Monday, June 18, 2007

Trying to Fly with One Wing

My series on Logic and Catholic Aplologtics began June 14, 2007 on The Catholic Exchange. Below are the links:

Part 1: www.catholicexchange.com/node/62089 Unconfirmed

Part 2: www.catholicexchange.com/node/62597 Faith & Reason

Part 3: www.catholicexchange.com/node/63151 Argument vs. Opinion

Part 4: www.catholicexchange.com/node/63874 4 Criteria of a Good Argument

Stan

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

North Dakota Report

This just in from North Dakota, where I was reminded that the the snow has melted from 2 weeks ago, and there is indoor plumbing.

Karen (names are changed) writes:
I am so thankful for EWTN as well as Dr. Ray and all that he has done.

I grew up in a fairly strict Catholic family, and now as I look back I realize that I simply went through the motions. Praying, going to confession and Mass and saying the prayers to just say them and not knowing what they truly meant. After leaving home, and slowly letting myself slip away from the faith, I married a loving Protestant man and slipped a bit further from the Catholic faith. Then after our daughter’s death, I pretty much turned away from God all together for a while. God must have had plans for me and my family because while I was moving myself further away from him I realized I was so unhappy and one day I finally gave all of the anger, hurt and sadness to God because I couldn’t carry it all by myself anymore.

After that day, I slowly went back to my husband's church but still never felt truly fulfilled until I started a journey home to the Catholic faith about 3 years ago. During these past 3 years I have learned just how very little I truly knew about the Catholic faith and through classes at church during the past 3 years I have learned how to really pray, read the Bible and respect and appreciate the traditions of the Catholic faith. I thought I had received so much great information and then God just kept on giving to me.

About 6 months ago, I started watching EWTN every now and then. Now I watch it a lot and actually hunger for it, as secular television has such little value. One night while watching EWTN I came across Dr. Ray and his “Why Be Catholic?” episode. I could not quit watching. It was as though he had lived a similar life as me and others that I know who are slowly returning to the faith. Now I am hooked on Dr. Ray's series “What do Catholics Really Believe” and I am so amazed at how full and true the Catholic faith is and I will never let it go again!

Now, when I go to Mass, instead of just reciting words, like I did as a kid, I am filled with the Holy Spirit to where I’m either smiling from ear to ear or wiping away tears of joy because of how beautiful the Mass truly is. I continue to pray for the conversion of my husband and children to the Catholic faith so that they would also enjoy the happiness and peace in their lives that I feel in mine since returning to the truth and fullness of the Catholic Church.

Dr. Ray and EWTN are such an inspiration. I pray that both will continue sharing with others the truth and fullness and beauty of the Catholic faith for many, many years to come! God bless Dr. Ray, EWTN, yourself and all you do! You are all making a positive difference in people’s lives!!!!
Thank you, Karen. Keep the lights on up there.

Stan

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Trust and Obey

There is an old hymn that I still remember from my Evangelical days called "TRUST AND OBEY" by John Sammis (d. 1887). The refrain goes:
Trust and obey
For there's no other way
To be happy in Jesus
But to trust and obey.
Giving in to Providence (that's with a capital "P") is difficult. Most of the time I'm not sure if the obstacle that I face is something I should overcome with sheer perseverance or humbly accept and step around it. While the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius help a great deal, especially in the discernment of "spiritual consolation" vs "spiritual desolation", I'm just not very good at the whole process. It's not that I don't trust God -- I do totally. I just don't trust my abillity to hear God and his angels correctly. Going to confession regularly helps a great deal. It cleans out the noise and keeps my Guardian Angel close by.

Some years ago my wife, Pam, and I recorded a CD of Favorite Litanies that we've listened to, and prayed with during times of stress. I think my favorite is "Litany of Resignation to the Will of God." Praying this litany doesn't remove the problems from life, but it sure does help to confront them with a clearer mind and heart.

Some of the lines are poignant:
In all things and in all possible events
Thy Holy Will be done, O my God.
In all circumstances and disgraces
Thy Holy Will be done, O my God.
The last lines at the end of the prayer
are alone worthy of meditation. They are grammatically correct and precise. You just have to repeat them over and over to get it right in your mind...which inturn allows it to sink in:
Let Thy will be mine, and let my will always follow Thine and agree perfectly with it. Let me always will, and not will, the same with Thee; let me not be able to will, or not will, anything except what Thou willest or willest not.

Surf's Up: Is a Catholic Revival in the Work?

I enjoy talking to people who call about one of our programs. And yes, it helps when people that call actually order the programs ... because that helps me to relax, and believe (for a little while at least) that I'm obeying God's will in this endeavor. (See blog post, "Trust and Obey.") The stories are piling up, so I thought I'd share a few with you.

Actually, on an early post (EWTN Apologetics) I shared a few stories. But here are some more.

"The Church Has It All Wrong!" but He's Still Watching EWTN

Frank (I'm changing all the names) has written twice now to tell me in long letters that Dr. Ray's confusion, which Ray mentions at the beginning of Why Be Catholic? (Frank's watched the presentation on EWTN), is the result of listening to different church leaders instead of just reading the Bible. Frank writes:
If Dr. Guarendi would just go farther back and study the Bible, and stop listening to all those different churches, he wouldn't be so confused.
Frank not only distrusts the Roman Catholic Church, but also every other church he's ever attended. It's interesting that Frank continues to watch EWTN. The long letters he writes, I suspect, is the result of God knocking on his door. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Called to the Priesthood...Still Searching
On Friday, Bob, a Congregational Minister from Georgia called. He's been watching Dr. Ray and Fr. Fete's What Catholics Really Believe series on EWTN. We had a wonderful discussion. He says (and I'm paraphrasing what I remember from these conversations):
I believe I was called to the priesthood when I was 5-years old. I'm not even sure why I fell away from Catholicism, but I did. Got married, divorced, stayed single for a long time because I believed what the Church taught about marriage and I didn't want to commit adultery. But eventually I remarried and recently was asked to pastor this church here in Georgia. But, you know I just don't feel fulfilled. I long for The Eucharist. I'm not there yet, and I want to be.
Pray for Bob. He says he watches EWTN and is fed a great deal by Fr. Benedict Groeschel and
Fr. John Corapi, and now Fr., ooops,....Dr. Ray Guarendi.

Dr. Ray in Slovakia (?)
Several weeks ago, we received an Internet order for a copy of Why Be Catholic? from Slovakia. As is usually the case, the buyer (and I'll use his real name here, Michael King) didn't click on the Global Priority shipping button which would have added the international postage. When we asked for that by e-mail, Michael asked if we couldn't send the DVD by some slow boat to save the cost, as their little "ministry" is always hard up for cash. We paid for the Global Priority shipping and a few days ago I received an international letter package from Michael thanking me for our generosity. Enclosed were several newsletters from his ministry. Michael, his wife, and children were Protestant missionaries from Germany, to various places on the globe for over 40 years. Thirteen years ago (c. 1994) they began traveling through Europe with their children and living out of a trailer, home schooling their children in the morning, and then, in the afternoon and evenings, singing on street corners handing out Gospel tracks, and ministering one-one-one with individuals that would stop and talk to them. They performed concerts in churches, and regularly arrange for humanitarian aid (food, clothing and plumbing supplies) to be shipped in from Germany to the poorer Eastern Block countries that they minister in. Soon, two other families joined them. They stay in a country for about a year before moving on to another, doing their best to minister with their gifts to the poorest areas of Eastern Europe. Then, in 2000, all three families converted to Catholicism. But their ministry remains very much the same. You can read about their fascinating ministry at www.redletterkids.com. The Internet Service they use is probably free and thus you'll have to wade through some pop-up ads. But the extra "work" is worth it, for here you'll catch a glimpse of an evangelization ministry that is a model for all of us. And the DVD we sent them? Why Be Catholic? is being used as part of a Friday evening English Club that Michael's extended family puts on. People come to practice their English and listen to Dr. Ray tell them about Catholicism; and we've given them limited permission to convert the DVD into PAL and give it to individuals that are serious about investigating the Church. I tell you, St. Paul has noting on these missionaries.

A Daughter Comes Home

Closer to home I had a chance to talk to Glen, who came into the Catholic Church 6 years ago and is now a coordinator for his parish's RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) class. He ordered a copy of What Catholics Really Believe
for use in their RCIA class. As we were talking I told him about the Common Ground project. In shorthand, here's what he told me:
I have an adult daughter that is a Christian, but after I became Catholic she would not talk to me about Catholicism at all. It was real hard on our relationship. Then he happened to see Common Ground. It totally changed her perspective on the Church, and she started going to St. Anastasia, Fr. John's church, where she is now in RCIA. And on top of that , her husband is in RCIA as well, and she's convinced her sister to do the same her husband. So, I've not only seen Common Ground, but I have a copy that I loan out to friends.


Mrs. Pope
In this next story I have to use her real last name (changed her first name) and you'll see why.
Patricia Pope (in her 60s I would guess) called from a little town in the Panhandle of TX (that's a sunset over the Panhandle, by the way). In recent years she has reluctantly got involved with prison ministry. She teaches a catechism class at the local men's prison every Friday. I don't know what Patricia looks like but I imagine this little gray-haired lady teaching Sunday School with a class of over-sized, muscle-busting, hardened criminals. At the front of the class, Mrs. Pope stands unwavering with a bloodied ruler in her right hand, a Bible in her left, and the Catechism text displayed on an overhead. Look out guys, judgment is coming sooner than you think. So, pray for this Pope as "she" teaches Catholicism to those in prison. (St. Paul has to love this woman! God bless her!)

But more interesting is how she got her last name. She married a Baptist. Pope was his name. And with a name like that, and marrying a Catholic girl, he couldn't stay Baptist for long. Yes, he converted, and has now spends his "spare time" with the rest of the saints in heaven.

Mrs. Pope ordered Dr. Ray's DVD Why Be Catholic? from us a while back and used it with the men at the prison. She said
That Dr. Ray ... his style is really needed because the Evangelicals at the prison are always hassling the Catholics and the Catholics haven't known what to say in response. But Dr. Ray as a way of talking, and the men were rapt with attention.
I bet they were -- or she rapped their knuckles -- I suspect.

So, on the night she called, she had just caught the second episode of What Catholics Really Believe on EWTN and was excited. She ordered a Study Guide and will download one as well so she can be sure to make copies for all the men in her class. Nothing like a captive audience. (Groan!)

Now this from Pam...


That Guy Really is Smart!
I took a call from a southern-accented Baptist man who did not want to leave his name or order anything from us. He just wanted to ask "that psychologist" some questions. I asked if he wanted to ask me, since Dr. Ray was not available... : ) So, he asked the normal Baptist-type questions about Mary, saints, annulments, etc... and thanked me very much for my time and answers. Then he asks: "By the way, did that psychologist ever become Catholic?" I said, "Oh, yes." Then he said:
That guy really is smart! I really like listening to him. I have a college degree and I was in the Navy, so I'm no dummy. He's really good. I even turned up the volume all the way, I liked it so much.
To Dr. Ray, we are just so thankful for you -- that people who are seeking or in need of support for their faith have such a good source for encouragement and truth. God bless you, and our best to your whole family-I'll never forget my romp in the snow with your kids when I was there. It was the last good chance of the season to play in the snow, and I loved it!! : )

-- Pam Williams

As I mentioned several of these stories to fellow-producer and apologist Steve Ray he wrote back: "From the crest of one wave to the crest of another. Surf well my friend!"

Indeed. Surf's Up! (Sounds like a theme.)

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.