Frederic Ozanam was a law student at the University of the Sorbonne in the 1830’s. During his time at the university, Frederic started a discussion club composed of Catholics, atheists, and agnostics. They met to discuss the issues of the day and often these meetings turned into lively and heated debates. During one meeting, Frederic spoke about Christianity’s role in civilization and while some of his detractors acknowledged the good that Christians had done in the past, one of the group members pointedly asked Frederic: “Let us be frank, Mr. Ozanam; let us also be very particular. What do you do besides talk to prove the faith you claim is in you?”
This question hit Frederic hard. He and a friend began making visits to the poor in Paris offering what assistance they could. Eventually, a larger group formed under the patronage of the ‘apostle of charity’, St. Vincent De Paul, and was thus named The Society of St. Vincent De Paul.
We talk a lot about ‘apologetics’ in the Church. Apologetics is the term we use to describe the ancient practice of defending the tenets of Christianity. Does God exist? Is Jesus really God in the flesh? Was Jesus born of a virgin? Apologetics is the response we give to these and other questions meant to persuade the skeptic, or at the very least help him to understand why we believe the things we do.
I love apologetics. I am always searching for new ways to explain the faith to candidates, catechumens, and unbelievers. I appreciate the work of Bishop Robert Barron who is one of the great contemporary apologists. And though I have witnessed the great impact apologetics can have in the conversion of persons (C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity comes to mind), the greatest apologetic is your life. Most people are looking to see if our faith makes any real difference in our lives. How does our faith manifest itself to those in need? How does it live within us?
Though we should all know the tenets of our faith and why we believe them, we don’t have to be a great speaker, writer, or theologian to convince people of the truth of our faith. We just need to live it.