By Mark Shea - OSV Newsweekly, 2/12/2012
When I was coming into the Church (back in 1987, when Pangaea was breaking up) one of the big challenges for somebody who wanted to know what the Church taught was simply finding material that made the faith intelligible to people who did not speak Catholicese.
Sure there were things like conciliar documents and papal decrees, or histories, and books of theology layered in dust if you wanted to make the haj to some local Catholic school library and wander the stacks. But mostly what we got out here in the wilds of the Archdiocese of Seattle was what we were told by whichever warm body had gotten sucked into teaching RCIA that year.
I learned, for instance that the, er, Augustinian sins of the flesh I had committed in college were mere "storms of youth" and that I should pay them no mind. I was pretty sure that these sins were still a no-no, so I concluded that in the effort to affirm me in my okayness, my teacher was, in fact, fudging on what the Church actually taught in order to accommodate me.
I preferred knowing what the Church taught so I could make an informed decision. So together with my friend Sherry Weddell (of whom, more in a moment) we formed the Seattle Catholic Study group and proceeded to read and study our way into the Church along with some other like-minded evangelicals who found ourselves drawn to the universal Church, and yet strangely stymied by the local Church. Stymied how? Well, the usual: silly parish politics, teachers who were oddly hostile to the subject matter they taught, priests who told us that the book of Exodus was the equivalent of a Paul Bunyan story, bitter nuns who demanded to know why anybody in their right mind would want to be Catholic, orthodox teachers who could not for the life of them teach and who panicked when you asked them questions, and an archdiocese riven in pieces by all sorts of kooky controversies of which we understood little or nothing.
Not surprisingly, our experience persuaded us that if we actually wanted to find out what the Church taught, we would have to do it ourselves since our teachers were so singularly reluctant, embarrassed and ashamed to reveal the content of the Faith. So we went in search of such resources as we could find.
Certain things presented themselves, such as books — written by converts who spoke Evangelicalese — that addressed our burning questions about such matters as the authority of Scripture, justification, the Church's historical black marks like the treatment of Jews, the sacraments, the Real Presence and the place of Mary. Dan O'Neill, a local convert and author of "The New Catholics," as well as biographies of John Michael Talbot and Mother Angelica, was hugely helpful. Also Thomas Howard's "Evangelical is Not Enough," Alan Schreck's "Catholic and Christian," and Karl Keating's "Catholicism and Fundamentalism" were useful, as well as John Henry Newman's "Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine," various works of G.K. Chesterton (such as "Orthodoxy," "The Everlasting Man," "St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox," and "St. Francis of Assisi") with the final invaluable addition of Jesuit Father John Hardon's "Catholic Catechism."
And, of course, in those pre-Scott Hahn days, there was the extremely helpful Peter Kreeft, whose prodigious output of books by a Thomist who spoke both Catholic and evangelical and who understood our questions was immensely helpful. Sherry and I even corresponded with him and got back specific help for which the both of us will be eternally grateful.
Between these resources, we were able to get our questions answered and able to peacefully and honestly say, when the time came, "I believe all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims is revealed by God."
That was in 1987. By 1998, when I was asked to speak at my parish, I was stunned to discover that the small pile of books which we had used to educate ourselves on our way into the Church had swollen to a vast number of resources that filled two large lunch tables full of apologetic and catechetical resources, with no end in sight. The lay apologetics and catechetics firestorm touched off by Karl Keating in the 1980s (when he walked out of his parish one day and found all the cars in the parking lot covered with pamphlets full of crude anti-Catholic propaganda and resolved to offer mimeographed replies) has continued unabated to this day.
One Catholic layperson after another has taken up their apostolic vocation and borne witness to the faith in an ever-swelling tidal wave of information about the Faith via the new media, particularly the Internet, which now makes it possible for almost anybody to proclaim the Catholic faith as we are called to do—with cheap and easily available technology.
Rather than laborious trips to the library to hunt down obscure texts, anybody who wishes can, with the push of a button, find almost any resource he needs to research not just Catholic teaching, but almost anything pertaining to it, or Catholic history, art, music, or culture.
As a result, some very valuable and industrious Catholic ministries have appeared, courtesy of some enormously industrious and generous people who have poured thousands of man hours into sites which provide the world with a massive amount of information about the Faith, as well as links to still other sources in case you can't find what you need on their sites. Let's take a look at just 10 of them (knowing we are just scratching the surface).
Mark Shea writes the Catholic and Enjoying blog at www.patheos.com/blogs/markshea/ and is the author of "The Heart of Catholic Prayer: Opening the Our Father and the Hail Mary" (OSV, $12.95), to be released in March.
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