In their issue of February 11, 2008, Newsweek magazine carried a column in which the author unwittingly shed a great deal of light on a glaring problem in the Church today. Namely, the ignorance of the Catholic Faith by otherwise educated Catholics. It is a clear case of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing, or to bring it back to the words of Jesus, “Beware of the learned and the wise, they will lead you astray.”
Despite dissenters’ affection for “nuance” their statements on moral issues are often received (and broadcast in the media) in a very unnuanced way, and all too often interpreted by the public as, “Hey, that means it’s okay!”
As the movement for dissent against the Catholic faith was getting off the ground shortly after the Council, one argument said, “This is the most educated generation of Catholics in history, we don’t need the Church telling us what to do!” And with that the entire catechetical structure of the Church in the West proceeded to fall apart. The author of the Newsweek column, “Talking to Kids about God,” Kathleen Deveny is a product of that collapse.
She acknowledges the results of her failed religious education: “It's not just about the gaps in my education. As a ‘cafeteria Catholic,’ I don't accept all the tenets of my religion. I am never going to teach my daughter that evolution is a fraud, and someday I will encourage her to think critically, not doctrinally, about issues like artificial birth control, stem-cell research and abortion.”
One wonders if anyone taught her to think critically about the voices opposing the Church. Does she swallow whole the dissident voices on these issues? I wonder if it ever occurred to Mrs. Deveny that there is a connection between her “discomfort” and her “disagreements” with the Church, that both are based in ignorance.
Mrs. Deveny is the product of a catechetical culture that packaged the Catholic Faith in CCD classes as “subject matter” rather than an encounter with the Living God. After the required lessons, kids would then “graduate” from the dull lessons (and active participation in the life of the Church) with the sacrament of Confirmation. (The precise opposite of the true meaning of the sacrament, which is to launch the Catholic into the great adventure of life in the Holy Spirit.)
She’s not alone.
There are numerous prominent Catholics who boast of their Catholicism but who clearly “don’t get it.” The public pronouncements on the faith from the likes of Chris Matthews, Sean Hannity, John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, Phil Donahue, ad naseum, are an embarrassment. We find similar attitudes in our parishes and even our own families.
This is the landscape we face trying to educate Catholics on the truth and beauty of Humanae Vitae, a full forty years after its publication. Many Catholics have never heard this at all. The text of this great document is not difficult, it is simple, gentle and clear. It is also a matter of life and death. Forty years of experience and reflection have only vindicated and strengthened the document.
In this series we will explore the dangers of widespread contraceptive use Paul VI predicted, and others which have emerged, as part of Human Life International’s Humanae Vitae Initiative, as an aid to priests and all interested parties in teaching the truth of this document. HLI’s founder, Father Paul Marx, OSB, was fond of quoting the great Dr. Jerome LeJeune that Humanae Vitae may turn out be the most important encyclical in history.
Catholics have a responsibility to know the truth, that it is not good enough to dismiss vital Church teachings on the basis of nonsense they heard in bad religious ed or get as adults through the media. They don’t simply need remedial catechesis; they need evangelization. The Bride must be introduced to the Bridegroom. It goes back to the First Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” The key to understanding Catholic beauty and truth is ultimately conversion. We will explore this in future installments.