Who tells the story of the Catholic Church — secularists, the faithful, ideological opponents, or cultural allies?
These days, the question is not a purely academic one. Catholic leaders struggle to counter negative media stereotypes and present a rich vision of faith and life that transcends the clergy abuse scandal and remains unafraid of engaging the modern world.
Revelation presents the Church’s own story of its pilgrimage through history, a narrative once ingrained in Western culture, from the arts and literature to social tradition and medical ethics.
But as many drift away from the stories of Abraham and Sarah, of the Incarnation and Lazarus, a revisionist narrative has been imposed, generating a false tale of the Church’s history in the world and tainting the faithful’s own view of Catholic tradition and doctrine.
Amid a concerted effort to privatize Christian faith, and repudiate truth claims characterized as discriminatory and intolerant, Christianity’s passage in time is being rewritten and its treasures buried. The fullness of Church teaching is often characterized as fundamentalist and even conflated with the claims of other religions, such as Islam.
This month, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago addressed these troubling cultural developments during a lecture at Georgetown University’s Tocqueville Forum. He argued that the Church’s dynamic pilgrimage, fueled by a belief in man’s capacity to know the truth that sets us free, once provided an intellectual and cultural foundation for the West.
The Church’s distinctive teaching states that Christ is the Logos — Greek for “word,” “discourse” or “reason.” Faith in the divine Trinity thus coheres with reason and doesn’t contradict it. But, today, Catholicism’s natural-law principles, which reference an objective truth that extends beyond the individual conscience — but remain accessible to it — have been challenged and even supplanted by an individualistic ethos that embraces multiple “stories” anchored in their own subjective truths.
Cardinal George proposed that Catholics reclaim the fullness of Catholicism’s story and adherence to the claims of reason, not only for the sake of the Church, but for the sake of the world. Amid the cacophony of relativism and ideological combat, the world needs a clear path for dialogue between people of all religious beliefs and of no beliefs. At the same time, the spheres of science and faith must draw closer to foster an exchange anchored in reason.
Taking aim at the media’s effort to impose its own story of the Church in the world, the cardinal noted the virtual news blackout of World Youth Day, which drew about 2 million young Catholics to Madrid. Upon returning to Chicago, he could locate only one or two brief news stories about it. World Youth Day “didn’t cohere with the media’s story of the Church,” he observed.
We share Cardinal George’s concern and remain committed to a full and balanced coverage of the life and mission of the Church. We thus applaud the arrival of Father Robert Barron’s Catholicism, a 10-part PBS series, which will begin airing this month. (See story on page 2.)
The program challenges modern preconceptions of the person of Jesus Christ and offers a sweeping view of the vast trove of artistic and intellectual achievements nourished by Catholicism and incubated in the communities of the faithful. The series is expected to provide a welcome respite for Catholics who need to be reminded of the fruits of faith, not to recapture the past, but to restore our vision of what remains possible. What wondrous stories of faith are yet to be written.