PROVIDENCE — Authentically witnessing to the Gospel requires the kind of courage and prudence that Catholic apologist Trent Horn told an audience of Catholic men avoids the extremes of being “too nice” or not caring at all about people’s feelings.
“There’s a difference between being courageous and being foolhardy,” Horn said April 17 to those who attended the Rhode Island Catholic Men’s Conference at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Providence.
Addressing an audience of about 100 men, Horn’s keynote talk — entitled “No Mr. Nice Guy” — focused on the importance of speaking truth in difficult circumstances, and how to engage those who may not agree with the Church’s teachings.
“The gentler we are, the more likely the person will be open to what we have to say,” said Horn, a professional staff apologist with Catholic Answers who hosts a weekly radio show, Catholic Answers Live, and his own podcast, The Counsel of Trent.
When engaged in a debate or conversation about Church topics, Horn advised those in attendance to use a Socratic-style method to get people to explain what they believe by asking them questions, eventually stripping away euphemisms and challenging them to think through their beliefs.
“I try to teach people you don’t need to have all the right answers; you just need to have the right questions,” said Horn, who added that such a method puts the person asking questions “in the driver’s seat.”
“I find asking questions to get them to see what they believe is faulty is the best way” to engage those who disagree with Christianity or have misunderstanding about Catholic moral teachings, Horn said.
Cancelled in 2020 because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Rhode Island Catholic Men’s Conference returned this year, albeit on a scaled-down basis. The event consisted of the opening Mass, celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans, followed by Horn’s talk and a question-and-answer session in the cathedral.
“I’m very thankful to God that we were able to have this day,” said Edward Trendowski, Ph.D., director of the Office of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Providence, which organized the men’s conference. “I think it was a good turnout coming off the pandemic,” Trendowski said. “I’m very proud of the men who made the decision to come out and to gather together to worship God in the holy sacrifice of the Mass, and also to hear our speaker, Trent Horn.”
Trendowski said Horn “did a good job encouraging our men to be strong Catholic men who speak the truth in love.” Trendowski added, “I myself felt inspired to go out and do that.”
During his talk, Horn said men need to be a source of courage in society, and be willing to speak and defend truth in and out of season. Regarding people who attack or say uncharitable things to him, Horn told his audience that those people are not really “the enemy.”
“The enemy is the Prince of Darkness, the Father of Lies,” said Horn, who added that while people always deserve respect, some opinions “are so dumb and evil that they deserve to be eradicated from the face of the Earth.”
Being gracious and kind while asking questions of someone may also help that person to see the weakness of their argument by how it could be used back against them, such as when a person makes an absolute claim when arguing that there is no absolute truth.
That strategy resonated with Bob Short, 34, a parishioner at St. Sebastian Church in Providence.
“While I’m conflict averse, I have a very difficult time when I’m in a disagreement situation with keeping cool,” Short said. “I have a hard time teasing out why that person thinks the way they do, and that’s really how you’re going to have an actual conversation, build an actual relationship and strengthen relationships you already have.”
Horn said the goal is to be courageous and to plant a seed in someone’s mind, or “a pebble in their shoe,” that forces them to think and creates a space for God to act.
“You can’t change people; only God can,” said Marcelino Lopes, 47, a parishioner of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul who lives in East Providence. Lopes, a supply processing engineer for Dell Technologies, said Horn’s talk was “very encouraging.”
“As Catholic men, we need all the help, encouragement and fellowship we can get to help us deal with the world we’re living in,” said Lopes, who grew up in a non-religious family before converting to the Catholic faith.
“Sometimes I need encouragement and all the strength that comes from fellowship to give me that added courage to continue to spread the Gospel and to evangelize family and friends that at the moment are not taking God very seriously,” Lopes said.
Bob O’Brien, 53, a commercial banker from Milton, Massachusetts, drove to Providence on a Saturday morning to hear Horn speak on apologetics and strategies of evangelization.
“We need to have the right answers when those questions come up, either from our children or from society,” O’Brien said. “So I figured who better than (Horn), who lives and breathes this every day, to give us the right answers.”
O’Brien also said he agreed with Horn’s advice to use a questioning strategy of dialogue.
“Instead of being confrontational and saying, ‘You’re wrong,’ by asking questions you can reveal the truth,” O’Brien said. “It’s more Christ like that way. And by asking questions, you can lead a person to the truth instead of trying to force it down their throat.”