In Birmingham, he beatified John Henry Newman, personally raising to the altars a son of the Church for the first time in his pontificate. In doing so, he quoted Blessed Cardinal Newman: “I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it.”
This citation, from the glowing post-papal visit analysis in Britain’s Catholic Herald, is deeply important for our times as Catholics, especially in areas where we are in a religious minority. The spirit of the lay-folk as armed with the weapons of the Faith (Ephesians 6:10-17; I Thessalonians 5:7-8) was dear to Newman’s heart. It led to his willingness to engage in the founding of a Catholic University in Ireland (which involvement produced his famous The Idea of a University). It imbued his defense of the dignity of the whole Church in his On Consulting the Faithful In Matters of Doctrine. And it was fitting that Pope Benedict would draw it to the attention of his hearers in the context of the beatification.
We need to hear these words, as well.
We all know the experience that was recently highlighted in a prayer breakfast address given in Los Angeles by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York. There he raised the example (which he said he was personally involved in too many times) of a conversation he has had with parents who sent their children to college after years of Catholic school and faithful attendance and participation in church life, only to find their new room-mates have told them that Catholicism is wrong. Having no solid answers, they have begun attending the church of their room-mates. “Where did we fail?” the parents typically lament. Archbishop Dolan’s answer: “We did not equip them; we did not give them the solid answers of apologetics: not argumentative, not an “in your face” quarrelsome style, but solid answers to what should be expected questions. No one wins a chess match by making one move and waiting to see what the opponent might do. Part of the strategy of great chess player is anticipating the opponent’s move and being prepared for it. We want our young people (who are the laity of the present and the future) to be able, calming and confidently, to deflect all these sad, stereotypical objections with ease. But such ease, even on a football field or in a battlefield, comes only with practice and proper equipment.
[Commercial: check in the archives of “The Pastor’s Corner” in the web-site of Our Savior—www.oursaviorparish.org—to find my “Answers to Top Ten Questions”].
So the Pope presented the insight of a Cardinal who 150 years ago stated the need that is still with us today, according to a prominent Bishop. What will we do, then, to arm our young people and give them effective strategies? What will we do to work for a properly formed laity? The future is in our hands...