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.
BIBLICAL EVIDENCE FOR CATHOLICISM
Another product of the curious wave of mid-1980s conversions to the Church (curious in that they all seem to have happened independently of one another without anybody other than the Holy Spirit being aware of all the other conversions taking place), Dave tells his story in the best-selling "Surprised by Truth" (Basilica Press, $13.99). Like many converts, Dave has been greatly influenced by that great (and unintentional) midwife to the Catholic faith, C.S. Lewis. Also greatly influenced by people like G.K. Chesterton and John Henry Newman, as well as Malcolm Muggeridge and Father John Hardon, Dave has gone on to be a prodigious writer and arguer about the Faith with countless people on the Web. His website offers a massive array of apologetics essays on everything under the sun (and over it). There is work on the sacraments, tradition (with replies to the great Protestant creation myth of sola scriptura, the Eucharist, conversations about the various scandals in the Church's history, the Church's relationship with non-Catholic and non-Christian religions, Romantic and Imaginative theology, patristics, ecumenism, salvation, saints (including the Blessed Virgin), radical traditionalism, Trinitarianism and Christology, the papacy, eschatology and a ton of other topics. St. Justin Martyr had two dialogues. Dave has 624 and counting. And the guy has written 24 e-books and maintains a blog in which he merrily argues for the Faith with a wide variety of folks from all manner of backgrounds. If you want to see a lay apostle at work in the modern agora that is the Internet, check him out!
FATHER ROBERT BARRON
WORD ON FIRE
Father Barron is arguably the hardest working man in the American Church. He is the Francis Cardinal George Professor of Faith and Culture at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago and also is the founder of Word On Fire. Word On Fire programs are broadcast regularly on WGN America, Relevant Radio, CatholicTV, EWTN, and the Word on Fire website which offers daily blogs, articles, commentaries, and over 10 years of weekly sermon podcasts. In 2010, Father Barron was the first priest to have a national show on a secular television network since the 1950s. As the creator and host of "Catholicism," a groundbreaking 10-part documentary series and study program about the Catholic faith, he has given us what George Weigel calls "the most important media project in the history of the Catholic Church in America." He is a passionate student of art, architecture, music and history, which he calls upon throughout his global travels in the making of the documentary. On the Web, perhaps the single coolest and most enjoyable gift Father Barron brings to anybody hungry to understand the intersection of pop culture and the Faith is the enormously popular Word on Fire YouTube channel, wherein Father Barron offers brilliantly insightful commentary on whatever happens to be in the news that day.
From a fantastic analysis of the theological underpinnings of the Coen Brothers' "True Grit," to a chat about the relationship of the schlock sci-fi film 2012 to Christian eschatology, to a sympathetic but ultimately devastating takedown of the latest "I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus" video sweeping the Web, Father Barron fearlessly, lucidly and with great charm evangelizes the Web, particularly with a view to those who know nothing about or are actively hostile to the Christian and Catholic tradition.
He is a joyous apostle for the beauty and truth of the Faith.
DAVID M. CHENEY
THE HIERARCHY OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
How many times has this happened to you? You're at a party and somebody turns to you and says, "Of course we all know who the archbishop of Kuala Lumpur is these days." No longer will you have to stand there feeling foolish and ignorant. Because David Cheney has put together a truly massive website dedicated to nothing less than tracking the information on every single diocese in the world. Who's bishop. Who's retiring. What synods, consistories and other meetings are in the works. Historical details of each diocese. Bishops living and dead as far back as we can trace the bureaucratic records. Curia. Cardinals. Religious orders. We're talking current and historical information about every single bishop and diocese on planet Earth. (By the way, the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur is Murphy Nicholas Xavier Pakiam. He's only the second archbishop since it only became an archdiocese on Dec. 18, 1972. But then you knew that.)
Steve Greydanus is a man who loves the movies. A film critic for the National Catholic Register and a regular contributor to Christianity Today, Steve also is a member of the Online Film Critics Society, co-hosts the TV show "Reel Faith" for NET TV. He has logged many hours on television and radio, has reviewed hundreds of films and devised a useful rating system that looks at the overall recommendability, artistic-entertainment value, moral-spiritual value, and age-appropriateness of each film.
This has proven to be a huge help to many people in discerning not only which films are worth spending money on, but when to bring the kids. In addition, his perceptive essays help Catholics squeeze all the juice out of films by making them more aware of the subtexts of the visuals, story, and acting so they can better grasp how the artists who create some of our best films are communicating their message.
Sometimes Steve will embark on various essays (all available on his site) in which he offers his insightful analyses (as, for instance, a recent piece in which he discusses the peculiar trend among a number of disparate filmmakers who deal with the breakdown of the home visually by literally destroying the houses of the characters who live in them). Steve is my go-to guy when I want to get the latest news on what's in the theater or available on DVD.
Kevin Knight is one of the driest, drollest and funniest people on the web. A citizen of the Mile High City of Denver, Kevin is a serious Catholic with a serious passion for making information about the faith available to a huge population of Catholics on the Web. Anybody who runs a blog and has received a link from Kevin knows the potential he has for crashing one's server with a sudden influx of vast crowds of readers from his New Advent site. The look of the site is a curious combination of "The Drudge Report" (gobs of interesting news links on the front page about whatever interests Kevin in fields of religion, science, the arts, culture, politics or just plain News of the Weird), plus links to a valuable collection of some very impressive libraries of goodies he has amassed. Need to access a hyperlinked complete copy of St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologiae? Kevin's your man. Likewise, if you want to see the still extremely useful 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia? It's all there, lovingly typed into html and hyperlinked by a team of devoted volunteers who put in thousands of man hours to make this resource available to the world.
In addition, you can find the Douay-Rheims Bible (with Challoner commentary), and a ton of patristic and ecclesial documents. You may love it so much that you find yourself volunteering to help type in more resources to help this dedicated servant of the Gospel.
IN THE LIGHT OF THE LAW
Ed Peters received his degree in (American common) law from the University of Missouri at Columbia in 1982 and his doctoral degree in Roman Catholic canon law from The Catholic University of America in 1991.
Since 2005 he has held the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.
In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI named him a referendarius — basically a canon law consultant — of the Church's highest court, the Apostolic Signatura.
He's the author of a number of books, including three extremely helpful books on three different subjects almost nobody in the media understands: indulgences, excommunications and annulments.
Peters' blog is the go-to place on the Web for all your informed canon law needs. He tackles everything from soup to nuts with the measure balance and sanity of somebody who has seen a wide variety of complicated, tricky, bizarre and even funny matters arise as the human parade marches through the Church doing all manner of things that are not According to the Rules.
That's OK, because Peters recognizes that the law was made for man, not man for the law, and he therefore realizes that the function of canon law is to help us become more human, not be saved by law, rules and regulations.
If you are puzzling about a canonical issue in the news or in your life, check with him.
He'll probably know what's going on.
ST. PAUL CENTER FOR BIBLICAL THEOLOGY
The St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology is a nonprofit research and educational institute that promotes life-transforming Scripture study in the Catholic tradition. The Center serves clergy and laity, students and scholars, with research and study tools — from books and publications to multimedia and online programming. Its goal is to be a teacher of teachers. It wants to raise up a new generation of priests who are fluent in the Bible and lay people who are biblically literate. For th center, this means more than helping people to know their way around the Bible. It means equipping them to enter into the heart of the living Word of God and to be transformed and renewed by this encounter. Accordingly, they read the Bible from the heart of the Church, in light of the Church's Liturgy and living Tradition. Hahn has already had immense success in this, having mentored such fine scholars and teachers as Tim Gray and Ted Sri (two ornaments of the Church in Denver), as well as a phenomenally successful ministry as both a Scripture scholar at Franciscan University in Steubenville, and internationally as a speaker and teacher whose work goes out by written word, radio and TV globally.
His infectious love of Scripture and extremely perceptive commentaries have opened the Bible up to untold numbers of readers both Catholic and Protestant and led to both conversions of non-Catholics and deepening of faith for Catholics.
The St. Paul Center offers online studies of Scripture, audio resources, a vast and growing library of resources, commentary from Scott and from such noted Scripture scholars as Michael Barber and John Bergsma, patristics information from Mike Aquilina, and information on liturgy, prayer and Catholic spirituality.
STEPHEN K. RAY
DEFENDERS OF THE CATHOLIC FAITH
Steve is another human dynamo who, like Dave Armstrong, hails from Michigan. And he is a ball of fire. Recently, Steve sponsored a young man who was being confirmed. When the lad came to visit him, Steve greeted him in full Roman armor and, brandishing his sword, demanded to know if he was willing to suffer and die for his faith. That's Steve all over, since he himself gives every indication that he would consider it an honor to be roasted on a griddle for the Lord Jesus. Raised as a Baptist, Steve had an encounter with the Holy Spirit that drew him closer and closer to the Catholic Church until, in the mid-1990s, he and his family all made the decisive choice to enter the Church. Since that time, he has dedicated himself to spreading the Catholic faith with all the considerable zeal he can muster. This has included not only making his epic "Footprints of God" video series (Ignatius) but also setting up the massive resource known as the Defenders of the Catholic Faith website. There, you will find a colossal array of resources including, not just Steve's blog and a chat board, but book, video and CD recommendations as well as gobs of links to all sorts of other valuable sites (not to mention Steve's own very helpful writings on such things as the papacy or his Scripture studies). As Garrison Keillor says of Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery, if you can't find it at Steve's site, you can probably get along without it.
FATHER JOHN ZUHLSDORF
WHAT DOES THE PRAYER REALLY SAY
The mission of Father Z's blog is very plain: Slavishly accurate liturgical translations and frank commentary on Catholic issues. He delivers in spades, answering questions about all things liturgical for the benefit and delectation of his fiercely loyal readers. Although he's not always everybody's cup of tea in his personal views on politics and culture, he remains a very useful resource for those concerned with the fine points of liturgical practice both legit and whackadoodle. As the age of daft liturgical experimentation draws to a merciful close under good Pope Benedict, Father Z is a friend to those who have suffered under homilies about how Jesus was a racist (I endured one of them myself), or compelled to watch liturgies in which Sister Orbis Rotunda, replete with short-cropped iron grey hair and sensible shoes, graces us with a Fantasia "Dance of the Hours" interpretation of "And the Father will Dance," or some genius decides to consecrate French bread as a sign of "solidarity with the people." Father Z provides abundant clarity about the simplicities of "Say the black. Do the red" as well as helps people find resources for what to do about liturgical abuses, loopy ad hoc teaching, and sundry progressive dissenting nuttery.
THE CATHERINE OF SIENA INSTITUTE
Full disclosure: Sherry is godmum to our oldest son. She and the Shea clan go way back to about 1980, when we both lived in Seattle and neither of us dreamed of being Catholic. We were friends through the '80s, found ourselves on the same journey into the Church, started that Seattle Catholic Study group I mentioned, and entered the Church at the same Mass. After this, her diligent zeal for the Faith led her to become interested in the Church's teaching on the vocation and mission of the laity, which led her to begin exploring the Church's theology of charisms (which are the tools God gives each baptized person to carry out the work he desires us to do). And this, in turn, led her to found, along with Dominican Father Michael Sweeney, the Catherine of Siena Institute, which is now busily conducting "Called and Gifted" and "Making Disciples" workshops all over the world and helping Catholics connect with the Church's teaching on our vocations as laity, the charisms God has given all the baptized to fulfill those vocations, and the ways in which Catholics can grow as intentional disciples of Jesus Christ. The Catherine of Siena Institute site has a large library of documents which help the reader to root himself in the Church's teaching about our work as laity in the New Evangelization, about our mission as apostles, and about the gifts God has given each baptized person carrying that mission out. In addition, Sherry maintains a blog in which she keeps her finger on the pulse of what is happening in the mission field, as well as keeps tabs on the Church as she helps Catholics grow toward a deeper understanding of our vocation and gifts as laypeople.