Wednesday, June 6, 2007

EWTN Apologetics

In a recent communiqué to our customers I was describing how EWTN had been slow in making a decision about whether or not to air one of our television programs. It was not until another network picked up the project that EWTN backed away. The reasons were interesting but not theological. In fact, I was told that our program had passed the theological test that EWTN applies to such projects.

But in communicating to my customers about the delay at EWTN I wrote something that was interpreted by EWTN differently than I had intended it. So, I want to spend a few moments defending what I believe is EWTN's critical ministry.

Now, that probably sounds arrogant -- that I should feel the need to defend EWTN. But, for the sake of some quarters, it IS needed, although far be it from me to defend something that was clearly raised up by God against all odds.

As I travel the country and communicate with many involved in Catholic Communications, there is an on-going criticism of EWTN among those of us who are trying to evangelize the culture. There is a tendency to see EWTN as evangelizing the "choir" and a very old and sensitive one at that. The derogatory comments that I hear (and I will admit at times agree with) are not vicious, or malicious, or mean spirited. They are mostly about how some programming comes off as boring, staid or didactic.

I agree that there needs to be a parallel universe to EWTN—a network that uses the communication model of the culture—something that can be done I believe without compromising Catholic teaching. Sirius Radio 159, The Catholic Channel, is attempting to do that without ever feeling that they are competing with EWTN who can be found next door at Sirius 160.

What we need to remember, however, is that EWTN fulfills a instructional need that was missing in America for decades, and maybe longer. If the attitude that EWTN now exhibits about instructing adults in the faith, had been in the parish for the past 100 years, the Catholic Church would be a lot better off. Let me explain.

The Biggest Obstacle

It may come as a surprise to some American Catholic leaders that a significant reason more Christians are not Catholic in this country is the poor Christian example led by what appears to be a majority of adult Catholics. This is something that some Catholic converts I know, and I could invoke the names of many well known Catholic apologists, have repeated publicly and privately: "Catholics are the biggest obstacle to Catholicism."

That sound bite needs explanation. When I marginalize "Catholics" in that condemnation, I am not referring to Catholics who are on-fire with their faith, or who get shivers up their spine when they pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. I am not talking about the Catholics that wear their faith on their sleeve and forehead, nor am I referring to those Catholics who read their Bible everyday and spend time regularly before the Blessed Sacrament praying for lost souls.

When I say, "Catholics are the biggest obstacle to Catholicism" I mean to invoke Catholics who are baptized and confirmed, and who may even get to Mass every Sunday, but their religion stops right there. Even without committing a grave sin short of ambivalence, I am referring to Catholics who are embarrassed to be Christian. They would never think twice about spending a regular time in prayer in the morning, or an examination of conscience at night. I refer to Catholics who daily demonstrate bigotry, who openly sin and are proud of it, who disregard the church's teachings on artificial contraception, and who avoid the confessional like a plague. These "Catholics" may go to Sunday Mass, but their lives during the week are strictly pagan, or agnostic in practice. EWTN is trying to change that.

Needed: ADULT Sunday School

Much of what I have seen in the lives of marginal Catholics is the result of how the Catholic religious education system failed to teach the faith -- a vibrant, committed faith -- to generations of American Catholics. How to do that is something that American Catholicism can learn from American Evangelicalism, by implementing an active adult religious education system that includes such Evangelical "innovations" such as adult Sunday School. But in parish after parish, there is an arrogance that Evangelicalism can't teach Catholicism a thing and so this very ineffective religious education system is still in place. Many priests have the same arrogant attitude toward EWTN. And so, Catholics are rote-fed the faith through Eighth Grade -- and after confirmation, formal religious education stops, despite efforts by the USCCB to change the culture and get parishes to focus on adults. Yet, focusing on adult catechesis is what EWTN has been doing for a long time.

I was once with a prominent Catholic convert who was talking with his bishop. The bishop remarked that the convert had obviously seen the shining witness of other Catholics in the community and that is what attracted the convert to the Catholic Church. We both bit our tongues, lips, and grit our teeth. Just the opposite was true. As many converts will attest, despite the presence of saintly Catholics scattered around us, we became Catholic in spite of the everyday Catholics we knew. EWTN is desperately trying to change that.

EWTN has focused on adult catechesis with an intense 24/7/366 effort, trying to overcome the lax instruction that has plagued America for several generations. In so doing, by keeping their charter singular, clear and pure, EWTN has tried to obliterate the major obstacle to becoming Catholic. I think it has been remarkably successful.

That success was never so evident as when one of our television programs was aired on EWTN early in May 2007. Now, while I think the program we produced was good, please don't see these comments as a pat on our back, but rather as a commendation of EWTN's ability to reach people that the church has been unable to reach beforehand.

Here are several examples from personal experience.

Maryalice, The Evangelist

After this particular program of ours aired we received a number of calls from people wanting to order the DVD. We expected that. What we didn't expect is that a significant percentage were people who were just learning their faith, or were Protestants who were just discovering Catholicism. I personally fielded six calls in three days from Protestants who were asking questions and admitted that they were discovering things about Catholicism they never realized. These were people that had been watching EWTN for sometime. Their inquiries were not the result of just one program, but a litany of many programs....many that I had thought were too boring to watch. This was remarkable evidence to me that when the Holy Spirit is involved, "boring" should not be in the lexicon. Father, forgive my arrogance!

When another of our programs aired, I took a call from Maryalice, an 83 year old widow who lives in the mountains of Texas, far from any cable hookups. Four months ago she put in a satellite dish and discovered EWTN. “It’s the most marvelous thing” she said. Although a Catholic all her life (albeit not always a practicing one) she thought she had been a good Christian, especially after returning to the church out of a longing for The Eucharist. Then, she was careful to go to Sunday Mass, and say the Rosary everyday. But since tuning into EWTN her life has taken on an evangelical fervor. She says,
I pray the Divine Chaplet with them and it sends shivers up my spine when I think about what Christ did for us...I’m learning so much. Before, I never felt motivated to share my faith, and now I’m sending care packages to my friends and relatives trying to get them back into the Church. I feel empowered, and I’m learning more everyday. It’s exciting.
This will be EWTN's legacy.

I have to add that Maryalice, despite her age, speaks with measured assurance. Her words are enthusiastic, articulate and poignant. For the first time in her life she’s excited about her faith. From EWTN's Religious Catalog orders DVDs, books, and pamphlets -- puts them in a box and mails them off to a close professor friend at Carnegie Mellon University who left the church in the 60's because women couldn’t be priests. With the package Maryalice will write: “This is a care package. I care about you and love you. I want to see you in heaven.”

Kathleen, I'm Not Crazy

This is the second lady in as many weeks I’ve talked to like this. The other lady, Kathleen, is in Ft. Lauderdale, and at age 71 discovered Catholicism about 1 year ago -- just came into the church this past Easter, and she can’t get enough of Catholicism...or EWTN. She says, like Maryalice, it’s on 24 hours a day...EWTN that is. While Maryalice’s speech is articulate, Kathleen's is giddy.
My daughter thinks I’ve lost my mind. I never used to laugh. Everything was so serious, like my daughter still is. She never smiles. I didn’t either. And then I became Catholic. I haven’t stopped laughing. I’m happy all the time. But I’m not crazy. It’s great!
And she laughs.

What was remarkable about both of these ladies is that their minds were young, agile and alert. They were fascinating to talk to, as I listened to their stories about how they came to be where they are...and how they made these "new" discoveries (Catholicism and EWTN), so late in life with the enthusiasm of a teenager. It was inspiring.

Thank you EWTN.

2 comments:

  1. I'm from the Kumbaya Generation, knocking on the door of the Big 4-0. I'm a child of Catholic grade school and Catholic-in-name-only university, previously shaped by the "warm and fuzzy" Jesus who wants to be your friend and hang out in heaven. It's the equivalent of catechetical malpractice.

    Thank God in Heaven for Mother Angelica and her willingness to do the ridiculous so that He may do the miraculous. As much as any earthly thing can, EWTN has saved my life. For the last three years I've been re-teaching myself through their wonderfully unflashy and "boring" programming. I don't want flash; I want the Truth--all of it. Outside of the Magisterium (but completely faithful to it), EWTN is the only place that I trust to deliver that kind of teaching 24/7/365.

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  2. sAD TO REPORT THAT THE SAME SCENE YOU DESCRIBE RE.PASSING ON THE FAITH IN A TRUE AND MEANINGFUL WAY TO THE NEXT GENERATION, VERY MUCH PERTAINS IN MY OWN NATIVE LAND ,IRELAND.I AM 72YRS OLD AND IT WAS A SIMILAR STORY IN MY YOUTH ALSO ALTHOUGH BACK THEN THERE WAS AN OUTSIDE CHANCE OF YOUR NOT MAKING IT TO HEAVEN UNLIKE TO-DAY.SAD TO SAY ALSO THAT MANY OF OUR BISHOPS SEEM TO HAVE 'BOUGHT'INTO THE 'ALIVE O' PROGRAM OF RELIGIOUS EDUCATION FOR PRIMARY SCHOOL- CHILDREN. GOD BLESS YOU AND E.W.T.N.
    TOM KEARNEY

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