Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Third Grade Apologetics

It was the 1970s and New Math was everywhere. Mrs. Veninge paired me up with a student who didn't like me at all. Our task? To draw a straight line using a ruler. Five inches long.

I drew a vertical line.

Norma looked at my line and informed me, "That's not a line."

"Of course it is." I said.

"No. A line goes like this." She took another piece of paper and drew a five-inch horizontal line.

I grabbed my paper and walked straight over to Mrs. Veninge. "Mrs. Veninge, Norma says that my line isn't a line. She thinks a line has to go this way!" I drew an imaginary horizontal line in the air."But a line can go any way you want it to go. Can't it!"

Mrs. Veninge didn't say anything.

"Can you come over to our desks and tell Norma that my line is right too!" My teacher just sat there for a moment.

"Why don't you go over there and find a way to show Norma that a line can go your way, too." (Subtitled, stop bothering me, kid.)

I wasn't happy with my teacher. She was supposed to take my side. I was right and I knew it. Why couldn't she just come over and set Norma straight (no pun intended)? A line is a line is a line! What good was a teacher if she wouldn't vindicate you in front of your arch-enemy?

I shuffled my feet back to Norma. She had a really irritating smile on her face that said, See! If you were right, Mrs. Veninge would say so!

I sat down on my chair and thought hard. How do you get through to a kid who has no respect for you? How do you get her to listen and take you seriously?

"Okay, Norma. Draw another line." Norma took another blank piece of paper and proudly drew a second horizontal line.

"Great." I said. "That's a perfect line."

Norma smiled.

Then, I reached over and laid the palm of my hand on the center of her paper. I rotated everything 90 degrees so that the line was now vertical.

"And it's still a line now," I said.

Norma stared at her paper as a light bulb turned on in her thick skull. "Oh."

Sometimes, I want priests or bishops or the holy father to just stand up and tell it like it is. "Come on over to the fullness of the Christian faith. No other Church is 2000 years old! History affirms who we are - what we are. This is the Church Jesus Christ founded. So why not reconsider what the Church has always taught..."

...about the Eucharist.
...about the New Ark of the Covenant.
...about what the Communion of Saints means.
...about what the Early Church Fathers taught.
...about Our Lord's High Priestly Prayer for unity.
...about heaven touching down in the Mass.
...about holiness and grace and mercy and true social justice.

Why don't they just have one big come-to-Jesus-talk with the Normas of the world?

Here's why...

I'm the one sitting by Norma. God gave me a brain and a mouth and a passion for Truth. He wants me to learn a few lessons about getting along with Norma. He wants me to talk to her and show her the Good News. To be the Good News.

There's no easy path to apologetics. You gotta have tenacity. You gotta have ingenuity. You gotta want to help Norma along - not beat her over the head with it.

Sometimes, all Norma needs is a 90 degree re-orientation to the whole thing.

And the light bulb goes off.



  1. Great story. Wonderful analogy. Let's reach out to the Normas.

  2. Apologetics is great. I have my own blog, where I practice apologetics. But it is not a panacea. All we can do is plant and water. God causes the growth.

    I, for one, was an atheist. Many people tried to convince me of the existence of God. But I would not listen. I came back to the Church, not by anyone talking me into it, but by the fact that my wife conceived our first child. At that point, it became impossible for me to deny the existence of God.

    I could sit back and lay the blame for my lack of faith upon everyone who surrounded me. But the teaching of the Church still holds true. Mea Culpa.


    De Maria