That is, a widespread ability, amongst ordinary Catholics, to be able to explain their Faith, accurately and convincingly, to others.
In the first instance, I think to other Catholics who have not been well educated in the Faith; but also to other Christians and people of other faiths, and of course to those who have no faith at all, those who never think about such things, and those who are actively hostile to the Faith.
There is, of course, a lot of good work going on already. Maryvale continues to lead the way, but an MA in apologetics from Maryvale takes a lot of concentrated study, requires a lot of money, and while excellent is likely always to be an option for relatively few people.
Likewise many parishes, particularly in this Year of Faith, are running programmes to look more deeply into the Faith, and many of these are very good. But understanding alone, while important, is not sufficient to be able to defend and promote the Faith in the public square (or at the workplace, or in the pub).
I suspect that many of us find it hard to defend the Church's teaching on morality, for example, and many more to articulate clearly the broader social teaching of the Church, or to understand and refute the various Protestant errors, in a way which will be heard by those who adhere to them. I know that last point is unfashionable, and may strike some as against the spirit of ecumenism. But ecumenism is about working for Our Lord's wish that all may be one; that finally implies that all should be united under the Holy Father in the One True Church. When one thinks what Protestants are deprived of, (eg the Sacraments and the fullness of Faith), how could one not wish to convert them?
What I would like to see, therefore, is a programme, made widely (and if possible freely) available that would help lay Catholics throughout the UK to develop as apologists. It seems to me that some of the important elements of this would be:
- Good spiritual direction and formation;
- A structured programme of study of the Faith (possibly based largely on resources already freely available), supported by both philosophy and rhetoric;
- Local support, possibly small groups meeting both to discuss and check their understanding, but also to practice putting it across convincingly and dealing with questions and objections;
- A wider community of support, where issues can be discussed, and questions raised and answered;
- A small team to make it happen.
The growth of the Catholic presence on the internet clearly supports some of these well, but others are best done on a local level (subsidiarity and all that!)
This would, of course, be a long term programme; indeed, I think it would need to be a lifelong one, so inexhaustible are the riches of the Faith. But that is no reason not to start; quite the contrary.
So I would like to ask you to pray about this, as I shall do, throughout Lent. And at Easter, I will revisit the topic and if others believe it to be a worthwhile project, explore how we can make it happen. But 40 days of prayer seems to me the best way to start.
I would also be interested in any comments, suggestions, and so forth about any aspect of it.
But prayer above all, for the harvest is great, but the labourers few.