NAPA, Calif. — Individual formation as a Catholic is integral to making the collective Church stronger and better able to engage the increasingly secular culture.
Several speakers stressed this important factor at the Napa Institute’s second annual prayer-and-apologetics conference.
The theme was “Equipping Catholics in the Next America” — an emerging secular America that is much more hostile to Christian faith and witness than it has been in the past.
Held July 26-29 at Catholic entrepreneur Tim Busch’s elegant Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa, Calif.’s wine country, the conference’s mission was to equip lay and religious leaders to defend and advance the faith in today’s increasingly secular society.
Consecrated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the conference drew more than 300 Catholic religious and lay leaders, including priests, nuns, monks, entrepreneurs, educators, lawyers and media from throughout the United States and five foreign countries.
Speakers included Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wis., Magis Institute President Father Robert Spitzer, Augustine Institute President Tim Gray, entrepreneur and philanthropist Frank Hanna III, Boston College philosopher Peter Kreeft, radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt and Father Robert Barron, who created the groundbreaking 10-part documentary series Catholicism.
Conference participants were fed not only by excellent speakers, but also by daily Eucharist (in both the Latin and Byzantine rites), morning and evening prayer, perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, a Eucharistic procession led by Santa Rosa, Calif., Bishop Robert Vasa and many opportunities for confession.
Crossing the Rubicon
Archbishop Chaput warned in his keynote address that Catholics may have “crossed a Rubicon” in a battle for religious freedom.
“Even many Christians who practice their religion,” he said, “follow a kind of easy, self-designed Gospel that led author Ross Douthat to call us ‘a nation of heretics.’”
Observing that “contempt for religious faith has been growing in U.S. leadership classes for many decades,” the archbishop said the problem “goes well beyond the current administration’s HHS [Health and Human Services] mandate.”
The “greatest danger to American liberty” today, he said, is “a culture of narcissism that cocoons us in dumbed-down, bigoted news, vulgarity, distraction and noise, while methodically excluding God from the human imagination.”
Quoting Søren Kierkegaard, who wrote that “talkativeness is afraid of the silence which reveals its emptiness,” the archbishop said, “Silence invites God to speak. And silence is exactly what American culture no longer allows. Securing the place of religious freedom in our society is therefore not just a matter of law and politics, but of prayer, interior renewal — and also education.”
Weapons for Intellectual Battle
Bishop Morlino offered a profound reflection on beauty and its connection to authentic human freedom.
Secularized Americans frequently believe “If I just do what I feel, I’m free.” Dismissing such a notion of freedom as “silly,” Bishop Morlino said that only when our feelings are disciplined, educated and trained through beauty — when our psychic unity (what’s popularly called the mind) and our somatic unity (the body) are integrated and spill out into action are we truly free.
A serious problem in secular culture today is a “complete disrespect for mystery,” said Bishop Morlino. He noted this tendency toward loss of mystery can be seen even in the liturgy, the source and summit of Christian life.
In one dimension, the bishop said, the liturgy “will always be tremendously beautiful,” because “the truth is immensely beautiful.” Unfortunately, he added, “the appearance of the liturgy in recent times has admitted many elements that are less than beautiful. And if our freedom is not built during the liturgy — [if the liturgy does not truly educate] our feelings by beauty — then what?”
Connecting our loss of freedom in America to the loss of beauty in the liturgy, Bishop Morlino said, “If something is wrong with the liturgy, then something is wrong with the Church, and something is wrong with the world.”
Father Barron, the rector of Mundelein Seminary in the Chicago Archdiocese, explained where we are philosophically in Western culture today. He cleared out much confusion from the past and gave Catholics some essential intellectual tools to address secular America with confident courage.
“A major problem with modernism is that it undermines evangelization,” Father Barron said. But the good news is that postmodernism has “broken the logjam of modernism,” and the postmodern spirit “helps us to analyze where we are and what we might do.”
In a talk on “Faith and Reason as a Historical Narrative,” apologist Peter Kreeft said, “There can never be a conflict between the truth of faith and the truth of reason” because “truth never contradicts truth.” Kreeft said that “the war between science and faith is a myth,” and “the result of the divorce of faith and reason is the death of both.”
Speaking on making the Church visible again, Tim Gray noted that throughout salvation history God’s people struggled with the challenge of living their faith in a pagan world. Scripture, he said, has much to say about how we can navigate the challenges to religious liberty Catholics currently face.
Frank Hanna III gave an inspiring but sobering talk on “Catholic Education in the Next America: Where Do We Go From Here?” Likening many Catholic schools nowadays to bottles of Coke that have lost their fizz, Hanna said Catholic education, by losing its identity, has lost its “brand name.” He called on bishops to clean out or close down elementary and high schools that are no longer authentically Catholic.
EWTN videotaped the conference, and many of the talks will be available on DVD in mid- or late-September. Beginning Oct. 6 on Saturdays at 2pm, selected talks from the Napa Institute conference will also air on EWTN.
Register correspondent Sue Ellen Browder writes from Ukiah, California.