I was privileged to teach moral theology for 17 years for the Archdiocese of Chicago at the major seminary, St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois. Many would hold that the moral teaching of the Church is the frontline of the Church in the culture war of our society. In addition to the seminary students from the Archdiocese of Chicago, there were also seminarians from 44 additional archdioceses and dioceses. This was a wonderful cross-section of individuals from the entire country.
I assumed my position in 1983. Many of the students relied upon the ethics classes that they received in their colleges — some secular, other religious. Extremely few held to an understanding of natural law as the basis for moral or ethical teachings, and many were taught to reject the notion of a possibility of “natural law.” Yet, natural law forms the basis for much of the Church’s moral teachings. Instead, the predominant understanding of ethics is what can be argued and presented as a winnable position. There was no sense of objective truth. There was no longer a sense of right or wrong. Many of the Church’s teachings were held suspect in the mind of those who listen to the social deconstructionists. Of course, at the heart of the acceptance of any teaching is the understanding of “authority.” In the 70s and 80s, “authority” was often dismissed in exchange for individual autonomy: This could be the truth for me, but not for you. This is right for me, but wrong for you.
I found that my time in the classroom was not only teaching the moral positions but promoting and defending the Church’s teaching. Archbishop Fulton Sheen, the most recognizable Catholic prelate in the 50s and 60s in the United States, often stated that the modern theological problem in the Catholic Church was in the area of “ecclesiology,” which is the understanding of the Church — not what it is but rather who it is. Yet, every Sunday we profess our faith and state that we believe in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic faith. As the Catholic catechism states (171), the Church, “the pillar and bulwark of the truth, faithfully guards the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” She guards the memory of Christ’s words; it is she from generation to generation who hands on the apostles’ confession of faith. As a mother who teaches her children to speak and so to understand and communicate, the Church, our Mother, teaches us the language of truth in order to introduce us to the understanding and life of faith.
From the earliest beginnings of the Church, individuals came forward in the defense of the Church’s teachings. They were referred to as “apologists.” They present the reasonableness of the Church’s position. We sometimes forget that we have a duty to defend the Church’s teaching. Many of the early Church Fathers presented the teachings of the Church, which were not only convincing but compelling. It encouraged the Christian faithful to live the teachings in the face of society’s opposition.
In this secular age in which we live, we need modern apologists — those individuals who are unafraid to confront the errancy of modern ideologies.
Who are the modern apologists for the Roman Catholic Church? Many of us are familiar with them. We just have not placed them in the category of apologists.
Matthew Kelly, whose multiple books are free and widely distributed, much like the pamphlets of the evangelicals, is one. But Kelly, an Australian, is unabashedly Roman Catholic, and his works not only give insight to the reasonableness of the professed Catholic faith but a basis for the promotion of the faith in the communities in which we live. He is proud to be a Catholic and resonates with Catholics who love their Church. Kelly has a popular following and has been a tireless promoter of the faith.
Patrick Madrid’s daily national program is heard on Relevant Radio. He has authored a multitude of books, one which is actually entitled, “How to do Apologetics.” I particularly enjoyed “Pope Fiction,” a 1999 work that deals directly with answers to myths and misconceptions about the papacy. He tackles Church teachings on Purgatory, the importance of tradition and the saints, to mention a few. He is well worth reading and arms the faithful in thoughtful responses to today’s criticisms.
Bishop Robert Barron of “Word on Fire” is a committed intellectual and advocate of the importance of the Church Teachings. Bishop Barron, who is a longtime friend, has been a consistent champion of interpreting the positions of the Church in a manner acceptable and understandable to our younger generations. He has been a great voice at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for the importance of communications to the next generation of Catholic leaders. His philosophical training grounds his approach. I would encourage you to view his website, “Word on Fire,” and listen to his Sunday homilies. He is a teacher who excites his listeners. He has a group of devoted followers who understand the importance of sharing the faith.
But before Kelly, Madrid and Barron, was Peter Kreeft. During the period of the 70s and 80s, there was a lack of attention to Catholic Teachings. Catholics, who at one time knew their catechism by rote, now were hard-pressed to answer simple questions about the faith. It was into this vast wasteland that Peter Kreeft was an almost lone voice directing individuals in their understanding of the importance and reasonableness of the Church’s teachings. Recently, I was invited to introduce Dr. Kreeft at a Men of Christ leadership meeting. He is now 84 years of age, a professor of philosophy at Boston College and the author of 95 books. I remember my classmate, Fr. Richard Simon (Relevant Radio’s “Father Simon Says”), knowing that I was in a constant battle with the secular culture because of the lack of understanding of Catholic teaching, said to me, “Jerome, you’ve got to read Peter Kreeft: He gets it.” I did read and have been a fan ever since. There is a practicality about Dr. Kreeft’s teachings. At the morning conference, Dr. Kreeft spoke via Zoom on the subject of “Angels.” When was the last time any of us thought about angels? And yet, here was an eminent teacher of the faith talking about the importance and significance of angels in God’s plan of creation. Here was an 84-year-old man, excited about the teaching and its implications for our lives. He was talking to Catholic men, not to children, about “angels” as a real teaching in the Church and the respective angels that even now guard them. He is a valuable resource for all Catholics seeking understanding.
There is much in the Catholic teachings that gives us a vision and answers for the world in which we live, and these modern apologists assist us in strengthening our faith. Use the reflections offered by Kelly, Madrid, Barron or Kreeft, visit their websites and let them offer their insights and excite you about the Church’s teachings. The answer for all our social problems is found in Christ. Be grateful for the gift of your faith.