On February 10th, Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, Catholic evangelist and speaker, shared a message entitled “Why Be Catholic?” at St. Augstine’s Parish in South Bend, Indiana. With a title like that it sounded like this might be “evangelistic preaching” in a Catholic context! Here’s a summary of his talk…
Starting Premise: If we want to talk about “why be Catholic?” we can’t actually start out with that question–we have to go back to why believe in God at all?
How to approach this? Not by jumping right to a great answer from St. Thomas Aquinas (remember, we’re talking about people who aren’t sure why to believe that God even exists or is possible!). We must address two concerns: a) Is it reasonable to believe in God? and b) Is it even possible that “God” exists?
What comes next after these concerns? In today’s culture it’s the question, ok…if God does exist and it’s not unreasonable to believe in God, how can there be any one particular way to God? We’re almost all culturally conditioned to assume that truth is relative. But, most people don’t actually believe that all truth is relative. The statement itself (“all truth is relative”) is attempting to make a non-relative truth claim. So, it is okay to wonder if there is a “right” way to God.
So, how to investigate or find this way? It’s logical to start with Christianity because Jesus, unlike other spiritual figures (i.e. Buddha, etc.), claimed to be God. Christianity should be the easiest to disprove, since it sets the loftiest starting point. Christianity absolutely rests on the claim that Jesus Christ is risen and living. This is what must be investigated. How can we as Catholics proclaim this? We need to know why the New Testament is reliable (i.e. history, archaeology, formation of canon, etc.).
At this point, now we’re ready to give witness in answering the question, “Why be Catholic?” We can:
- Speak to the logic of Jesus coming to found a unified Church (this isn’t arrogance on our part as Catholics, we see in the New Testament that God desires unity, not division)
- Emphasize that personal sin and human weakness is not greater than the truth of the Catholic faith
- Know the New Testament. It doesn’t claim to contain everything necessary for the faith. Jesus and the Apostles left exactly zero books, our written documents came from oral traditions. This is why Sacred Tradition is so important.
In conclusion, it’s not arrogant to say that the Catholic Church has the fullness of truth. But, like the Apostle Paul, we should never boast in this. The Cross of Christ is our only glory. But, none of this matters–not the fullness of truth, not our knowledge, etc.–unless we do what we assent to at the end of Mass, “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord” (Mark 16:15).
Following up: Thoughts on what this type of talk might point towards for Catholic evangelization, faith formation, parish life, and preaching…