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Lessons in Apologetics: A Recap from the School Year 

June 5, 2024


My fifth year of teaching senior religion at an all boys Catholic high school is coming to a close. Each year I have taught the same course in apologetics. Our curriculum strives to showcase the truth and power of the Catholic faith as many of these boys finish the last religion course of their life. We push ourselves to stress two important facts about our Catholic faith: every teaching is logical and everything is about a relationship with God that changes your life. 

In the final days of their school year, I try to spend some intentional time talking to them about their experience while making the last push to answer any unanswered questions. I also spend time gathering information on what was most helpful and impactful on their faith journey during their four years at school.

First, the unanswered questions. Every year, students ask a few similar questions (even though I know these were covered in our course curriculum or in previous years of classes). The topics they remain uncertain about revolve around the problem of evil and going to Mass. 

There are extensive resources on how to comprehend the fact that we have an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving God who allows for evil to occur. Students learned that God gives us free will because he knows that it is better to have a world with the capacity for evil, along with a world with the capacity for love, than to have no love at all. Love, by definition, cannot be forced. God cannot take away our freedom because all he desires is a relationship of endless love with us. 

We need to have answers, and we need to show the logic of the faith.

The real issue for students comes into play when they ask about physical evil (earthquakes, tornadoes, cancer, etc.). They know that people make bad choices, and those free decisions hurt people (murder, stealing, etc.). However, why does God continue to allow these natural disasters and evils to occur if they are so devastating and so seemingly meaningless? 

What seems to help them is to speak about the power of sin. Human beings are the pinnacle of creation. We are made in God’s image and likeness. When we sin and turn away from God, that has spiritual consequences for our soul. We harm our relationship with God and with others. However, sin is so devastating that it also impacts the physical world as well. Human sin, committed over thousands of years, is so depraved that its effects actually present themselves in the physical order: things are not as they should be.

If the students believe in God. If they believe in the immaterial. Then understanding the horrible impact of sin on the immaterial world and physical world makes more sense. While this does not fix the effects of evil on the human heart (when loved ones die or are harmed by natural disasters) it does show that our God is not a monster—evil rests on our hands, but the cross of Christ stands as something to attach ourselves to with the knowledge that we are not alone in our suffering

Evil has a logical answer. More importantly, however, it has a personal and relational answer. God came to earth, and we killed him. Jesus Christ knows the pain of evil and suffering better than anyone. When we approach faith as a relationship with the One who endured the tragedy of sin at its core, we see that Jesus is the true response to evil. Bringing students to chapel to explain this has been the most helpful way to convey the answer to the problem of evil. 

The second topic that students continue to struggle with is the need to go to Mass. The latest national average on weekly Mass attendance in America was published by the CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) Institute at Georgetown University. They report that 17 percent of American Catholics attend Mass every Sunday. Based on numbers in my parish and statistics from school over the last few years, this number is really closer to between 9-11 percent. When asked why students do not attend Mass, most say that they are too busy or that they do not “get anything out of it.”

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A response that has been fruitful for my students is explaining that every Mass is like a funeral. You would never go to the funeral of a loved one and go on your phone to scroll through Tiktok. You would never leave that funeral after witnessing family and friends crying and say to your friend, “That was really boring.” You would not do that because a funeral is not about entertainment, neither is Mass.

Mass is the representation of the death of Christ on the cross. For this reason, we call it the Sacrifice of the Mass. When the priest says the words of the Last Supper, we are placed at that moment in time when the God of the universe died for you. So, we go to Mass because we desire to show respect for the death of Jesus and because he is truly present in the Eucharist. He defeated death and is with us today. Flipping their perspective on the purpose of Mass has been the most important apologetics I have done in regards to Sunday Mass attendance.

I firmly believe that the answers to these two difficult questions show the pathway forward in apologetics—not just for young people. We need to have answers, and we need to show the logic of the faith. People need to know that we do not preach fantasy, but objective truth. However, we must also show the negative impact of living a life separate from God and the positive impact of living a life intimately connected to him. Gaining access to the real and living Christ is most possible when we are at Mass and when we endure suffering. Perhaps, that is why these are the two fonts of so much growth in apologetics. 

Jesus Christ must be the source and goal of all apologetics. In retrospect, I do not do that enough even though I am reminded each year that apologetics is about conversion, not just evidence. The purpose of apologetics is to provide a space for people to fall in love with a God who is recklessly in love with them. Apologetics begin and end with Christ.