MANY years ago, Tim Staples took great pride in leading Christians away from the Catholic Church.
Mr Staples, who was raised a Southern Baptist in the United States, saw the Catholic faith as an evil, non-Christian cult that taught a works-based doctrine, which contradicted his bible.
It was the whore of Babylon in Revelation 17.
Today, Mr Staples is the director of Apologetics and Evangelisation at Catholic Answers – a website dedicated to helping Catholics grow in their faith; bringing former Catholics home; and leading non-Catholics into the fullness of the truth.
He said Catholics had a difficult time defending their faith, and this led to an exodus, perhaps unrivalled by any other denomination.
“A lot of Catholics that I’ve encountered as an apologist over the last 25 years kind of take their faith for granted,” Mr Staples said.
“They’ve been raised that way and believe it, but so often they don’t know why they’re Catholic.
“Because Catholics take their faith for granted, and don’t really know ‘the why’, they are so often timid about the faith; they don’t really know how to defend it, or how to share it and that leads to weak Catholics who are really susceptible to someone – whether it be a cult or another Christian group – taking them, because of their lack of knowledge.
“You’ve heard the old saying – which we say tongue in cheek – is that the largest Christian body in the world is the Catholic Church, and the second-largest is ex-Catholics.
“Unfortunately that’s true.”
Catholic Answers began in 1979 in San Diego, California, and has since grown to be the largest organisation of its kind worldwide.
Mr Staples believes the apologetics movement meets a need in the Church.
“When Catholic Answers began back in the late 1970s, the main problem in the Church was fundamentalists and evangelicals who were leading Catholics out of the Church, but I think today we’ve really broadened our mission because the needs have really changed over the last 40 years or so.
“There’s a growing crucial need for Catholics also to be able to give reasons why they even believe in God in the first place.
“Who is Jesus Christ?
“How do you know if he was a historical person?
“Who did he claim to be?
“How do you know that He is actually God and founded a Church?”
These are the fundamental questions, which Mr Staples said all Catholics should be ready and able to answer – especially young Catholics at university.
“We need to be able to engage people on university campuses, which are growing more and more to become places that are sceptical and even antithetical to our Christian beliefs,” he said.
“We have testimonies, almost on a daily basis, here at Catholic Answers from families who send their kids to universities and they end up losing their faith because they are ‘attacked’ by not just other students, but professors who ridicule the Catholic Church.
“The Church has become the perennial punching bag on university campuses.
“You’ve got to be brain-dead to accept the authority of this ‘hideous’ Catholic Church – that’s kind of a given here on the popular level in our culture generally – but on university campuses it’s really, really quite vociferous.
“As Catholics, we know that our Lord promises us in Matthew 10:22 ‘You shall be hated of all men’ – he didn’t say maybe – it’s a promise: ‘You shall be hated of all men for my namesake, but he that endures to the end will be saved’.
“He tells us in John 16:33, ‘In this world you shall have tribulations’.
“If they persecuted Jesus, they’re going to persecute us.
“So, of course we need to understand that that’s going to happen, and in that context that should give us all the more reason and impetus to study.”
Mr Staples said apologetics must be able to be understood by all Catholics – not just those in the seminary or religious formation.
“We need to be able to bring the faith down to folks so that the blue-collar worker with an eighth-grade education is able to understand and comprehend basic principles,” he said.
“I tell my guys all the time, I don’t want to hear your sixty-four-thousand-dollar words, I want you to define terms for people so that when you’re explicating the faith folks can comprehend it.
“We also need to encourage people to know that one of the most powerful tools they have for evangelism is their testimony.
“How God has changed their lives.
“There is no apologetic response to a person who has a transformed life in Jesus Christ, vivified by the power of the Holy Spirit.
“We are called to evangelise both in word and in deeds, it’s not a matter of either/or, it’s a matter of both/and.
“I’m reminded here of (St) Pope Paul VI and his great apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi where he emphasises so strongly that the first act of evangelisation is a life transformed in Jesus Christ – so you are already evangelising simply by living the faith.
“However, he then says no matter how good the witness is – and Jesus emphasises this as well in Acts 1:8 when He tells the apostles in Jerusalem, ‘You shall witness’, he didn’t say you’re going to go witnessing – it will always be insufficient because the witness leads to the question why?
“It’s then that the evangeliser must be equipped to give reasons, and in fact he quotes the very text that I quoted to you earlier (1 Peter 3:15) ‘to sanctify the Lord God in your hearts and be ready to give everyone a reason’.”
For Mr Staples, evangelisation is not simply about bringing non-believers to Jesus Christ, but also re-evangelising cradle Catholics who are in danger of walking away from their faith.
“We as Catholics need to understand that probably a good portion of the folks we’re sitting next to on a Sunday don’t have a clue about what the Catholic faith is, or teaches, and many of them don’t care,” he said.
“I think what we have to do is, we have to begin at the parish.
“Encourage folks, especially people who just came back to the faith and are fired up, get involved in your parish, meet somebody that you don’t know and get involved in their life and it’s amazing what happens.
“Start a Rosary group, or a little apologetics study group.
“If we all did things like that we would have a very different Church.”
As the Church drowns in a sea of controversy, western civilisation itself is facing an unprecedented assault that transcends Christendom.
“It’s so radical and approaching a level of completeness that one would have been absolutely incredulous to believe it was even possible 100 years ago,” he said.
“If you’d have said 100 years ago that abortion would be legal all around the world, and (also) homosexual so-called marriage, and all manner of immorality that has now become the norm – up to and including euthanasia, experimentation with human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research …
“Now with the transgender dysphoria we don’t even know what it’s like to be a human being anymore.
“We’re reaching a level of absurdity.”
In spite of the crusade that lies ahead, Mr Staples said this was an exiting time to be Catholic.
“We find ourselves, I believe, today in an extraordinary situation – yet, to me, it’s an exciting time because when you’re experiencing such a profound darkness, what you find is, all you need to do is light a match,” he said.
“Did you ever notice that when you go into a really dark room, you don’t need a huge light, all you need is a match and it’ll light up the whole room.
“The light of Jesus Christ contrasts so powerfully with the darkness, man … this is an exciting time to be Catholic.
“All we have to do is let our light shine and God is going to work miracles through us.”