I am relieved to finally be back at my laptop after a long day of traveling, so here is a recap of the second day of the Catholic Answers National Apologetics Conference. Before I begin, let me just say that I will not be able to do this conference justice in a short (or even a long) article. I will do my best to provide a general recap of each talk with a few of my own thoughts.
The day started with Tim Staples’ talk entitled “Black and White in a Gray America”. Tim was a great speaker to lead off the day with… his enthusiastic speaking style was energizing. The speech examined the condition of American culture as it relates to moral issues, and laid out a compelling argument for why apologetics is so important. It provided a good framework for the other presentations of the day, and provided some lucid insights on common moral objections brought forth from our secular society. Going in, I already understood the many reasons that apologetics is important but this talk provided the proverbial “shot in the arm” that makes me want to dig deeper and learn more.
After a short break, it was time for Trent Horn’s presentation “Science: Necessary but Not Sufficient”. This was a very broad topic, and Trent provided an articulate, well-defined effort to carefully define some of the terms commonly used by atheists and agnostics to parse out their true points of contention. He also went on to examine the common arguments for atheism and presented some useful ways we can navigate these seemingly tough questions. Horn has recently released his new book and DVD entitled Answering Atheism, which provides a much deeper treatment of these topics. I know these are definitely going on my to-watch/read list.
The highlight of the day was Jimmy Akin‘s talk “The Greatest Scandal of All” which dealt with the important topic of evil and suffering. Akin explained that the problem of evil in our world is the greatest scandal of all, because of the voracity that it causes doubt in an all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful God. He defined evil as both moral evil, and physical evil (such as suffering). Jimmy went on to provide six examples of things not to say to someone that is dealing with evil (moral or physical) and then three ways that you can actually comfort and support someone in the same condition. This talk truly resonated with me, so much that I immediately thought of several people that would benefit from hearing his words even while the presentation was still going on.
After lunch, our speaker was Matt Fradd who discussed gender and sexual roles in his talk “Sex-less America”. Matt presented several cases of an escalating cultural phenomenon of embracing a denial of one’s gender (in some cases even rejecting it). He cited medical research that explained the physiological differences between the two sexes and outlined some ways to enter a discussion on this topic using a physiological approach and a pastoral approach. Thankfully, Matt was kind enough to take notes for us and post it up on his own blog for everyone to enjoy. I haven’t really encountered this sort of discussion yet in my own attempts at evangelization or apologetics, but it certainly was one to file away.
The final speaker of the afternoon was Catholic Answers founder and president Karl Keating. His speech entitled “Closing Time for Western Civ?” was delivered in a beautiful, traditional oratory way. Karl took us through around 1600 years worth of history starting with a beautiful imagining of the completion of St. Augustine’s “City of God” and took us to the present time, noting the variety of cultural shifts that took place along the way. He outlined the need to restore a culture based on truly Christian values, but noted the difficultly presented by the way that cultures can be replaced. This outlined the true need for well formed consciences and strong apologetics, so that the culture that inevitably replaces ours is better than the one it left behind. The content was information-packed and very interesting, but I was more enthralled by Mr. Keating’s construction and delivery of the talk itself. It is definitely one that I must digest further to fully appreciate.
After the scheduled speeches, there was a Q&A panel with the apologists. Conferees were told to submit questions on 3×5 cards throughout the course of the day, and the panel took turns answering those that fit best into their specialities. This was a very fun and informative portion of the event, so much so that I wish they would repeat this sort of forum on their radio broadcasts.
One other major benefit to the conference was the fellowship with other conference-goers. This event brought together many people cut from the same cloth, and for me it was very much like a retreat in that regard. You didn’t have to worry about speaking aloud your Catholic faith because you were among people that understand the same as you. During the reception on Friday night, I got into several great discussions with absolute strangers and I even met a couple that happened to be from a parish right up the road from where I live here in Colorado. At lunch on Saturday, I met a wonderful couple and we talked about apologetics, youth education, and our own experiences while we sat on a bench on the waterfront. Just before dinner on Saturday night, I met some wonderful men from St. Paul Street Evangelization (one of which I know has found the blog) and was excited to hear about their ministry and experiences. I think I met more truly faithful Catholics in one day than I have met in the previous year combined. I pray that some of these connections continue into friendships.
The conference hit a crescendo with the Holy Mass given by Bishop James Conley with a homily by Father Vincent Serpa, the chaplain from Catholic Answers. There was beautiful singing courtesy of members of Catholic Answers staff, and it was truly awesome to hear a room with 400 Catholics singing Salve Regina together. I have always enjoyed Bishop Conley’s reverence of the Holy Eucharist. Father Serpa’s homily was insightful and drew forth from the gospel contemporary examples of serving the poor and the poor in spirit, primarily from Mother Teresa’s life. The whole Mass was truly gorgeous.
The Dinner and Conclusion
After Mass, I struck up the aforementioned lively conversation with some fellow conference-goers that continued right into dinner. The discussion was so enthralling I was almost annoyed when the presentation began again, but I was quickly quieted by Bishop Conley’s keynote address entitled “Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Role of Beauty in the Restoration of the Catholic Church”.
I’m not even sure I can adequately describe the breadth of this address. Bishop Conley took us through his conversion experience, his education in the Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas, and how this exposed to him the importance of beauty in life. Further, he explained how this cultivated for him the ability to appreciate beautiful things ranging from calligraphy to architecture to fine music and that this resulted in many conversions to the Catholic Faith. He said that the focus must return to this beauty in our culture and our practice of the faith, and that this can rebuild the world. I sincerely hope this address is made available in some form so it can be heard by others, because the world desperately needs it.
I can say that this short conference was certainly worth the time and money. I can also say with certainty that the full effect has not yet sunk in, and this experience has given me much to think about. As always, I thank God for Catholic Answers and the fine work they do, for the friendships gained, and for the beauty that is our Catholic Faith.
I believe that Catholic Answers is going to make some of the conference speeches available in the future. I strongly recommend you check them out, and plan to attend this conference next year.