Everybody loves Pope John Paul II. Everybody loves Pope Benedict XVI. But do they love the calls from both these holy Holy Fathers to be countercultural — that is, positive “signs of contradiction” — in a toxic secular culture steeped in sin and moral relativism?
They sure should. We all should. But how?
Several well-known Catholics recently shared with the Register some easy steps to help us walk through the narrow gate toward heaven and along the countercultural path to life.
Mike Aquilina, executive vice president of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and author of The Fathers of the Church (OSV, 2006), recommends learning about the early Christians. “They lived in a Greco-Roman culture that was pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia and sexually debased,” he says. “They raised morally healthy families in pagan cities whose laws and institutions and streets presented obstacles to family life and temptations to sin. The dominant secular powers were anti-Christian and persecuted the Church.”
But the early Christians were willing to live out their faith despite the mortal dangers — and to confront injustice and impurity with the truth of the Gospel, adds Aquilina. Martyrs rose, powers fell, and the Church prevailed to transform and rebuild society.
Teresa Tomeo, syndicated talk-show host of “Catholic Connection” on Ave Maria Radio and EWTN Global Catholic Radio, recommends reading Archbishop Charles Chaput’s book Render Unto Caesar (Doubleday, 2008) for direction. Just by being a good Catholic, faithfully following the teachings of the magisterium, we can help change the world, she says, pointing out that even secular research on marital and family matters always ends up showing God’s wisdom. “It’s ridiculous to think you can’t be Catholic in the public square,” says Tomeo. “When you truly live out your Catholic faith, you’re truly helping, not hurting, the common good.”
Greg and Jennifer Willits, hosts of the Catholic Channel’s daily radio show “The Catholics Next Door” (TheCatholicsNextDoor.com) and founders of RosaryArmy.com, concur. “Don’t be afraid of being politically incorrect,” says Jennifer. Our faith teaches us very clearly that we are to love everyone, she adds, but we have to be willing to boldly proclaim the truth rather then being politically correct and condoning immoral behavior.
“If you want to be a countercultural Catholic, start by knowing your faith,” says Greg. Learn more about the Catholic faith and know why you’re Catholic, he says, then live that knowledge every day. In a nutshell: Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church — and do what it says.
That’s necessary for another reason, too. Says Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, superior general of the Sisters of Life, “Have Catholic answers for your children as they confront the issues of the day.”
Follow the words of the Pope, counsels Catholic singer-songwriter-evangelist Mark Mallett, who also urges Catholics to seek out papal writings from “undiluted sources” such as Zenit, EWTN, L’Osservatore Romano and, of course, the National Catholic Register. “The pulse of the Holy Spirit is through the Holy Father,” explains Mallett. “The Holy Father speaks to the culture and shines the way forward through it.”
Tomeo says “Amen” to the importance of solid information sources in countering the noxious mainstream culture with the sweet leaven of the Gospel life.
If you’re getting your information on Church teachings from most outlets of the mainstream media, she explains, you’re getting bad information. “They’re very anti-Catholic and anti-Christian and won’t give you the truth,” says this author of Newsflash! (Bazalel Books, 2008). “They don’t know Catholic teachings and are coming at it from a biased perspective.”
She tells people always to ask “What would Jesus be watching?” when taking in the media, whether TV, movies, video games or the Internet. As a reminder that God is watching us watch TV, she suggests placing a picture of Our Lord or a statue of the Blessed Mother near the set.
Mallett goes a step further. He advises turning off the TV and computer and disconnecting the cable, hard as this will be for many. The former award-winning Canadian TV journalist and his family did that seven years ago and haven’t regretted their decision at all.
Mallett (online at MarkMallett.com) says so much of what comes through the TV “is numbing people to the moral relativism that’s gripping our society and to how far we’ve come in losing the sense of sin in our society. When you turn that off and devote more of your time to family and prayer, you will become more culturally sensitive to how the world is going in a direction different than the Gospel.”
And then there’s the fall of civility. Greg Willits finds that, even on Catholic blogs, people will say ridiculously mean things in e-mails and comment boxes — things they would never say to another person’s face. It’s one of the easiest cultural traps for Catholics to fall into, and he admits falling into it himself in the past.
“As Catholics we need to act like Catholics even in our anonymity in our online communities, and show compassion and love,” he says for a countercultural solution. “Never say anything if you wouldn’t say it to a person’s face.”
Father George Rutler, author, EWTN personality and pastor of the Church of Our Saviour in New York City, advocates the countercultural witness of home schooling — “or at least some sound private tutelage to compensate for our inadequate system of education.” He says particular emphasis should be placed on teaching history, because “the neglect of history in our society has opened the door to political revisionism.” And he sees a countercultural witness in Catholics who attend “solemn liturgies that are in accord with the precepts of Pope Benedict XVI.”
Sister Anne Sophie Meaney, founder of the Society of the Body of Christ in Corpus Christi, Texas (SocietyoftheBodyof Christ.com), puts living the spiritual and corporal works of mercy high on her countercultural to-do list. Serve Jesus in the sick, elderly and dying, she says. Stand up for the truth, and don’t trust, or rely on, the world to take care of the human family’s most vulnerable members.
“Be sacrificial in giving your time to volunteer at rest homes, to visit and spiritually adopt an elderly person on a weekly basis,” she suggests.
Her “game plan” for being a positive sign of contradiction in the world also includes frequent confession, reverent reception of holy Communion and Eucharistic adoration. And, she points out, parents can teach their children by example how to do everything, big things and small, with God’s will in mind. “Pray as a family,” she says, “especially the daily Rosary.”
Mallett seconds that. “As we [families] carve out time for supper, we need to carve out time for personal and family prayer,” he says. “Pray with the family, even if just a decade of the Rosary after a meal. Read the Bible together, and take personal time with the Lord. The Holy Spirit will form our hearts and minds, making us sensitive to what is right and wrong.”
“It’s going to be pretty hard for us to be countercultural and bear fruit if we don’t remain in Jesus,” says Mallett, referring to Jesus’ words in John 15:4-5 — “Remain in me, as I remain in you. … Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear fruit because without me you can do nothing.
“If we remain in TV talk shows, sitcoms and secular magazines, and spend little or no time in prayer, how can we expect to bear the fruit of a countercultural witness?”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.