“Apologetics is a hobby of mine.”
As soon as I'd said it, something didn’t sound right.
My friend was looking into becoming Catholic, and I was offering to answer any questions she might have. I’m a convert and a bookworm, and over the years, I’ve studied a lot of theology. Just the hours I’ve logged listening to Catholic Answers radio while chopping onions for supper are probably the equivalent of a degree or two. Add 25 years of retreats, study courses, days of recollection, reading and writing…
But, a hobby?
As it turned out, Amy didn’t need my expertise. Another friend had already arranged for her to meet with Al Kresta of Ave Maria Radio, so I wasn’t worried. I don't imagine there are any gaps in his knowledge that I’d have been able to fill. But at least I offered.
Partly, I'd put it that way so as not to sound pushy. I don’t like the kind of proselytism that insistently and artificially turns the conversation to religioun so as to persuade (read pressure) somebody to join my own denominational “team.” The difference between this kind of trickery and true evangelism came up a few months ago when Pope Francis, echoing Pope Benedict, said that faith grows by attraction, not proselytism. (I've written about the distinction here and here.)
Still, through fear of, I don't know, pressuring someone, or being misunderstood by someone, or misstating something, or not being equal to some theoretical objection, I'd let spreading the Faith sink to the level of a hobby. Something to learn about, quibble about, occasionally preach to the choir about--but not to do.
Some things were never meant to be hobbies.
This might explain why, after a good quarter-century, I have so little to show for it. Maybe all this time I have been “preaching without words” (as it turns out St. Francis didn’t advise). Maybe the sheer wonderfulness of my example has been inspiring people to convert in droves, but they’re all been keeping it a secret. The spirit blows where it wills, and I don’t pretend to be able to quantify such things, but I assume there’d be more evidence by now if all this hobby-tending had been fruitful.
The insidious thing about hobbies like mine is, they can give you an inflated idea of yourself. If your hobby is eating bonbons and watching soap operas, well, at least it's pretty clear where you stand. You may be a slothful loser and a sinner, but you’ll know it.
I have my excuses. Most of the people I interact with are already Catholic. And I understand that the everyday evangelizing I do with my own children “counts.” I realize I'm not called to abandon them to feed and educate and clean up after themselves while I stand on a street corner and lead strangers to God.
But Pope Francis’ benevolent nagging has convinced me that there’s more room for improvement than I’d thought.
If society is in a wholesome, stable condition and your faith has sunk to the level of a hobby, you might convince yourself you can relax and indulge in self-congratulation for spending your spare time in such a noble-sounding way.
But what the world needs now--well, whatever it is, it's not one more hobbyist.