In 1 Peter 3:15, St. Peter writes to us:
Κύριον δὲ τὸν Χριστὸν ἁγιάσατε ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν ἕτοιμοι ἀεὶ πρὸς ἀπολογίαν παντὶ τῷ αἰτοῦντι ὑμᾶς λόγον περὶ τῆς ἐν ὑμῖν ἐλπίδος ἀλλὰ μετὰ πραΰητος καὶ φόβου (Now you all set apart Lord Christ in your hearts, prepared on every occasion for a defense to all demanding from you a reason concerning the hope in you, but with mildness and respect)
St. Peter makes some very interesting points in this verse: first, he uses the imperative to say that he wants the Lord Christ Jesus to purify, sanctify, the hearts of those he writes to; second, he says that they should always have a defense ready for every occasion concerning their hope in the Lord Christ; third, this defense must be accomplished with gentleness and respect.
To the first point, whoever intends to defend the reason for Christ must have the heart set apart for Christ and therefore be sanctified by Christ. An apologist cannot talk about Christ if Christ does not dwell in that person; the apologist must know Christ personally. The work of the apologist must start from the abundance of the heart.
To the second point, we are called on every occasion to have a reason for our hope in Christ. Is it because we are just afraid of Hell that we believe? Is it because of an experience we have had? Do we have reasons for God’s existence and believe by faith that Jesus Christ is that same God? Hope must have a defense.
For non-Greek speakers, Socrates’s Apology comes from the Greek word here for “defense.” Just as Socrates made his defense to the jury of Athens, we must have a defense for our hope in Christ.
To the third point, our defense must be gentle and respectful. Gentleness here does not mean rolling over and showing your belly; gentleness means responding with humble, meek force. While we may see gentleness today, we do not generally see respect. Respectful defense requires study and time and patience. If we simply throw out blanket statements without any understanding of why we hope in Christ, can we not see that in fact we do not know Christ himself? A defense of the hope in Christ must show that our hope comes from being-hemmed-in-by-pressure, remaining-under-patiently, and being tested-and-true in our faith and what we know.
If we want to build our hope in Christ, we need to follow St. Peter’s advice to set Christ apart in our hearts through prayer and the spiritual life, work on understanding why we have hope in Christ and the reasons for our faith and love for Him, and then when we are put on the spot from someone or many demanding a defense with reason, we answer with gentleness and respect.
How to learn more
To learn more about the Carmelite tradition in general, check out Midnight Carmelite episodes through the player below and hit subscribe to stay up to date!