This year in the diocese in which I live, every Catholic who went to a Christmas Mass received a copy of a book by a popular Catholic writer on rediscovering Catholicism as not just a burden of lifeless rules and regulations but as a divinely designed program to achieving one’s personal potential and authentic happiness.
It was a pretty ambitious project that I hope does a lot of good. Receiving it, though, made me also reflect on how important it is for Catholics to invest time not only in the practice of prayer and reception of the sacraments, but also in the intellectual side of faith formation. This has been a major theme of Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate: Faith and reason pose no threat to each other; while practicing the faith is an encounter and a relationship with Christ, developing our intellects is in no way a hindrance but a benefit.
Some other benefits: Well-formed Catholics are less easily troubled in storms of controversy stirred up in the media, as in the recent flap over Pope Benedict’s remarks about condoms in his book-length interview, and are better equipped to see through the fog of distortion and confusion.
And they are better able to serve as effective missionaries. As our first pope, St. Peter, said: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pt 3:15).
Of course, at this point, you’re waiting for me to cue a pitch for Catholics to support their newspapers and other media. It is true that regular reading of OSV Newsweekly will keep you abreast of the Catholic news, both here and abroad, you should know about. And I greatly appreciate your support and loyal readership.
But engaging with current events is not all I’m talking about.
Take, for example, Mike Aquilina’s piece about the Church Fathers in this issue (see Pages 14-15). I challenge you to read it and not come away wanting to read more about the Church Fathers and Blessed John Henry Newman. In fact, I’ve added reading Newman to my must-do-in-2011 list.
Here is a taste of Newman I recently saw quoted about how Catholics need not be afraid. “Christianity has been too often in what seemed deadly peril, that we should fear for it any new trial now. ... What is commonly a great surprise, when it is witnessed, is the particular mode by which, in the event, Providence rescues and saves His elect inheritance. Sometimes our enemy is turned into a friend; sometimes he is despoiled of that special virulence of evil which was so threatening; sometimes he falls to pieces of himself; sometimes he does just so much as is beneficial, and then is removed. Commonly the Church has nothing more to do than to go on in her own proper duties, in confidence and peace; to stand still and to see the salvation of God.”
I look forward to hearing your formation plan at firstname.lastname@example.org.