The challenges the Church faces today come not only from the surrounding culture that is increasingly hostile to it, but also from within. The sexual abuse crisis and the present confusion and disagreement about doctrine has made it hard for many Catholics to retain or strengthen their faith.
Dr. Janet Smith, recently retired professor from Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit and author of Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later and A Right to Privacy, will speak about this topic at the St. John Paul II Lecture Series in Denver March 10. Her talk will seek to bolster the determination of Catholics to remain in the Church and even encourage others to join it.
The Denver Catholic spoke with her regarding this topic ahead of her talk.
Denver Catholic: We live in an increasingly post-Christian society. What can we as Christians and Catholics do to help turn the tide?
Dr. Janet Smith: The obvious answer is that we need to become as thorough Christians and Catholics as possible and that means praying a lot, reading Scripture regularly, receiving the sacraments, becoming knowledgeable about the faith, and discerning how God wants each of us individually to work to bring about the Kingdom. Some will be called to turn their attentions largely to forming their own family in the faith, others to serve the poor, others to be activists for NFP, pro-life, etc. We need to make sure that our young people know the dangers of socialism, seductive for its calls for social equality but extremely threatening for its hostility to religion and tendencies to totalitarianism.
DC: Besides the scandals within the Church, there are a myriad of other cultural issues Christians have to contend with (i.e. same-sex marriage, transgenderism, etc.). How can Christians better navigate these complex issues?
DJS: Again, we must become very informed about these issues. There is an abundance of good materials easily found on the internet. Parents should homeschool if at all possible to protect their children from indoctrination. And even there they need to address these issues with their children by explaining the principles that inform Church teaching on these topics. Parents whose children attend public or even diocesan schools need to be vigilant about how advocacy of these issues may be being promoted in the schools. They need to be sensitive to how “unloving” opposition to same-sex relationships and transgenderism seems to young people and learn how to present information to them that will help them see the harms intrinsic to both.
DC: How can Humanae Vitae help the Church to defend the truths of the faith when it comes to human sexuality?
DJS: Humanae Vitae remains an indispensable document for the truths about marriage and sexuality it contains and for its prophetic power. And, of course, St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, an extended defense of Humanae Vitae, provides an in-depth, biblical explanation of God’s plan for sexuality based on the claim that our very bodies demonstrate that we are meant to love and to be loved and to live lives of complete self-giving. Sexual intercourse belongs only within marriage because only within marriage can sexuality express true affirmation of one’s spouse – an affirmation which includes unconditional faithful lifetime love that embraces the tremendous shared project of cooperating with God in bringing forth new human life.
DC: In what ways can Catholics and other Christian denominations better cooperate to become a stronger united front against the persecution of Christians?
DJS: First, the bishops and leaders of other congregations need to alert the laity to the amount and kinds of persecution happening in foreign countries and the increasing threats within our own. Clearly they need to meet with each other and devise some plans – likely co-authored statements and jointly sponsored conferences that hopefully will lead to a more informed public that will lead to more galvanized public officials and providing help for refugees from religious persecution. We should be prepared to become fearless opponents to evil and even martyrs. Watching movies such as A Man for All Seasons, A Hidden Life and The White Rose should help. We should become very familiar with the message of Fatima.
DC: Do you have any words for discouraged Catholics who are considering abandoning the faith?
DJS: I believe the Church is in one of its worst crises ever: news of sexual abuse of minors, priests leading double lives, embezzlement and luxurious living, cover-up of crimes and doctrinal confusion — among other forms of corruption — are overwhelming Catholics. We need to be honest and not refuse to acknowledge the extent of corruption. It is natural to wonder what kind of Church we belong to. But surely Christ knew His Church would experience such corruption. Our job now is to do what we can to purify the Church, not to leave the Church. We need to double down on our own faith life — we need to increase our dedication to prayer, both for good priests and bad priests, sacrifice, and reception of the sacraments. We need to see this time as a very curious blessing — even as a time to be more zealous evangelists. We need to make it clear to ourselves and others that we are committed to this Church because nowhere else can we find the sacraments and the richness and soundness of doctrine taught by the Church.
St. John Paul II Lecture Series
“How to Maintain your Faith During These Challenging Times”
By Dr. Janet E. Smith
March 10, 2020
RSVP at archden.org/lecture