Elton John has sung, “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.” But the word “apology” and its derivative, “apologist,” seem even harder. Believe it or not, today’s feast of St. Justin, Martyr, is what prompts these observations.
The Catholic Encyclopedia describes St. Justin as a Christian apologist. To be a skillful apologist for the Catholic faith is a wonderful thing, and every Catholic should seek knowledge and skills suited to the work of apologia, or defending and explaining one’s faith.
But here’s one of those cases where a marketing firm might have chosen a different word; the common understanding of apology, or apologist, or apologetic, tends to emphasize regret for a mistake, not the search for truth. To the contrary, these days (or anytime), it can be an act of education, courage, and mercy to proclaim and explain Catholic and Christian insights. The Church’s combination of faith and reason can light a candle in the darkness of ignorance or prejudice or purely emotional reactions.
Some folks might want Catholics to be regretful or reluctant when expressing their faithful perspectives in the public square, and sadly there are people in the world today who, like St. Justin, suffer martyrdom when they stand up for their beliefs. Only if we maintain and project the sense of joy and hope that comes from our commitment to truth will the candle stay lit as an invitation to dialogue.
That’s what Peter writes in his epistle: “But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:14-16)
St. Justin, pray for us so that we may unapologetically venture into free and fair conversations, locally and globally, in search of the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Apologist may be a hard word, but it can just as easily be a word of invitation as a word of sorry withdrawal.