With the recent visit of Cardinals Dolan and Harvey, the Rosary and Eucharistic Rally, Indian Summer Festival Mass and the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) gathering at the Wisconsin Club, we are on a bit of a Catholic high.
I hope we can feed off the good insights and positive emotional feelings that have been generated as we begin the vital work of supporting our Catholic faith in the months ahead.
One of the insights Cardinal Dolan shared, which struck a sympathetic cord with a number of Catholics, was his call to develop an apologetic approach in this secularist climate.
At first blush, many would think apologetics refers to the act of apologizing, saying sorry for committing a mistake. But actually, the word apologetics comes from the Greek “apologetikos,” which means “a defense.”
Jesuit Fr. John Hardon, a well-respected catechetical teacher, defined apologetics in this manner: “The science that aims to explain and justify religious doctrine. It shows the reasonableness of such doctrine in the face of objections offered by those who refuse to accept any religion, especially Christianity and more particularly Roman Catholicism.” (Modern Catholic Dictionary, page 34)
Some say we are entering an era of a third generation of illiterate Catholics. Although it might be said we have recently been much better in offering a systematic approach to understanding the faith, especially with the production of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we must realize it has only been 20 years since its publication and it takes time for any work to be absorbed into our cultural experience.
We sometimes forget we live in what some have termed a post-Christian age. The rise of anti-religious sentiment, secularism and relativism are symptomatic of the age in which we live. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that almost everyone is concerned with “evangelization.”
There is a need to discover – and for some to rediscover – the importance of Christ and his church. Likewise, we need to know and experience the essential link of Christ and his church.
In the recent archdiocesan pastoral letter, we asked the question which Jesus posed to his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” This is an essential question because the response shapes our relationship to all of life.
The fullness of that answer cannot be given outside of the church. It is Peter who affirms that Jesus is the Son of God and our messiah. Peter is “the rock,” the foundation of the faith. Peter is the first pope. His profession of faith is recognized by Jesus as a response that comes from God the Father himself. Upon this rock I will build my church.
If we accept the truth of Jesus, we therefore must accept his church. Without the church, Jesus becomes whatever anyone wants to make him. When one attacks the church, they are attacking Jesus. Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?
Our responsibility as a Catholic is to be able to defend the faith. How do we prepare to defend the faith? Find some champions who do it well.
In the ’50s, the Catholic Church had Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. He addressed the questions of the age and provided answers that came from the Catholic faith. He did so with intelligence and a bit of humor. He was certainly a popular figure that made sense not only to Catholics, but to the rest of society as well.
In our present time, Fr. Robert Barron is emerging as a figure who is unafraid to address the social critics that attack Christ and his church. His “Catholicism” series recaptures the thoughtful approach to the faith and celebrates the artistic beauty of the church as he reflects on its teachings.
During his presentation at the Pallium Lecture, Cardinal Dolan offered the names of Scott Hahn and Peter Kreeft (Google them; you’ll be pleasantly surprised). Both individuals have for a long time been apologists (defenders) of the church. It is interesting to note both are converts.
Many times it is our converts who become the greatest advocates. They embrace the faith as a treasure that needs to be appreciated and protected. Those who work in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation) are privileged to experience the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who seek membership in the church.
Kreeft, in his book, “Catholic Christianity,” states: “The fundamental reason for being a Catholic is the historical fact that the Catholic Church was founded by Christ, was God’s invention, not man’s – unless Christ, her founder, is not God, in which case not just Catholicism but Christianity itself is false. To be a Christian is to believe that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord.’ To acknowledge him as Lord is to obey his will. And he willed the Catholic (universal) Church for all his disciples for all Christians. We are Catholics because we are Christians.”
Learn about the faith and select a “champion,” a defender who articulates the Catholic response to those who might attack or ridicule the church. The defenders will help fashion within us a Catholic vision that will help us profess our faith.
“Blessed are they when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven” Mt 5:11-12.