The Catholic Thing
Accentuating the Positive Print E-mail
By Robert Royal   
Monday, 09 December 2013

Anyone in the Catholic writing trade at some point has to come to grips with the wisdom of Qoheleth: “Of the making of many books there is no end, and much study wearies the flesh.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) Even back in the third century B.C. – long before the invention of the printing press, the cheap paperback, or Kindle – the wisest representatives of our loquacious race could see that we are sometimes in danger of drowning in our own words.

Then as now, it seems further that many of those collections of words were just that: texts that weren't all that urgent to write and, as a result, not all that urgent to read. The really important things are found in a small number of places like the Bible and a few classic works.

Even “serious” writing is not always so serious as it thinks, especially laments about the evils of the times and the foolishness of people who don’t see it. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus used to recall the New Yorker cartoon of Adam saying to Eve as they are being driven from the Garden of Eden: “My dear, we live in changing times.” It’s easy to see the change, harder to know what to do about it.

Our friend Philip Lawler, one of the steadiest Catholic journalists alive and author of Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture the best book on the priestly abuse crisis (written under Faith & Reason Institute auspices), is aware of writerly temptations to self-indulgence and gloom. And as a counterweight, he has put together a valuable collection of essays on things that are going right in the Church: When Faith Goes Viral: 11 Success Stories on the New Evangelization from Alabama to Vladivostok (with a Foreword by our colleague Fr. C. John MCloskey).  

                 Philip Lawler

As he says in the Introduction (“Jesus Wrote No Memos”):

The challenge for Christianity is not to devise one grand, overarching scheme to guide everyone’s actions, but to activate every little network, encouraging many thousands of individual initiatives. Some, no doubt, will fail. Some will yield only modest results. But some will go viral. Since we cannot predict which efforts will be successful. . .the most productive approach may be to encourage as many efforts as possible. 
That certainly seems in harmony with Pope Francis’ new perspective. And the great renewal movements in Catholic history – the Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Jesuits – began along much the same lines.

Lawler acknowledges that not every one of the examples he has selected will resonate with every reader. But that’s precisely why essays on such varied groups are so valuable. This is not a book to read and forget, but an invitation to action in whatever way you might feel moved to make something happen in the Church – and the world.

Some of the chapters describe familiar organizations. EWTN, for example, the most successful Catholic television network in the world, which has succeeded where bishops, entrepreneurs, media moguls have fallen flat, inspired by a simple nun, born Rita Rizzo, with no experience in modern electronic media – to say nothing of how to finance high-risk television programming. (If you haven’t read Raymond Arroyo’s biography of Mother Angelica, also written under FRI auspices, give yourself that treat.)

John Burger provides a look at FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, which has grown from humble beginnings to a formidable force for authentic Catholic knowledge and – perhaps even more importantly – to being one of the few institutions that encourages students living in corrupt and corrupting campus circumstances to live fully Catholic lives.

For me, some of the most interesting chapters deal with renewal movements outside the United States. Lawler writes of a tiny Catholic community in Vladivostok, which has drawn broad interest in the whole region among the remnant of Catholics who survived Soviet repression underground, as well as among the many Orthodox who are still believers on paper, but know nothing of their faith and do not practice. Thanks to two dynamic American missionary priests, the Most Holy Mother of God Church was restored, an organ donated from Minnesota, a remarkable music ministry developed, and organ concerts offered that draw thousands.

In a similar use of beauty to energize people to pursue the true and the good, St. John Cantius parish in Chicago came back from virtual death to become one of the most beautiful worship spaces in North America, with a large number of regular parishioners and frequent Latin Masses.

In Latin America, the Movimiento de Vida Cristiana (Christian Life Movement) has established a program called Navidad es Jesús (Christmas is Jesus). Its scope is larger than might first appear. It began as an attempt to counter the consumerism and secularism of modern Christmases, even in Spanish and Portuguese-speaking nations, at first under a negative slogan (“There is No Christmas without Jesus”). But soon realized its message was the positive one – and extended far beyond their outreach to hundreds of thousands of families and children at Christmas, first in Peru, and then spreading to Ecuador, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua.

As other chapters document, similar outreach and innovative countercultural efforts are going on in the formerly Warsaw Pact countries, where - says  Emily Stimpson - a quarter century ago people were prevented by Communism from speaking about their faith: “Today that same message is coming from the media and the culture at large.”

There are even worse situations in the world, of course, and there are also Catholics seeking to respond to them – oftentimes in the face of systematic persecution and even death – in Kenya and India, and under the heavy hand of Islam. The essays devoted to these brothers and sisters in the Faith are some of the most moving of all.

Pick up this little anthology for your pre-Christmas reading. Its inspiring chapters may help you, despite all temptations to Scrooge-like cynicism about our postmodern world, to welcome the commemoration of the birth of the Savior with greater joy and, who knows, maybe even a greater hope.

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the Westnow available in paperback from Encounter Books.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (13)Add Comment
written by Avery Tödesulh, December 09, 2013
Fides hodie videtur ire : sed non ire "viral"!
written by Manfred, December 09, 2013
I was not going to comment on your fine column Robert, but the fact remains that Catholics throughout the world continue to be forced to endure the Novus Ordo liturgy which is a Protestant liturgy with an anthropocentric focus. That is, it is MAN centered and not GOD centered. This is obvious when one sees communicants approaching a table to receive their portion of the "community meal" in their hands while standing.
Vat II was to have been a "pastoral Council", i.e., no dogmas were to be defined. Instead, by means of praxis, a "virtual" council was produced which used praxis in order to create dogmas. Religious freedom, ecumenism,(which translates to one religion is as good as another, cf. Assisi I and Assisi II), and the suggestion of universal salvation. No Pope has done anythig effectively against these "dogmas" in fifty years, including Benedict who attempted it with Summorum Pontificum until he finally fled from the "wolves".
I am writing this as it is obvious that Francis has bought into this "meta" Council completely, and faithful Catholics look upon this man as another scourge. It is well past the time when the Catholic "ostrich" should have pulled its head out of the sand!
written by Robert Royal, December 09, 2013
Manfred: This column is not intended to address every problem that exists in the Church today. But let me just say that you're running a lot of things together without proper distinctions. I wrote in a previous column about three things that Francis has done recently that show him to be different than the simplistic view in the secular media. Perhaps most important has been his blessing of one of the strongest Italian proponents of the "hermeneutic of continuity" -- the view that the Council should be read in continuity with what existed earlier -- as his favorite and most authoritative interpreter of the Council's teachings.

Other reforms have to be carried out in the Church. But Phil Lawler's book is important precisely because it reminds us that, even now, there's much that's quite heartening going on. And we should have this clearly before us even as those successes spur us to address other problems.
written by Sherry, December 09, 2013
"Accentuating the Positive" - what a great title for the review of Phil Lawler's new book -- which also has a great title: When Faith Goes Viral...". And, oh, so very timely!

The success stories mentioned in this article are truly inspirational. Hopefully, they can help to start creative thinking in lots of parishes. After all, each idea can lead to many others.

Ever since reading Phil Lawler's "The Cult and the Culture" on the Catholic Culture website, I have been waiting for this book to come out and have just ordered my copy. I think it will make a good Christmas gift for a number of my friends.

The "good news" is that there are so very many wonderful and creative initiatives going on throughout the Church these days. And, good ideas can reach thousands very quickly with the internet - good going viral!

Another good recent book is "Renewal - How a New Generation of Faithful Priests and Bishops is Revitalizing the Catholic Church", by Anne Hendershott and Christopher White. With the combination of many excellent bishops and priests, and grassroots creativity, we are poised to help bring Christ to more people.

Maybe local, living room "think tanks" with faith friends can come up with ideas that would work in our local parishes. There are many challenges right now - but we have the Holy Spirit on our side.

Thank your for this article on this beautiful feast day.

It would be
written by Brad Miner, December 09, 2013
Note to Sherry: Hendershott's and White's book was reviewed here (by me) last Monday. -ABM
written by schm0e, December 09, 2013
Accentuate what you will. The Pope is sending mixed messages and the country that Catholics love to hate -- America -- is becoming what they always seemed to hope it would become: a decadent wasteland.

Aquinas said of Rome that it collapsed morally long before it collapsed physically.

We do indeed live in changing times.
written by Louise, December 09, 2013
Robert, thanks for the lift. I've always thought one of the greatest tragedies of the post Vatican II period was how much energy and attention the problems that arose sapped from lay Catholics,often keeping them from the most important things that the world needed from them. That's what I so appreciate about the pope...I think he totally gets the disorientation this caused to the lay role and is trying to redirect us, first by asking bishops and priests to be sure they are properly undertaking their roles in the church so the laity can properly devote their energy and attention to bringing Christ to each of their parts of the world!
written by Jack,CT, December 09, 2013
, A great Piece as well as informative,ty
Ps; God Bless Mother!, a TRUE HERO!
written by Avery Tödesulh, December 09, 2013
Ecclesiae auctoritati repudians, sicut episcopos et pontifex, signifcat latet Protestantismus. Cave, in viam eorum ne sequandis.
written by Howard Kainz, December 09, 2013
@Avery Tödesulh: Quare scripsisti in lingua Latina? Non vis intelligi?
written by Manfred, December 10, 2013
Yes, Robert. It seems I have some very positive information I could contribute. The largest Catholic seminary being built in the U.S. today is being erected in Buckingham County, Virginia. It is being built by the S.S.P.X. I say this is positive as experience has shown that in the S.S.P.X., the F.S.S.P., the Institute of Christ the King and the other traditional orders is where the Church keeps the True Faith. P.S. A Catholic may validly attend an S.S.P.X. Mass and satisfy his Sunday obligation.
written by Avery Tödesulh, December 10, 2013
@Howard K:

Id possibilis est, idioma anglicus oblito sum? Me miserum!
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, December 11, 2013
Manfred, you wrote: "A Catholic may validly attend an S.S.P.X. Mass and satisfy his Sunday obligation."

I believe that to be inaccurate. Please get the ordinary of the diocese in which you live to weigh in on that before promulgating that statement.

It is encumbent on all Catholics to obey their bishop on matters of faith and morals (no, I am not saying that bishops are infallible; I only am saying that as members of the Church we are required to obey our bishop).

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