The Depressing Pew Forum StudyFATHER ROBERT BARRON
Let us reclaim our great heritage.
The Catholic Church is suffering mightily today from two self-inflicted wounds. The first is the clerical sex abuse scandal, involving the gross violation of the most vulnerable members of the community by some priests and the countenancing or enabling of this crime by some bishops. This outrage has been the perfect storm. Not only has it deeply wounded young people; it has also compromised the work of the church in almost every way, since it has undermined so thoroughly the credibility that the church requires in order to teach, preach, catechize, and evangelize.
If you had asked me twenty years ago what the worst moment in American Catholic history was, I would have identified the mid nineteenth century, when anti-Catholic bigots were burning down convents, attacking priests, and organizing political parties whose purpose was the elimination of Catholicism on these shores. But now I would say that we are living, right now, through the worst moment in American Catholic history.
The beige church certainly went running after modernity, but modernity continued to run away, indifferent to its ardent pursuer. And then, in the wake of the events of September 11th, elements of that modern culture turned aggressively round on the church and accused it of irrationality, superstition, and violence. The "new" atheists – Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and others – have been characterizing the very idea of God as ridiculous and attacking the institutions of religion as corrupt and backward-looking. And confronted with this enemy, the church has found itself defenseless, having jettisoned much of its own rich intellectual tradition. The beigification of Catholicism has, therefore, also crucially compromised the church's ability to evangelize.
Apparently the enemies of the faith know it best, while the supposed defenders of the faith are rather confused about it. Not surprisingly, the atheists have seized on the results of this survey with a certain glee, arguing that to know religion is to hate it and, by implication, not to know it very well is the condition for the possibility of falling for it. This is, obviously, a sorry state of affairs for us believers, and it has been produced, in large part, by the accommodating, beige attitudes I described above. If the program is primarily dialogue with the culture, why bother reverencing and passing on the intellectual and cultural heritage of the Catholic Church? If all that really matters is "being a nice person," then why bother learning the faith?
The good news is that this trend can be reversed; the bad (or at least challenging) news is that it will require a lot of work. Catholicism is a smart and beautiful tradition. It includes the varied and complex texts of the Bible, the systematic theology of St. Irenaeus, the Platonizing theology of Origen and Augustine, the sermons of John Chrysostom, the exquisitely articulated arguments of Thomas Aquinas, soul-stirring Gregorian chant, the life-changing poetry of Dante, the mysticism of Bernard, Teresa of Avila, and John of the Cross, the stained glass of Chartres Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel Ceiling, the soaring polyphony of Palestrina, Mozart's Requiem, John Henry Newman's Essay on the Development of Doctrine, Hans Urs von Balthasar's stunningly rich theological vision, and John Paul II's Veritatis Splendor.
We need a new army of priests, sisters, teachers, and catechists who love this tradition enough to know it inside and out – and who have the passion to pass it on. As I have argued before, we have instructors in our Catholic high schools, who are willing and able to communicate Hamlet and Virgil's Aeneid to young people. Why not some masters willing and able to pass on Aquinas and Dante?
Father Robert Barron, "The Depressing Pew Forum Study." Our Sunday Visitor (October 18, 2010).
Reprinted with permission of Father Robert Barron.
Fr. Robert Barron was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1986. He has a Masters degree in Philosophy from the Catholic University of America and a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Institute Catholique de Paris. He is currently professor of systematic theology at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein Seminary. Fr. Barron is the author of, And Now I See: A Theology of Transformation, Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master, Heaven in Stone and Glass: Experiencing the Spirituality of the Great Cathedrals, Eucharist (Catholic Spirituality for Adults), Priority of Christ, The: Toward a Postliberal Catholicism, and Word on File: Proclaiming the Power of Christ. He also gives frequent talks, retreats and workshops on issues of theology and spirituality.
Father Barron uses his YouTube channel to reach out to people and bring valuable lessons of faith alive by pointing out things that can be learned by watching popular characters of movies and television shows.
Copyright © 2010 Father Robert Barron
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