How Does It Live Within You?

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.

Witness

We want to solve everything don’t we?  How do we fix the economy? Which candidate will be better? How do we cure cancer? Or obesity? Or poverty? What about violence in the Middle East?

It is, of course, natural to be solutions oriented.  When there is a problem, we try to fix it. If someone is crying, we want to help them stop and then fix their broken heart. And yet we’ve all heard or known someone to say, “I don’t need you to fix my problem, I just want you to listen.”

As Church, we must be cautious of the fix-it mentality.  No doubt, there is a call to fix things in church and world at times and Christians should play a part when needed.  But we are not called as Christians to be fixers first.  Jesus didn’t say say, “Go therefore into all the world and fix it.” So what are we called to do?

Witness.

jean-vanierOne of my Catholic heroes is the philosopher Jean Vanier.  Vanier is mostly known for founding L’Arche, a coalition of communities throughout the world for people with developmental disabilities and the men and women who live and work with them.  To understand the philosophy behind L’Arche, Vanier describes it this way: “Look, there are two realities, two cultures. There is a culture of power and there is a culture of relationships. The men and women I live with see that it is good to be together and we don’t have to solve all the problems of the world when we are together. They teach me to lighten up.”

Indeed, the point of L’Arche is to be taught by those who value relationship over power. Power is deemed of greater value in the world and we often spend too much time adoring it and those who have it.  The community of L’Arche is a witness to a different way of being, a gospel way of being.

If we believe that our role as Christians in the world is to fix everything, we can become tempted to power over relationship.  Jesus did not come in power, but in weakness.  And he came to be in relationship with us, which is the witness we offer to the world.