St Justin Martyr

(entered heaven in 165)

Dear Tyrone,

Well, your last note seems to indicate that you have finally learned your lesson.  I won’t point out how long this abandoned and imprisoned uncle has been trying to teach it to you; I will just breathe a sigh of relief that it finally got taught: “Conversion by concussion” doesn’t work.  Christ didn’t use that method, the Church doesn’t use it, and so you should take the hint.  You can’t FORCE someone into loving God; you just can’t.  So it’s useless to get into heated arguments with people.  It’s worse than useless; it’s self-defeating.  Name one time that a heated argument has produced anything other than anger, frustration, and resentment.  That’s all they’re good for.  Period.  The proper way to engage in discussions is with “meekness and humility”, as Our Lord put it.  And the great thing about it is that we can AFFORD to be meek and humble, because the truth really is on our side, so in the end, if our MANNERS don’t alienate the people we’re trying to convince, they will be won over.  Today’s saint was a great example of this.

Before St Justin came around, the Christians kept their doctrine off the public radar screen; they gained converts only by one-on-one exchanges, in the safety of private conversations.  St Justin, however, was convinced that many more Romans would embrace Christ if Christians made an effort to publicize their faith and their practices.

He himself, for example, had been haplessly searching for the truth about God as he tried out every school of philosophy and religion that the Roman Empire had to offer.  Only a chance encounter with an old man on a beach spurred him to look into the teachings of Christ.  Now, if he had found the truth he was so avidly seeking in the doctrines of Christ, he argued, surely the same process could work for many others.  Besides, he did not want to be held responsible before God for hoarding the truth that leads to salvation.

So he published explanations of Christian doctrine, worship, and morals (his two great “Apologies” – from the Greek for “explanation”), opened a school for Christian philosophy, and traveled the Empire engaging prominent teachers and philosophers in discussions about the faith.  His efforts gave a vital boost to the Church in the Age of Persecutions.  They also put his neck on the chopping block.

When he was turned in to the Roman prefect by one of his disgruntled opponents (academic envy is not something unique to modern times, you know), he refused to sacrifice to the pagan gods, boldly affirming (together with six other Christians on trial with him), “We ask nothing better than to suffer for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ and so to be saved.”  They all lost their heads, and found heaven.

Tirelessly and boldly he proclaimed the truth, but it was not out of fear or desperation.  It was out of sincere love for Christ and others, and that love converted more souls than any number of “concussions” would have done.  So don’t fret and don’t go “toe-to-toe”; control yourself and be a drop of honey – you’ll catch more flies that way than you would with a whole barrel full of vinegar, as St Francis de Sales used to say.

Your devoted uncle,


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