The Rationality of Catholicism

Bishop Robert Barron recently issued a clarion call to those working for the spread of the Gospel in an article entitled Apologists, Catechists, and Theologians, Wake Up!

As someone who ticks all of those boxes, plus Church musician, I thought I might offer some thoughts.

  • It is true that many fallen-away Catholics’ expressed protests against the faith are easily-answered and superficial fallacies. Not only should those charged with teaching and defending the faith know how to respond well to them, but every Catholic from high school age should know as well. Middle-schoolers ought to be trained in fallacy detection (here is an age-appropriate book with which to begin).
  • The use of the internet and mass media by Catholics has been an evangelistic boon for those who find the Catholic outlets. Videos, Catholic radio, EWTN, and internet forums provide opportunities for evangelization that were simply unavailable in previous generations. But these do not engage everyone, even when spread through social media. How can we improve their reach?
  • There are 3 major sources from which most people receive their information about the Catholic Church: the news, the Mass, and Catholics they know. People meet Mass-going Catholics all day long at work and in various social situations. The laity ought to be equipped to defend the faith. I know a priest who wears clerics on plane flights with the intention of engaging those he meets–but how many will he meet?
  • There is a general crisis of the liberal arts in our culture, to the extent that most people are perfectly willing to hold mutually inconsistent thoughts in mind at the same time. This is a problem for apologetics, which depends on an intellectual coherence which many do not find necessary.
  • Unless a Catholic is “hooked in” to forms of evangelization outside the Mass, they are immune to the efforts of apologists, catechists, and theologians. All they have is the Mass. If this is the case, what must the Mass be? And how does it differ from what the Mass is in our day? 
    • What must homilies be? What are they? Are they sometimes therapeutic, moralistic, deistic? Or do they present the Faith as a unity in its beauty and truth?
    • The rituals of the Mass should present supernatural reality in such a way that the mind is led to contemplate divine things. Are they done so, in a way that invites elevation of the mind, or in a casual, rushed, almost embarrassed manner?
    • Liturgical music represents the angelic intelligences in the Mass. It engages human minds and emotions and is united with the sacred text. How, precisely, does it engage the mind? Does it give an impression of randomness and puerility? Is it elevating in any way? Is it actually united to the sacred text?

Our entire heaven will be an exercise in “kneeling theology” (logikan latreian), for which most Catholics are almost entirely unequipped. This is indeed a crisis, and one which bishops will hopefully continue to invite all of their helpers to address.

6 Replies to “The Rationality of Catholicism”

  1. "There is a general crisis of the liberal arts in our culture, to the extent that most people are perfectly willing to hold mutually inconsistent thoughts in mind at the same time."

    No, I would argue that the ability to hold mutually inconsistent thoughts in the mind at the same time is directly a result of *too much* emphasis on arts, permissiveness, self-expression-above-all, your-opinion-is-as-good-as-anyone-else's etc. in school Requirements for maths & sciences (especially physics) are greatly reduced in modern curricula because they are too haaaard. Yet, it is only through studying those that one learns to think clearly. After all, 2+2=4 even if your feelings are such that you really wish it were five!

  2. The sermon I heard in support of Donald Trump (or rather, in opposition to Hillary Clinton, bundled with a "duty to vote") this past Sunday will not help. I get the dislike that the clergy has towards any candidate who has a consistent "pro-life" career. However, if the result of such dislike is embracing the most incoherent candidate to ever compete for the Presidency, then being a Catholic apologist will become evermore difficult… Clergy, now is a good time to stay out of Presidential politics.

  3. I don't think "dislike" is the right expression. Catholics abhor all mortal sin and grave injustice, including the widespread, daily slaughter of the innocent.

    Preaching "truth to power," as they say, has a long history in Catholicism, beginning with St. John the Baptist, continuing through Jesus Christ, St. Paul, St. John Chrysostom, St. Maximilian Kolbe–etc.

    That said, and while I support the homilist as you present his preaching, I think it would be nice to keep the Cafe one of the few Trump/Hillary-free zones remaining in the known universe…

  4. The debate Trump-Hillary has indeed been depressing, and the reason why it is on this thread is because I have been struggling to convince people intrigued by chant in the Liturgy that Gregorian Chant was NOT the soundtrack for a Church that;
    – recommend to make decision in Fear rather than in Faith,
    – hates the sinner rather than the sin (I agree, the sin of abortion is hateful)
    – is promoting a policy of "criminalization of sin" under the veil of "truth to power" (how do you evaluate the results of "the war on Drugs"? Did abortion exist before Roe v Wade? Would it exist after it is overturned? ).
    I respect that many Catholics have different opinions than mine, but if Gregorian Chant becomes the soundtrack to the kind of Church that preaches blindness to reason because of the clergy's "abhorrence" of one person, I will soon be singing the latest GIA tunes at Mass…. I will not be able to hear many more sermons like last Sunday's and still go on recruiting and training new schola members.

  5. This certainly is a difficult year for applying Catholic social teaching to politics, and I would like to see the clergy and everyone treat the matter with some delicacy. At least the elections will be done soon! But the decisions are not obvious: if all the candidates appear to be bad in some major way, with bad tendencies that would lead to harm, we must never desire those evils to happen, but sometimes we can reasonably choose to tolerate some evils for the sake of avoiding others that appear worse. There is the famous "double effect" principle that helps guide moral decision making in difficult cases.

    Happily, there are some good resources available for people who want to learn more about moral thinking from a Catholic perspective.

    The Church issued a Compendium on Christian Social Teaching a few years ago: it's like a counterpart to the Catechism, but focused on social questions.

    For a more wide-ranging view, the leading Catholic moral philosopher/theologian in the US, Germain Grisez, has released his great work, "The Way of the Lord Jesus", on the internet; it's a five-volume achievement that looks at ethics, starting from basic principles and applying them to many particular issues.

    In my opinion, Catholic moral thought is the part of Catholic thinking that draws the most from reason: many of the Church's moral teachings can be presented on a basis of philosophical reason that doesn't depend on specifically Christian doctrines. That helps us to present a case for a moral teaching that can be accepted and shared by non-Catholics and non-believers also.

    But really, this is too off-topic for this website: i should stop here.

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