Seminars in Peoria, Normal help Catholics share, defend faith

Photo Caption: EWTN radio host and author Patrick Madrid holds up one of his books during his presentation at the Evangelization and Apologetics Seminar in Peoria on Dec. 1.

By: By Tom Dermody

“How many of you know someone who has left the church?” Hands went up throughout the Spalding Pastoral Center conference room in Peoria on Dec. 1.

“How many of you have been asked a tough question about the faith and didn’t know how to respond?” Same result.

In the opening seconds of his first talk on Saturday, Patrick Madrid demonstrated the need for the Diocese of Peoria’s Evangelization and Apologetics Seminar.

“We have to be willing to express, share, and defend our faith — and risk rejection,” said Madrid, an author and host of the EWTN Radio program “Right Here, Right Now.” He was guest speaker at the two-day seminar sponsored by the Diocese of Peoria’s Office of Family Life and Evangelization.

“Without that willingness,” Madrid said simply, “nothing else matters.”

Madrid was one of two nationally known Catholic speakers to be hosted in the diocese last weekend. In Normal, nearly 200 people packed the hall of Epiphany Church to hear Tim Staples — the featured apologist on EWTN Radio’s “Catholic Answers” program — lead a two-day, parish-sponsored Evangelization Seminar.

“We have a desperate need among our Catholic population for Catholics to stand up and act like Catholics,” said Staples on Friday night. “We, the laity, are the ones who have to grow up and take some responsibility. The pope can’t reach your neighbor.”

Both speakers spent the weekend offering practical advice to help Catholics better learn and share their faith — twin goals of the Year of Faith now being observed throughout the Catholic Church.

In a Saturday talk entitled “Search and Rescue,” Madrid compared not sharing our Catholic faith with those who are “starving for the truth” to withholding our abundance of food from someone physically hungry at our doorstep.

“We have the truth,” he said. “If we don’t stop and make an effort, then woe to us.”

He said the biggest problem facing Catholics in the United States is complacency.

“We’re so accustomed to being private about faith. We’re afraid to speak up!” said Madrid. “We have the food, but so few of us do anything with it.”

Saying repeatedly that “you can’t give what you don’t have,” Madrid said the 8th grade education in the faith most Catholics in the pew have isn’t enough for today’s cultural challenges. He urged Catholics to devote time to studying the faith just as they should to physical exercise, recommending reading three paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and one chapter of a Gospel daily.

He also called on Catholics to live their love and commitment to Jesus by frequent reception of the sacraments, including a monthly participation in the sacrament of reconciliation.

After exploring several reasons why Catholics fall away from the church, Madrid offered suggestions on how to respond. He advised those with family members or friends have left the church to trust God to give them the words to say, but Madrid also encouraged them to listen to determine where the real problem may lie. And he reminded them that sometimes God may lead fallen-away Catholics home through someone else, and they should pray for that, too.

For those who say they “don’t get anything out of the Mass,” Madrid pointed out that the Mass is the highest form of worship, making us present at the Last Supper, Calvary, and in the heavenly sanctuary. He quoted Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen who said, “You go to Mass to give something, and in exchange you get Him.”

In Normal, Staples echoed the call for a greater knowledge and living of the Catholic faith.

“We’ve lost our arguments because we don’t know them,” said Staples, who was raised Southern Baptist and was a youth minister in the Assembly of God community when a Marine challenged him to study Catholicism. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1988. “We are notoriously ignorant when it comes to our faith,” he said.

“When you don’t have that knowledge as a foundation, you become a wimp,” Staples added. Further, when Catholics are not sufficiently formed in their faith, “they go into the culture and the culture swallows them.”

In a Friday night talk on the theme “Why Be Catholic?,” Staples said the Catholic Church “possesses the fullness of the truth. If God wills it to be known, we have it.”

He shared five proofs of the existence of God as taught by St. Thomas Aquinas that show that God can be found through reason as well as faith.

“When we understand there is a God and we are made to know and love him, we learn our dignity as human beings,” said Staples. That, in turn, shapes how we treat others, he said.

While Staples said lay Catholics should take Pope Benedict XVI as their model, he emphasized they have perhaps an even more important role than the pope when it comes to evangelizing within their families and communities.

“Have you ever heard of a shepherd giving birth to sheep?” he asked in urging Catholics not to expect the ordained clergy to do everything when it comes to sharing and modeling the faith. “We must answer the challenge to do what we’re asked to do.”

Madrid’s opening talk in Peoria on Friday was also titled “Why Be Catholic.” He listed five reasons, including the church’s possession of the truth, its moral teaching, its understanding of Mary, its rich history, and the papacy.

Other topics covered by Madrid and Staples included Scripture, Catholics and the culture war, and answers to lies society tells.

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