STEUBENVILLE, OHIO—“Why is it that we can experience a wonderful Catholic faith and we don’t tell anybody?” asked Archbishop Robert Carlson from the Diocese of St. Louis, Missouri, at the July 27-29 Defending the Faith Conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
Addressing more than 1,200 participants in his homily, he challenged them to “take the Gospel to the streets of our cities, to the rural areas of our nation, in the places both rich and poor, that people may not see you, but Christ, in the way you live and the things you say.”
Featuring daily Mass and opportunities for private prayer, confession, a holy hour, and interaction with fellow participants, this ever-popular apologetics conference featured nationally known speakers who explained how to share the Catholic faith.
Dr. Alan Schreck, Franciscan University theology professor and conference speaker and co-host, explained why Catholicism is truly “a faith worth fighting for” by relating the events of the Arian heresy and St. Athanasius’ defense of Christ’s divinity, and the later establishment of the Nicene Creed at the Council of Nicaea.
“This was a debate in the fourth century about who Jesus is,” said Schreck, author of many books, including The Legacy of Pope John Paul II. “Is Jesus fully God, or is he, as Arius taught, the highest creature of God?”
Discussing the great movement of Christianity in its early days through its existence today, he explained, “If Jesus is not just a great man, or a prophet, or even an angelic spirit, or a secondary god subordinate to the highest god, but if he is the one, true, eternal, omnipotent God through whom the universe was made, who has taken on human form, this makes a monumental difference.”
Dr. Janet Smith, Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary and author of many works on life issues, spoke on Blessed John Paul II’s personalist approach to the new evangelization.
“There are many philosophical reasons, scientific reasons why people have trouble with Christianity,” she said. “But perhaps the biggest problem is that it requires people to change their lifestyle, to change the way they live.”
Focusing on the approaches to pro-life evangelization, Smith explained that when trying to convince a woman not to have an abortion, it is better to show the woman that she and her baby are loved, rather than lecturing with scientific facts to win the conversation.
“John Paul II says man must love and be loved,” she said.
University professor, speaker and conference co-host, Dr. Scott Hahn, spoke on the need for Catholics to evangelize.
“Evangelization is not simply praying the sinner’s prayer. Evangelization is about falling in love,” he said. “And not just the personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, but a covenantal relationship that establishes interpersonal communion in the family of God.”
In his talk, “The Evangelical Catholic Moment? The Bible, the Eucharist, and the New Evangelization,” Hahn pointed out that, “The new evangelization is new precisely because we face the absolute necessity of re-evangelizing the de-Christianized. Of looking around and seeing these Catholic countries not only becoming progressively non-Christian but anti-Christian, and the effect it is having upon those who still call themselves Christians,” he said.
U.S. Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (Nebraska), a 1996 graduate of Franciscan University, addressed present dangers to religious freedom.
“The threats to religious liberty in our country are often more subtle here than in other parts of the world,” he said, asking, “How could we, in the span of a few short years, become so dull to our first freedom—the freedom of religion, and the core principle of conscience rights, from which that freedom flows?”
Fortenberry encouraged the participants to pray for their country daily, but also not to be afraid to get involved in the public sphere.
“Our response cannot be ‘it’s too messy, it’s too hard, they’re all corrupt, it’s too dirty, I’m going to shut my window, pull my shades, and stay out of it,’” he said. “On the other extreme, our response cannot be one that is filled with resentment and outrage. We must remember that all we do we must do in charity.”
Kimberly Hahn, Catholic convert and bestselling author, shared the ways to overcome fears in order to share the Gospel with the rest of the world. Pointing out that Scripture says, “Perfect love casts out all fear,” she explained that worrying or wallowing in one’s own sin will not help anyone—including oneself—get to heaven.
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of sorrow, it empties today of strength,” she said. “God gives us grace in time of need—we have to ask.”
Additionally, she placed great emphasis on witnessing the truth in love to one’s children, whether they are young or full grown.
“If your child had in front of him something wonderful to eat and something that had been poisoned, would you just sit there and say in your heart, ‘I hope he makes a good choice’? You’d throw yourself on top of what’s poisoned; you’d do anything you could to get him away,” she said. “But do you do that when you know your son’s thinking about moving in with his girlfriend?”
Special to this year’s conference was a testimony by country music singer and songwriter Collin Raye, a convert to Catholicism who shared the story of his granddaughter, Hayley’s, death, and its impact on his trust in God.
“Death is not that big scary thing that we all think it is. And it’s natural that we think that because that’s all we know, we know the beginning and we know the end. But we don’t know what’s going to happen at the end, at the next beginning, but we still fear this. Because we don’t know what it’s like,” said Raye, who wrote a song inspired by Hayley, titled “She’s With Me.”
Relating the years of hopelessness as doctors unsuccessfully attempted to diagnose her neurological disorder before Hayley died, Raye said he never doubted God’s existence, and through God’s grace, is now healing.
“If my life has taught me anything that I want to share with you, I hope it doesn’t take everyone as long as it took me, but the sooner you learn to be still and listen to God when you pray, just say, ‘Lord, just do whatever with me.’”
The conference had a big impact on participants, including Bernard Brunner from Springfield, Pennsylvania, who attended for a second year.
“I felt an infusion of enthusiasm, a fuller realization that God’s in control,” he said. “This is the one place where the issues in society that no one wants to look at and discuss are addressed.”
Margaret Erickson from Wheeling, West Virginia, agreed: “There is an attitude of political correctness today, and here you find people who are willing to make the stand, and stand up for what is true.”
For more information on Franciscan University conferences for youth and adults, visit www.FranciscanConferences.com. For videos of past conference presentations and other events at Franciscan University, go to www.FaithAndReason.com.