July 2, 2009
I got to know Karl Keating in early 1987, back when he was still practicing law full-time and dabbling in apologetics part-time.
“Catholic Answers” was, in those days, simply a part-time tract and newsletter apostolate Karl had operated for a few years from his home, writing new materials in his spare time.
We made contact as the result of an article I happened across in our diocesan newspaper, a brief, blasé squib about a public debate on the papacy that Karl had engaged in with an itinerant Baptist minister who ran an anti-Catholic organization aimed solely at converting Catholics to the “truth.” That caught my attention.
I was excited to see someone else involved in apologetics, something I had developed a deep love for, doing it also in my spare time (I had a full-time career in sales). For some time I had assumed I was alone in the world in my love for apologetics, and it was energizing to see another Catholic out there mixing it up with critics of the Church.
I put down the paper and reached for the phone. The article had provided no contact information for Keating or Catholic Answers, so I doubted I’d be able to reach him, but just for a lark I decided to check with directory information.
To my surprise, presto, I had a phone number for Catholic Answers. But since it was well after 9:00 p.m., I knew no one would be at the office, so I called, intending to just leave a message. After a couple of rings, a voice answered: “Hello, Catholic Answers.”
“Um . . . hello,” I said, surprised that someone was actually answering the phone this late. “I realize I’m calling after hours, but I wanted to leave a message for Karl Keating.”
“This is Karl Keating,” the voice on the other end said.
“Wow,” I exclaimed. “I didn’t expect you to answer the phone,” and then I told him I had read the article and that I was happy to hear about the apologetics work he was doing.
An hour and a half later, we finished our phone conversation, and I had a new friend.
Karl and I had talked enthusiastically about our common love for apologetics, and I was impressed with all the good work he had undertaken, single-handedly, to answer critics of the Church. He told me about the tracts he had written, the monthly apologetics newsletter,Catholic Answers, he produced, and the debates he was engaging in. All of this was very exciting to me, and over the next several months, Karl and I spoke frequently by phone, comparing notes and discussing various apologetics issues.
Fast-forward now to early January,1988. Through a lot of prayer and reflection (read the details of that saga here), I had come to realize that God was calling me to do something for Him, something other than the secular work in sales I was doing at that time. The problem was, though I sensed He wanted something in particular from me, I had no idea what it might be.
For a solid month, in addition to praying the rosary every day for this special intention, I spent my lunch hours at a Catholic parish near my office on my knees in front of the Blessed Sacrament, praying and asking the Lord to show me what He wanted me to do with my life. I knew He was calling me to something, but I simply couldn’t discern what that something was.
So, deciding to “step out in faith,” I resigned from my job, determined to force the issue and find the new career I felt God was calling me to. That weekend, after I quit my job, Karl called. During the course of our conversation, I asked him to keep me in his prayers as I figured out what career direction I’d be headed in.
“Sure, I’ll pray for you,” he said. “But I can do something else. I’ve recently decided to shut down my law practice and open an office for Catholic Answers. I’m going to turn it into a full-time venture. Why don’t you come work with me at Catholic Answers and we’ll build it into something big?”
Without hesitating, I said, “No, thanks. I appreciate the offer, but whatever it is God wants me to be doing with my life, I’m sure it’s not apologetics.” Working in Catholic apologetics had never even remotely occurred to me as an option. It never entered my mind that I could make a living and support my growing family as an apologist.
But Karl was persistent. He reiterated his offer for me to come work with him and help establish the full-time Catholic Answers operation. Though I tried to demur, I can see now that God was working through him.
For the next twenty minutes we discussed the idea, and our call ended with my agreeing to give it a try. After all, he reminded me, what did I have to lose?
That phone call changed my life. Only months later, as I looked back on how it all happened, did it finally dawn on me that my prayers for God’s guidance had been answered. The Lord had shown me what he wanted from me. I was too blind to see it at first. I realized that this- being an apologist- was Christ’s answer to my prayers.
I had the privilege of working with Karl and the many other great people at Catholic Answers for eight years. When I became vice president of Catholic Answers, a few years into my employment there, I had the best seat in the house from which to watch the organization unfold from a part-time apostolate to the major institution it is today.
I thank God for that opportunity to have been a part of such a thing. During my time at Catholic Answers, I saw close-up the dizzying rise of Catholic apologetics: the flood of tapes and books, the seminars and debates, countless new converts, and now the once unheard of luxuries such as Catholic apologetics radio programs, websites, and the plethora of excellent apologetics television programs on EWTN.
Working with Karl, back in those early days before apologetics had caught on- well before being an apologist was acceptable, much less “cool”- was a wonderful and extremely enriching experience for me, personally, spiritually, and professionally. I learned a lot and had an immense amount of fun along the way, helping to “blaze the trail.”
I thank God every day for that privilege. I also thank my friend, Karl Keating, for inviting me to join him on the adventure.
— By Patrick Madrid (www.patrickmadrid.com), all rights reserved.
Visit Catholic Answers.
“Somehow,” explains Keating, “the tract got beyond the church where I had distributed it. People positive about its contents wrote letters asking for more tracts.” In the end, Keating wrote two dozen.
Keating then proposed a three-part series for The Wanderer about Fundamentalists and Catholics. The series resulted in a total of thirty weekly installments and became the first draft of his successful book Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on Romanism by Bible Christians, published in 1988.
For several years, “Catholic Answers” was simply a part-time endeavor, something Keating worked on in his spare time. From 1986 to 1989, he sent out a monthly newsletter called Catholic Answers. In 1990, it turned into This Rock Magazine. In 1988, after twelve years practicing law — a vocation he did not enjoy — Keating made the transition to Catholic apologetics. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Catholic Answers promotes and defends the Catholic faith through myriad books and tracts; two magazines, called Be and This Rock; a variety of audio and video materials; seminars by staff apologists; and Catholic Answers Live, a Catholic radio program carried on more than fifty AM and FM stations nationally. “Our goal,” says Keating, “is to explain the Faith, make good Catholics better, and bring the Faith to those who are lukewarm or who aren’t Catholic at all.”
The magazine called Be, says Keating, “ is aimed at lukewarm Catholics. They might go to Mass regularly, but they do not receive any other Catholic publications. It’s designed to help them see the importance of faith in their life and understand the basic tenets of their faith better.” Unlike most Catholic magazines, Be is free, and it currently goes out to 70,000 subscribers.
This Rock is for the advanced reader and focuses on Catholic apologetics and evangelization. “Our hope is to graduate readers from Be to This Rock,” says Keating.
Keating admits that he doesn’t do nearly as much public speaking as he once did. Rather, he’s devoted his energies to writing. To date, he’s published four books. His first, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, was among the first to take the Fundamentalist threat seriously.
“Many Catholics ignored the threat,” explains Keating. “That was a mistake. At the time nearly 100,000 Catholics a year had been leaving the Church for Fundamentalism. The book dealt with the concerns of Fundamentalists in their own terms.”
In addition, Keating has published a collection of his essays titled Nothing but the Truth; a follow-up to Catholicism and Fundamentalism titled The Usual Suspects; and a book that answers the common misconceptions held by most Catholics titled What Catholics Really Believe.
One of Catholic Answers’ most popular publications is only thirty pages. The booklet Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth has out-sold all other Catholic Answers’ publications combined and serves as the apostolate’s “calling card.” A simple explanation of the Catholic faith, the little book has sold more than three million copies. “A parish in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, bought one for every house in town,” Keating notes with pleasure.
The apostolate’s next planned project involves publishing a college newspaper insert that explains the Catholic faith for the average college student. Their hope is to distribute the supplement at the nation’s hundred largest colleges. “It will examine the issues and problems facing college students today,” explains Keating. “Whatever problem you’re facing, the answer is where you may least expect it — in the Catholic Church.”
The Apologetics Service
Keating estimates that they receive approximately six hundred phone calls each month and respond to more than 1,500 people with individual questions monthly via email, phone, and letters. The apologists also travel, conducting an average of twelve seminars per month at the invitation of parishes and other organizations.
Keating admits that much time is spent on the phone. “Recently, one of our apologists spent a great deal of time conversing with a couple facing marriage difficulties. The apologist spoke with the Baptist husband whose wife had just returned to the Catholic faith. As a result of the conversation it looks as if the marriage may have been saved,” explained Keating.
Although providing answers is their business, Keating admits that occasionally they’re asked questions that stump them. “If we are unable to answer a question, we look it up and get back to people.” That can be a time-intensive process, but in the end, it helps the apologists as well as the inquirers to grow in their understanding of the Faith.
Overcoming Misconceptions of Non-Catholics
Keating says that the misconceptions about the Church held by many non-Catholics is a hereditary-like thing. “Non-Catholics are told that the Church is either evil or foolish, and therefore they are prejudiced against it. Such misconceptions,” he says, “can be overcome by engaging them on their own terms, answering their questions, and sharing what we really believe.” He’s seen many cases in which individuals who are taught the truth, while not becoming Catholic, at least cease to be anti-Catholic. “That is a kind of conversion in and of itself,” says Keating.
Many times people come demanding a simple answer to what they insist is a simple question. But Keating insists that the faith sometimes requires complex answers even to simple questions. He observes that faith is both simple and complex because that’s the way life itself is.
Catholicism, he explains, is suited both to those who want a simple faith and to those who want the maximum depth of understanding. “Fundamentalism, on the other hand, has no deep theology. It has no theory of spirituality.”
Keating recalls how Fr. Ray Ryland once commented that when he was a Protestant seminarian, all his seminary’s spirituality texts were by Catholics. When Ryland asked a professor why that was the case, the professor responded, “Because only Catholics write about spirituality.” “Protestants have no parallel,” Keating insists. “They focus on how to get saved and drop out all the rest.”
Overcoming Misconceptions of Catholics
Yet non-Catholics aren’t the only ones with misconceptions about the Faith. Keating notes that many Catholics as well are uninformed, and he blames the problem on poor teaching. Catholic Answers, he explains, provides answers that people aren’t receiving from the pulpit.
“If people were getting all the answers they needed from the pulpit, there would be no need for a lay organization such as Catholic Answers. However,” adds Keating, “we no longer live in a Bing Crosby kind of Church,” the kind of idealized parish portrayed in old movies such as The Bells of Saint Mary’s.
“Even with those fine priests who represent the Faith as they should, it is no longer enough. It used to be that in places like Chicago you could find four Catholic Churches at one intersection — German, Polish, Irish, and another. We no longer live in that kind of a Catholic ghetto.
“Most Catholics do not receive a Catholic education, and even Catholic schools are insufficiently teaching the Faith. By default there is a need.”
The Second Vatican Council, in its Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, called for lay men and women to “exercise a genuine apostolate by their activity on behalf of bringing the gospel and holiness to men” (par. 2). As Keating sees it, that’s why it’s so important for a lay organization such as Catholic Answers to do the work of evangelism and apologetics.
“Ninety-nine percent of the Church is made up of lay people,” he points out. “We, as lay people, need to be active. This is what Vatican II was talking about.”
This article appeared in Envoy Magazine (vol. 5.2) in 2001. Written by Tim Drake, copyright Envoy Magazine, all rights reserved. www.envoymagazine.com
“If there is a Russian Orthodox Theological Institution in Moscow who can teach our parishioners and newly ordained clergymen to preach Orthodoxy in the Indonesian language we urge you to establish a branch of your seminary in Indonesia. Many Indonesians will come to learn and obtain a degree in Theology. Our people want to be educated by the Russian Orthodox Church in the Orthodox faith. We do not have the capabilities to send our clergymen overseas to be obtain a theological education in the Russian Church. Also, Indonesians who are not Orthodox are attracted by the prospect of a higher educated with a degree. Through their education in a Theological Institute they will come to the Orthodox faith.”
— Archimandrite Daniel Byantoro