 Peter 3.15, Christians are told to be ready to give a reason (apologia) for their hope in Christ.
Apologetics can draw people to Christ as we read in the Acts of the Apostles with St. Peter at Pentecost. Peter's sermon was a classic example of apologetics. It drew 3,000 people to faith in Christ. St. Paul's witness in Athens was another example of apologetics. It is documented in Acts 17.17-34.
Apologetics does not always convert people. They must have an open mind and a seeking heart. The most brilliant defence of Christianity will not change the hearts of those who refuse to accept it.
Look at the events leading up to the martyrdom of Stephen. We read in Acts 6.5 that he was "a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit." People who opposed his witness for Christ were not able to resist "the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke." How did they respond? The shocking answer is found in Acts 7: They killed Stephen.
Stephen's words cut deep into the hearts of an unreceptive group of religious leaders in Jerusalem. The crowd's anger toward Stephen grew to a climax and the crowd became a mob.
In what must have been a terrifying moment for Stephen, God gave him a serene vision of heaven. Looking past the terror of his impending death, Stephen saw to the glory of Jesus waiting for him. He said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."
CNS PHOTO | COURTESY OF THE VATICAN MUSEUMS
Opponents of the Christian faith responded to St. Stephen's apologetics by killing him.
Those words of Stephen the Martyr were too much for his accusers. They rushed and seized him, threw him out of the city and stoned him. As he was dying, Stephen was heard praying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."
The stones continued to rain down on him. He fell to his knees and uttered his last words: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them."
What happened to the murderous crowd as a result of Stephen's witness for Christ and his brutal death at their hands? We don't know what happened to most of them. But one was a man named Saul, a terrible persecutor of Christians. He later had a dramatic encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. He became the great St. Paul and went to his own death after years of witness for Christ and defending faith in him (apologia).
Other examples of ancient apologetics include a defence of Christianity Apologia by St. Quadratus of Athens to the Roman Emperor Hadrian in AD 130. Justin Martyr left two apologiae. In his book City of God, St. Augustine defended Christianity against pagan allegations that Christians were responsible for the fall of Rome. St. Thomas Aquinas defined apologetics as making known the truth of the Catholic Church.
In an era increasingly hostile to Christianity - such as the one which North America is presently experiencing - followers of Christ must be ready to defend the truth of the Catholic faith and to give a reason for the hope that is within them.
Study the Catechism of the Catholic Church and be prepared to defend the Catholic faith from its detractors. Don't expect everybody to accept what you tell them, but learn to systematically and logically defend your faith.
Always be prepared to share your faith in Christ at the right opportunity. You never know the impact your words and example will have. Your witness may not be the final link in the chain of another person's journey to faith in Christ but make sure you're not the missing link.
As it was for Stephen, the opportunity to witness and glorify God in the face of great adversity or death is a privilege. To boldly express confidence that we will spend eternity with God, through faith in Jesus Christ, can be a powerful witness to skeptics and unbelievers.
Personally, I have found more opportunities to witness for the hope within me since becoming disabled and wheelchair-dependent than when I was healthy and able-bodied. My circumstances allow me opportunities to speak of faith that transcends physical limitations and focuses on eternal matters.
Use whatever circumstances you find yourself in to defend the Christian hope within you.