What a rainy day in Cullohwee. I hope you are all staying dry. These days make me want to stay inside with a cup of hot tea or coffee and have good conversations, or a read a good book. I hope many of you are doing the same.
This week, a few updates/reminders, and a few thoughts.
First, my usual invitation to our dinner on Wednesday. Come by at 6:30 in the evening; you will always find a warm meal, and warm friends. Everyone is most welcome.
Second, this weekend is the Eucharistic Congress in Charlotte. It's also Parents Weekend here at WCU. I know many of you have family coming in from out of town. Please feel free to bring them by our student center, but know that I will be with a group of students in Charlotte for the Eucharistic Congress. Please pray for us on our travels, and for the success of the event.
We also have a football game this Saturday at 3:30. One of the various ways we raise money for our campus ministry is by doing event parking fundraisers when we have home games. I'm putting out a call for volunteers who can give two hours of their time, from 1:30-3:30 this Saturday, to help with this. If you can smile and say "thank you," then you can do this job! It's a great way to help out campus ministry, and I promise you'll be done in time to see the game. Please contact me if you can volunteer.
Third, we have only three spaces left for our Beach retreat, Oct. 5-7. I'd love it if we can fill those last three slots and have a full house for the weekend. Here's what you can expect if you go:
-a weekend in a quaint beach house on Folly Beach.
-free time to go for walks, collect shells, take a swim, etc.
-stronger relationships with your fellow students
-a closer connection with Christ, and understanding of God's role in your life
-amazing prayer experiences
-Mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in historic downtown Charleston
-a weekend without email, Facebook, cell phones, or distractions
-inspiring talks from some of your peers
-meaningful discussions with other Catholic students
-loads of new memories, and maybe a few new friends!
If all this sounds like your idea of an amazing weekend, come by the Catholic Student Center and pick up a registration form, or just email me your intent to go. Cost is $40, and there are sponsorships available for those who need them (as well as opportunities to do volunteer work towards your retreat fee). So don't let a lack of cash keep you from signing up.
Lastly, a few thoughts from me. With our presidential election looming, I'm sure your Facebook news feed has been full of political posts. In fact, the only kind of posts I seem to get more of than political posts, are people complaining about political posts! I wouldn't mind it so much, except that so much of it just seems to be people yelling at each other, and not listening to (or respecting) one another. This seems to reinforce what many of us are taught, that polite people should not discuss "religion or politics." These two subjects seem to get people hot under the collar, and so should be avoided. Right? Err... maybe not.
One of my favorite quotes from G. K. Chesterton (an early 20th century English writer and convert) is from his column in The Illustrated London News, April 7, 1906. He writes, "I am not allowed in these columns to discuss politics or religion, which is inconvenient; as they are the only to subjects which seem to me to have the slightest element of interest for a sane man."
I think I understand what Chesterton was getting at. Religion is about our relationship with God. And politics is about our relationship with our fellow man in society. These are two very important and fundamental aspects of our lives. So why is talking about them considered taboo? Well, I don't think it is because there is anything wrong with the subject matter. I think today many people have simply forgotten how to talk about these things.
Someone complained to me that bringing up religion or politics can lead to an argument. I responded by looking up the definition of argument for him. "A series of statements or propositions meant to support or provide evidence for the truth of another statement or proposition." We have forgotten how to argue correctly. Instead of crafting a rational series of propositions, we instead yell at each other and call that arguing. Whether we are talking about our faith, or our political party, we tend to get irritated and frustrated by those who challenge us, because we do not know how to explain the rational basis for our beliefs.
St. Peter warned against this. In his first letter, he tells us, "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with a spirit of gentleness and reverence..." (1 Pet 3:15). The Greek work St. Peter uses for "give an explanation" is apologia. It is were we get our words "apologist" and "apologetics" from. So if you hear someone described as an "apologist," that does not mean they go around saying, "I'm sorry" for everything. No, it means someone who offers a reasoned explanation for something. So a person might be an apologist for Marxism, or an apologist for Capitalism, and so forth. There are religious apologists, as well. There are Protestant apologists, and Catholic apologists.
What St. Peter tells us is that we should be prepared to be apologists, at least on a personal level. If someone asks you why you believe as you do, you ought to be able to explain it. This does not necessarily mean they will be convinced, but at least you have demonstrated that you have a reason for your convictions.
St. Peter also tells us how to do this -- with gentleness and reverence. It means we have respect for the other person. It means we are willing to listen to them, just as we wish them to listen to us. It means speaking kindly, and keeping our tempers in check. If you are explaining your beliefs to someone and start to get angry, you've already failed. All this is good advice when talking about politics, but it is especially important when talking about religion. After all, how can we obey the Lord's command to make disciples of all nations if we are afraid to "talk religion" with our own neighbor!
If all this sounds daunting to you, and you don't feel up to the task of discussing your faith with others, all I can do is encourage you to work on it! Your faith is an important part of who you are. No one expects every Christian to hold graduate degrees in theology, but you ought to know the fundamentals. You ought to spend some time thinking about why you believe as you do, and I find that talking with others (again, with gentleness and respect) about matters of faith can actually be quite helpful in helping you to define and understand your own beliefs.
I have three books on my shelf which I refer to often. Two are written by the same pair of authors, Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli. One is called Handbook of Christian Apologetics and the other Handbook of Catholic Apologetics. As you would imagine, the former is more general while the latter gets into more specific issues such as the papacy, the Eucharist, etc. The third book is called College Apologetics and is by Fr. Anthony Alexander. It deals with arguments against the faith which one is likely to encounter on a college campus -- it was written in the 1950s, but you'd be amazed at how the same arguments keep getting repeated.
Two other books which are indispensable for understanding the faith are the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. No Catholic should be without either. However, for the purposes of learning how to explain basic Christian beliefs to non-believers, and even those hostile to the faith, the apologetic handbooks I mentioned above are invaluable. I strongly recommend them, or books like them, to anyone who would like to reinforce their knowledge of the faith and gain confidence in talking about it with others.
Finally, if anyone has any specific issues regarding the faith they are struggling with, or is having particular challenges on campus with moral or religious issues -- well, I'm here to help. Please use me as a resource and don't hesitate to drop by.
God bless you on this rainy day,