One of my favorite quotes from John Paul II comes from his book entitled Love and Responsibility:
We love the person complete with all his or her virtues and faults, and up to a point independently of those virtues and in spite of those faults. The strength of such a love emerges most clearly when the beloved person stumbles, when his or her weaknesses or even sins come into the open. One who truly loves does not then withdraw his love, but loves all the more, loves in full consciousness of the other’s shortcomings and faults, and without in the least approving of them. For the person as such never loses its essential value. The emotion which attaches itself to the value of the person remains loyal to the human being. –p. 135
At the heart of this quote is the exhortation to love in the truth of the other. How often do we (or at least I) pursue a relationship in-as-much as it gives me joy? How often do we (or at least I) rest safely in relationships of common interests, hobbies, ideologies, philosophies, leisure activities, or goals? How often do we, in the name of ecumenism, pursue relationships with a “least common denominator” framework of mind? Are these relationships love? Of course they are! Are they expressions of mature love? I don’t think so!
But won’t “divisive topics” threaten the relationship? For the person of pride yes, but for the humble one there is no fear. In fact, it is precisely in the divisive topics that one is able to experience mature and genuine love. When one loves “all the more” in these circumstances they discover for themselves the bedrock of love. This bedrock is the activity of genuinely loving that which is “other” to oneself. In other words, it is the act of loving not for the sake of pleasure which is rooted in self-seeking, but rather loving that which lies outside of one’s own preferences, interests, and even values. Such a love ensures one is loving not a self-reflection, although faint, but rather that which is outside of him/herself. This may be difficult as it can lead to conflict, but genuine love calls for it. Of course, for one to love the “other” of another person, knowledge of what constitutes “other” must be present in the person loving! Ignorant love does not have the person as its object but rather ignorance as its object.
With the foundation laid, we may now address why apologetics (the art of defending one’s ideas, beliefs, and values) is so important. In light of what has been addressed above, apologetics, when properly used, is the fertile ground by which mature ecumenical love grows! To be a great defender of the faith, one must: 1) Know one’s own beliefs and be able to articulate them clearly; 2) Know the opposing views clearly so as to distinguish fairly one’s own beliefs from other beliefs. Isn’t that precisely the foundation by which mature love is built upon? Apologetics affords the person the opportunity to love “the other” of a person and not simply that which is held in common. It prevents “self-reflecting” love and encourages “self-donating” love.
All this being said, I’m aware that apologetics has often been the instrument of harm rather than love. My past is riddled with such offenses and I’m deeply sorry for the people I have offended! Nonetheless this does nothing to diminish the value of apologetics in the same way that divorce does nothing to devalue the institution of marriage. Like all good things, it can be twisted and used for evil rather than good.
Reflecting on my days at the Evangelical seminary I attended, my most intimate friendships were those in which our differences were clearly articulated and defended. While I was oblivious to the reasons why at the time, I now understand why they became my dearest friends. Through a little bit of maturity and the proper foundation we were able to appreciate and love each other for who we were, not who we wanted the other to be or by pretending the other was something they weren’t.
As for the present, I currently serve as the president of RCO (Religious Campus Organizations), which is a group on campus that supervises and works with all the other religious groups on campus. I believe it is without coincidence that my closest friend and confidant within the group is a Lutheran minister with whom I have had the most apologetic dialogue. We both know exactly where the other stands, and we both think the other holds ridiculous beliefs yet we have a deep respect for each other even in the differences.
My deepest prayer for the community of St. Thomas and all those who read my apologetic material is that it would be used to educate on the differences between Catholics and non-Catholics. That such an education would increase confidence in the faith and to offer tools for entering into genuine dialogue with others who do not share this faith. Finally, and most importantly, my prayer is that this dialogue would lead to mature ecumenical love for one another: a love that is rooted in both common interests and that which is “otherly” thus forming a love that encompasses the whole person. May God be Praised!