We had one of those rare moments on social media yesterday, when Catholics and non-Catholics alike came together to collectively roll our eyes at the mainstream media’s continuing efforts to deliberately misrepresent Catholicism. In case you missed it, the touchstone was an address by Pope Francis in which His Holiness touched upon issues of science. The breathless response of most secular media outlets was to proclaim that the Holy Father was once again challenging the establishment, changing Church doctrine, and so forth.
Except, of course, that he wasn’t doing any such thing.
I’m not going to attempt to write a blog post about the Church’s teachings on the Book of Genesis, the origin of human beings, and so on; that has already been done, by far better writers than I; you can find all kinds of information on Catholic Answers, for example. Nor am I intending to take this brief amount of space to provide a lengthy rebuttal to the notion that the Church is somehow anti-science. There are in fact plenty of others who are doing just that, such as my friend Ian Maxfield in Scotland, who has spent years chronicling the contributions of the Church and Catholics to all areas of science, many of which remain completely unfamiliar to most.
Instead, this is an opportunity to address something else, which I suspect many have been asking themselves over the past several years, not just under this Pope but indeed under the two previous popes as well. Why, one may reasonably ask, are we always having to explain what the Catholic Church does and does not believe? The answer is, I’m afraid, that it’s our full-time job. Allow me to explain.
Last evening I was watching a PBS travel show in which the host, whose anti-Catholic bent is often thinly-veiled, used the word “worship” when describing Catholics pausing to pray before a statue of the Virgin Mary at a chapel in Croatia. As Catholics know, and indeed non-Catholics should know, we don’t worship Mary AT ALL (let alone statues.) Period. Worship is for God alone; Mary is a creature rather than a creator, a human being and not a goddess. To use the word “worship” in this context is either to spread anti-Catholic misinformation, or a demonstration of spectacular ignorance about one of the core beliefs of the Church, which those who are unfamiliar with Catholicism will simply accept as true, because it happens to have been broadcast on television.
Notice that I just managed to tell you, my readers, what the truth is, and it did not require a special Vatican commission to be appointed in order for me to do so. Because you see with all the fuss and fumbling over the Church – what did the Pope say or what did that bishop remark – one thing that Catholics often forget is that the Church hierarchy is there to shepherd us, but not to fight all our battles. We are like sheep, but we are not actual sheep; even sheep know that for the most part, they need to stick together. Otherwise, the wolves will have a field day.
All Catholics are called upon to evangelize, not just the ones wearing robes and funny hats. The Vatican isn’t going to come running to the rescue every time someone says something about Catholicism that is untrue. It may be somewhat inside baseball to remark that the press office there could be a bit more organized and consistent, but that being said, only God is omnipresent, not Father Lombardi.
Christ expects that the job of each one of us is to live out the Christian life where we are in life, whatever our station. I may not be able to get on NBC and denounce their bad reporting, but I can sure raise a stink about it among my friends on social media, or indeed on this blog. And you can do the same, gentle reader.
These continuing opportunities to re-discover what Catholics believe, and to share that belief with those who might otherwise never hear it, is something that all of us must do, even if we’re just having a chat with the neighbors over the back fence. The final command of Jesus before His Ascension, that His followers go do the job of teaching all nations, should start right where we are, now. We need to realize that it is our job to do so, whether in responding directly to a large media organization, or right in our literal back yard.
Detail of “St. Peter Preaching” by Fra Angelico (c. 1433)
Museo di San Marco, Florence