For Catholics wanting to convert others to the faith, evangelization often boils down to apologetics. What arguments can I pull out of my sleeve to convince this person? Apologetics has done much good for the Church during these last several centuries, spearheading the evangelization effort. But if you think it will continue to do so, I have news for you. Things have changed.
Two main pillars support traditional apologetics: the Bible and reason. We can use the Bible to reach people who do believe, but have trouble with some of the Church’s teachings. Since the Reformation, we have used Scripture to bring Protestants back into the Church. And through reason we have explained some of the Church’s morality and doctrine. Our faith stands entirely in agreement with reason.
However, in recent decades, our Western culture has undergone a major shift. While most still call themselves Christian, religion has little if anything to do with how they live. We live in a non-Christian society. So quotes from the Bible mean as much as clips from a newspaper or excerpts from the president’s latest speech.
And reason? Who bases their decisions on reason nowadays? Everywhere you look, feeling dictates choice. Truth is found in personal experience.
At times, apologetics only seems concerned with plugging up leaks in a boat, working on this detail or that. You won’t win anyone over that way. People have grown immune to Bible verses and proofs of the existence of God. They simply don’t care. But you had better care if you want to evangelize. Otherwise much of your effort will prove ineffective.
In the midst of a world that has rejected reason and even objective goodness, beauty still remains. Even (dare I say especially?) atheists and agnostics cling to it in art or story, in poetry or song. Beauty sidesteps the mind and its logic in order to captivate the heart. The mind will follow. The New Evangelization must be centered on beauty. PROPOSE BEAUTY. Present the faith as a whole, unified splendor, as living mystery.
The Pontifical Council for Culture makes this very point in its document Via Pulchritudinis (The Way of Beauty). Beginning with the simple experience of the marvel-arousing meeting with beauty, the via pulchritudinis can open the pathway for the search for God, and disposes the heart and spirit to meet Christ, who is the Beauty of Holiness Incarnate, offered by God to men for their salvation. (II, 1) The document then goes on to suggest ways to evangelize through beauty.
To give someone beauty in its deepest sense is, of course, to give Christ himself. It is to share your personal experience of his transforming love. So read the Bible and the Catechism with eyes open—to discover the Beauty of faith hidden there within.
Yes, to those who question, be prepared to give answers, but don’t get so lost in them that you forget the power of the Answer. Don’t fling words at their minds. Give them the Word himself, before whom all other words must falter, and then fall silent.