Upcoming Catholic Events to Consider Personal, Philosophical Aspects of Atheism

Gentle Reader, here are a couple of upcoming events which may tickle your fancy.  The first deals with the personal experience of a popular Catholic media personality, who didn’t start out as a Catholic, let alone a theist.  The second deals with an in-depth consideration of the Church’s philosophical engagement with Atheism, examined through both common sense and the teachings of one of Christianity’s greatest thinkers.

Blogger, author, and now radio host Jennifer Fulwiler will be at the Catholic Information Center here in D.C. on Monday, September 29th at 6:00 pm, which I’m very much looking forward to attending.  She’s be discussing her book, “Something Other Than God”, which charts her journey from materially successful atheist to spiritually joyful Catholic.  If you’re not already familiar with her story, check out her appearance on The Journey Home with Marcus Grodi on EWTN. On her blog, you can see other dates for her book tour, which this week brings her to the greater DC area.

2.  Continuing somewhat along with the theme of the preceding event, here’s an advance-planning conference, which you philosophers out there may be particularly interested in.  The second World Congress of Aquinas Leadership International will be held at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Huntington, Long Island, New York, from June 25 – June 29, 2015. The topic for the Congress will be something rather pertinent to the societal conversation we’re having at the moment: “Atheism, Religion, and Common Sense”

The reason for letting my readers know about this early, is because the organizers are putting together their list of speakers and presenters with plenty of advance time.  So those of you who might be interested in being a panelist, presenting a paper, or chairing one of the break-out sessions at the conference, should get in touch with Dr. Peter A. Redpath of the Adler-Aquinas Institute, at redpathp@gmail.com.  And if you’re already certain you’d like to attend just as a regular conference participant, please contact Dr. Redpath as well and he will be glad to get you details. I understand from Dr. Redpath that they already have a number of people registered for next summer’s conference, as there was such a positive reaction to the previous one.

Lecture Hall

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“The Feasts”: When Catholics Do What We Do

Thanks to everyone who read my review of “The Feasts” by Donald Cardinal Wuerl and Mike Aquilina, as part of the blog tour celebrating the launch of their new book. And thanks as well to the dozens who entered for a chance to win a free copy, courtesy of Image Books.  I’m pleased to announce that the winner is Jeff Quinton of Maryland! If you missed out this time around, check back in the coming weeks as I’ll have more books to review and give away.

Last evening I was able to drop by the Catholic Information Center here in DC and hear Cardinal Wuerl both present an overview of the reasoning behind the book, as well as answer questions from the audience.  He noted that the book was part of a trilogy, along with two other books co-written with Mike Aquilina – also published by Image – in response to the realization that they had to re-state things which many Catholics had taken for granted about knowledge of the Faith.  Thus, as his Eminence put it, the Mass is what we do, the church is where we do it, and the feasts are when we do it.

Cardinal Wuerl recognized that in earlier times, when people simply learnt about Christianity through a sort of osmosis in this country, the parish church and school were the center of community life.  In that atmosphere, Catholics more easily grasped the importance of the Mass, the church building and its contents, and the celebration of the feasts on the liturgical calendar as part and parcel of being Catholic.  Even today, the cycle of the Church year is of immense importance in calling Catholics to lives of constant prayer in all that we do, and also reflecting on our relationship with God through the recalling and celebrating of salvation history.

Today, because the culture is not going to reinforce this knowledge, these books are an attempt to pick up an important pedagogical tool and use it.  They serve as a way of reaching generations which did not have the benefit of the experience that older Catholics did, of growing up in such an environment.  He noted that the feasts allow us, every year, to continually re-experience the journey of faith, which is important for us as incarnate beings.  We thereby come to understand what we believe not just cognitively, but experientially.

I was also struck by something the Cardinal mentioned in the Q&A, when answering a question about his favorite saints.  He said that the first thing he sees when waking up in the morning, hanging on the wall, are a crucifix and an icon/relic of St. Thomas Becket, who of course was murdered on the implicit orders of King Henry II in 1170.  I have a similar experience, in that the first thing I see on the wall opposite when I wake up in the morning are a crucifix and a framed reproduction of Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna”.  Of course for a bishop, the daily visual reminder of the example of Becket, particularly in the present culture, is one that has a particularly deep and personal meaning in his vocation as a shepherd of the people of God.  As Cardinal Wuerl noted, in the midst of everything going on, when we’re caught up in the things of this world, Becket’s example is that the Church as the Body of Christ matters, first and foremost, above all else.

Thank you again, readers, for your patronage of this site, and thanks to Image Books as well for the opportunity to share this excellent book with you.

Detail of "The Feast Day of Saint Roch" by Canaletto (c. 1735) National Gallery, London

Detail of “The Feast Day of Saint Roch” by Canaletto (c. 1735)
National Gallery, London

Flying the Banner

Last evening at the Catholic Information Center here in D.C., Father James Bradley gave a wonderful talk on “The Way of Beauty; The Way of Happiness”, as part of the TOT (Theology On Tap) Talks organized by the Young Adult Ministry of the Archdiocese of Washington.  Pointing to examples from areas such as art, music, and architecture, Father Bradley challenged his listeners to consider the impact of beauty in our lives, and how it points us to the transcendent.  He asked the deeply important question of whether contemporary acceptance of what was formally considered ugly or demeaning, as being equal or superior to what was formally considered beautiful, is leading us away from God.  You can listen to the audio of Father Bradley’s presentation when it is archived on the TOT page later today.

While the reader may, with good reason, assume that I would have quite a bit to say on this question, I instead want to focus on a comment which Father Bradley made in the course of his presentation.  He noted that when engaging with those who do not accept the Christian worldview on topics such as beauty, we often find ourselves getting nowhere by making apologetic arguments based on doctrines and principles which have been rejected by those who disagree with us.  To put it another way, if I might, when your neighbor absolutely insists that your cat is not a cat, but rather a dog, then all of your insistence to the contrary is not going to make much of a difference.

Father Bradley asserted that when discussion proves impossible, it is through example that we can make said difference.  How we as Christians live our lives can draw people to reconsider their entrenched positions about those very important subjects on which we disagree.  If we are seen as people of joy and love, engaging in acts of kindness and charity, and surrounding ourselves with beauty in all things, we are more likely to be able to engage with those who refuse to meet us on common intellectual or philosophical grounds.  In other words, it is time for us to recover not only the thought, but the actual practice of being a Christian in a time which increasingly rejects Christianity.

An early document written roughly a century after Christ’s Resurrection, known to historians as The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetesmay give us some idea of the sort of thing I mean.  In this letter, the unknown author writing in about 130 A.D. describes how Christians are both a part of the world, yet at the same time set themselves apart from that world by the manner in which they choose to live.  Note how the distinctions which the author draws between the practices of the wider of society of his day, and the Christians of his time, seem eerily reminiscent of some of the practices and ideas of the present age:

[Christians] dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh.  They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven.  They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life.  They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers.

I wonder how many of us who today call ourselves Christians, could consider this early assessment of what our ancestors in the Faith were like, and still recognize ourselves in such a description. We have forgotten that ours is not simply another philosophy among many competing philosophies, but rather a complete way of life, one which is supposed to be manifest to the world, not donned and doffed like a pair of favorite socks.  One sees this type of Christianity throughout Western Europe for example, where apart from christenings, weddings, and funerals, the vast majority of Europeans never darken the doorstep of their local church; this phenomenon is sadly becoming all the more apparent in this country, as well.

As Christians are paid increasingly less attention in the marketplace of ideas, we see that simply the removal of our voices from the din has not been enough for those opposed to Christianity.  We must be made to conform to the zeitgeist, whenever possible; when this is not possible, then we must be silenced.  Given this, and if we consider the historical roots of Christianity such as in the passage given above, then Father Bradley’s reasoning that our lives must themselves be the argument for Christianity at all times, but particularly when words fail us, makes perfect sense.

Certainly, it would be far easier to simply take down the blood-stained banner of the Resurrection, and fly instead the white, surrendering flag of relativism.  Yet to do so would be to deny Christ, something which no Christian wants to do.  The Early Church understood, despite the difficulties which they faced in getting themselves heard, that when our words are ignored, a living Faith through our actions can speak volumes, especially in a highly mutable society.  It’s high time that we recall and re-embrace this lesson for ourselves.

Easter Banner at Golgotha Monastery Orkney, Scotland

Easter Banner at Golgotha Transalpine Redemptorist Monastery
Orkney, Scotland