Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Celebrating our Faith

Father John J. Lombardi

"Be prepared to give a reason for your hope" (I Pt. 3:15) Celebrating our Faith or challenging it? --That's the question for us Catholics and Christians, eh? I recently watched the debate between Dinesh D'Souza, and Christopher Hitchens-called: "Is Christianity the Problem?" (October 22 at King's College in New York). D'Souza, a convert to Catholicism, is the author of "The Greatness of Christianity," and Hitchens, an avowed "anti-theist," is the author of "God is Not Great." Both are widely-read authors and books today. There was no clear "winner," although it was a spirited debate, thought-provoking and revelatory. I learned that an atheist point of view includes that they think Faith is man-made (made up; there is no "supernatural" in life); they bristle at authority; and religion (or Faith) oppresses people.

These days it has become fashionable to "challenge the Faith"-whether intellectual-fashionists, like Hitchens; or a card-carrying Catholic like Professor-Fr. Hans Kung who questions papal authority; or a Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, who decries church authority, or liberation theologians proposing alternative readings of biblical salvation: they all derisively challenge the Faith and Church and gain acclaim on the way. And, by the way, each of these, and so many more---have their aggravating agendas, too.

Now, comes a man-D'Souza-with "three strikes against him"--from a previously-third world country oppressed by colonial rule (so he hungers for liberation); he's an intellectual living in the overly-rationalistic West (the pride-thing coulda trumped him); and whose family-lineage was once coerced by Portuguese Catholics-a kinda "inquisition" in India centuries ago (authority has not been kind to him). So, he had all the reasons to doubt and "dis" our religion, and yet didn't: he chose to believe, without coercion-as an adult, rational being. He became a Catholic! We should be proud-and intrigued how he survived the 'three strikes rule"- that this challenged layman is doing such a spirited, intellectual-yet-accessible job in defending our Faith in the public square.

I myself once challenged the Faith--both in college and even in seminary-at Catholic U. in the 1980's heyday of defending dissenting moral theologian Fr Charles Curran-albeit in good intention (I think). Anyway, now I realize there is a difference between derisevely challenging the Faith and celebrating it-you cannot do both at the same time. Coming from environments somewhat hostile to the Faith it's been extremely refreshing to see converts like D'Souza and others celebrate the Faith instead of constantly questioning our sacred religion, magnifying all our defects and sewing seeds of dissent.

Recently at our Grotto we held an all night vigil of fireside talks, fellowship and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament-Eucharist. I was so impressed by our students who demonstrated a spirited Faith-a desire to know and love the Lord, Blessed Virgin Mary and our Church, in informed fashion, without naiveté but with, yes, love and pride. I realized, then how greatly they wanted to know the Lord, our faith in a reasonable way; to defend the Faith amidst so many challengers to religion today; and how they wanted celebrative teachers of the Faith in their lives. So often we're taught that intellectualism and Faith don't go together: D'Souza shows us otherwise. Frequently we're told that the authority of Scripture and Tradition (The Church's teachings and customs) are outdated and not appealing to our youth: strong believers like Pope John Paul II and his world youth days and our Mount students show otherwise. Often we are trained to think the "Church is outdated" or not multi-cultural: try telling that to the thousands of Ethiopians, Filipinos, Senegalese or Latinos who come to our Grotto weekly and yearly. The Catholic Church began multi-cultural: in Palestine, then gained ground in the Middle East and spread West and eventually South: the Church has always learned from and led all kinds of native cultures deeper and higher! Mystical multi-culturalism is the Church's business.

Yes, today it's fashionable to challenge the Faith, that's the way of "deconstruction" and dissonance-and that's appealing to media and others. But it's one thing to inquire boldly into one's Faith (as the great Thomas Aquinas did-integrating the pagan Aristotle into Catholicism) and quite yet another to challenge, mock and focus on negativities--subtly or out rightly---and thereby create doubt and disarray.

Now, think of all the "devotees of the Divine" who lived and proclaimed the Faith-with brains and brawn: intellectuals like Newman and Chesterton; poet-writers like Shakespeare and Dante; "liberators" of the poor like Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day; scientists like Copernicus and yes, Galileo; athletes like Eric "Chariots of Fire" Liddell who defended his Christianity; manager-coaches like Vince Lombardi and Don Shula (who attended daily Mass); chemists like Pasteur and Curie; and yes, our own vigorous Fr. John Dubois who escaped religious persecution--a practical if not outright atheism in France, and founded our College, Seminary and Grotto. Now, shouldn't we celebrate him and this: that amidst so many challenges he preserved and promoted our Faith and for that very reason we are here today? Now, with a "cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1) like this, are you challenging the Faith or celebrating it?

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi