In today's Second Reading, St. Peter tells us to always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks us for a reason for our hope. The Greek word for explanation here is apologia, and it can also mean a reasoned defense or argument that presents evidence and offers proof.
Can you do that? Can you offer an explanation for your hope in Jesus Christ? Can you make a reasoned defense or argument to support your Catholic faith and its various doctrines and practices? For instance, can you explain the doctrine of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist? Can you summarize the Church's teachings about our Blessed Mother? Can you explain why Catholics have such a strong relationship with the saints?
If you said no to any of these questions, don't feel too bad. Most Catholics are probably in the same boat. That being said, St. Peter makes it clear that we have a responsibility to know our faith well enough to be able to explain it to others. We all face questions about Catholicism, which tends to be extremely misunderstood and often slandered. We need to be ready to answer when an unbeliever challenges us or when a well-meaning but misinformed fellow Christian offers his or her own opinions.
Learning about our Catholic faith is a life-long process, and if you haven't already done so, it's time to get started.
1. Read the Bible. The Sacred Scriptures are God's love letter to His children. They have God as their Author, and they tell us a great deal of what we need to know about Who God is and how He has interacted with His people over the centuries. Furthermore, in the Gospels, we get to know Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity and God-made-Man. Read at least a chapter every day if not more.
2. Find a good Catholic Scripture commentary to help you comprehend what you read in the Bible. There are parts of Scripture that are hard to understand, even for people who have been studying for years. I would suggest purchasing a copy of the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, prepared by Dr. Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch. The New Testament commentary is available in one volume, and there are already several booklets on the market for various Old Testament books. Another good option is the Navarre Bible. If you prefer something online, try Agape Catholic Bible Study, which offers studies for Old and New Testament books as well as topical studies.
3. Get a Catechism, read it, and learn how to use it. The 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church offers excellent explanations of nearly all aspects of our Catholic faith. Make it your primary resource. If you don't want to purchase a copy (although I would highly recommend doing so), you can access the Catechism online at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.
4. Read a few good books about the Catholic faith. You might begin with Dr. Alan Schreck's Catholic and Christian, Dr. Peter Kreeft's Catholic Christianity, and Dr. Scott Hahn's Catholic for a Reason. There are plenty of options from these authors and others for digging even more deeply. Just make sure that any book you choose is faithful in its Catholic teaching.
5. Meet some saints. They lived their faith deeply, and they provide excellent examples of people who are not afraid to offer an explanation for what they believe. Choose a saint or two, read about their lives, dig into their writings, and pray to them for guidance and intercession.
6. Find someone who can answer your questions. You might talk to your parish priest, join a study group at your church, or chat with lay person who has some training in Scripture and theology. Websites like EWTN and RC Spirituality have archives of questions and answers and ask-a-question forms to fill out if you're still stumped.
7. Pray, pray, pray. You will never truly understand your Catholic faith if you don't have a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Ask Him for wisdom and understanding. Meet Him in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist. Make Him your first priority in everything. Then open your heart, open your mind, and allow Him to teach you your faith so that you can follow St. Peter's command and be ready to offer an explanation to anyone who asks you the reason for your hope.