As a Catholic apologist for the last 20 years, I've learned how important it is to listen carefully to what people ask me about the Church.
Trying to interpret the reasons behind people's questions helps me to ascertain how I can best help them with my responses. Before I respond, I ask myself what information the person could lack that is causing confusion. Or what false understandings of Scripture might be clouding his perspective? What is behind the aggressive tone with which he is confronting me?
As you can imagine, I discover an array of answers to questions like these, and I have noticed a certain trend.
Many who approach me with questions, doubts, or criticism about the Catholic Church are hindered by a specific and quite common affliction: an ignorance of Christian history. For most, it's a problem they're not even aware of.
The famed 19th century English convert from Protestantism to the Catholic Church, Cardinal John Henry Newman, once remarked astutely that "to become deep in history is to cease to be Protestant." He didn't intend an insult to non-Catholics. Rather, he was pointing out the inescapable fact that the early Church was Catholic, and once one begins to learn the details of Christian history, especially its early history, this fact becomes simply unavoidable.
As Cardinal Newman knew so well, we Catholics have an enormous responsibility to understand our history. Without this, we become less effective as apostles for Christ, and even vulnerable to the well-meaning but misguided arguments and objections raised against the Catholic Faith. As I mentioned, so often those objections are based on a simple misunderstanding, or even outright ignorance, of the facts of Christian history.
A good dose of the facts of history, when they're presented in a charitable and winsome way, is often all it takes to clear up misconceptions and help a person cross the threshold of faith, right into the Catholic Church.
Naturally, it's a real shame when Catholics are not familiar enough with Christian history to be of service to their friends and family who have questions and misconceptions about the Church. You can help them, but as the old saying goes, "You can't give what you don't have!"
So, how can you get a solid understanding of Church history? Well, one sure-fire way is to hit the books — something I highly recommend to those who have the time and inclination to do so.
There are many good and helpful histories of the Church readily available to you, such as Dr. Warren Carroll's excellent multi-volume History of Christendom series, or Régine Pernoud's Those Terrible Middle Ages!, or Martha Rasmussen's The Catholic Church: The First 2000 Years.
Any study of Catholic history worth its price will bring you face-to-face with the good and the bad chapters in the Church's 2000-year drama. It's important for Catholics to be familiar with the positive and the negative aspects of Catholic history — after all, so many objections out there are predicated on issues such as the "bad popes," the crusades, the Protestant Reformation, the Inquisition, and the like. I've discovered that many people, whose skewed view of those and other episodes in Christian history, are pleased (and very often relieved) to learn the unvarnished truth about these matters from an informed Catholic.
I'll suggest to you another way, even better than reading history books (as good as that is), for you to explore and learn Catholic history, and that is to make a pilgrimage to the places where Christian history unfolded.
Make a pilgrimage — a grace-filled, thoroughly Catholic, fact-finding expedition to the heart of Christendom.
I guarantee that that is a supremely effective way to learn the truth of what John Henry Newman said about "becoming deep in history."
For example, there's simply nothing that can compare with walking through the city of Rome, having the riches of Church history explained to you, right where the events happened! The Coliseum, the Catacombs, St. Peter's Basilica, and the Roman Forum are loaded with exciting, faith-building, life-changing history about which many Catholics are simply unaware.
But there's more — so very much more — to the history of Christendom, and I would like to personally introduce you to it and teach you about it.
This summer I will be leading a group of Catholic pilgrims on a pilgrimage/cruise throughout the western Mediterranean. The tour is called the "Glory of Christendom Pilgrimage/Cruise," from July 15 through July 22, 2007, departing from Barcelona, Spain.
Those pilgrims who join me on this thrilling journey into the heart of Christendom will gain a deeper, richer understanding of Church history.
By going to the places in Rome where the earliest Church Fathers (beginning with Saints Peter and Paul) worked, preached, labored, and were eventually martyred, you and your family will gain a clearer understanding of Catholicism's apostolic and patristic foundations.
During our stops in France and Sicily, you will walk in the very places where the message of crusade found its voice, where Catholic culture began to flourish and grow into what we know today as Western Civilization, and where countless Catholic missionaries went forth to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ, often at the price of their own lives.
Join me on this life-changing "Glory of Christendom Pilgrimage/Cruise" and we will walk together in the Catacombs of St. Calixtus, where untold numbers of our Catholic ancestors in the Faith — heroic men, women, and children who willingly sacrificed their lives for Christ as martyrs — are buried.
Come with me on this faith-building journey into the heart of Christendom, and we will explore together the medieval epoch in Church history, along with its great saints and mystics and martyrs. In Spain and Sicily, Catholic lands that were under Muslim control for centuries, I will teach you about the rise of Islam and its challenge to Christendom and how the history of the Church as it faced down Islam centuries ago can teach us much about what's happening today as we witness a new resurgence of militant Islam.
On our "Glory of Christendom" pilgrimage, I will help you gain a deep, resonating knowledge of Catholic history, one that will broaden your Faith, strengthen your confidence as a Catholic, and enrich your love for Jesus Christ and His Church.
This pilgrimage into the heart of Christendom will be a precious and unique experience for you. It will be a wonderful blend of spiritual growth and physical relaxation!
We'll assist together at daily Mass, there will be devotions and the recitation of the rosary, exclusive presentations I'll give just to our pilgrimage group, and there will be plenty of "face time" for us to get to know each other at group meals and private gatherings with complimentary cocktails (open only to our group). There is so much more to tell you about what awaits you aboard the spectacular, family-friendly Norwegian Jewel cruise ship, but there's simply not enough space to do it here.
So, what I'd like you to do is click here http://www.surprisedbytruth.com/ for a more detailed explanation of the pilgrimage/cruise. Or, if you're ready to reserve your cabin now, just call Corporate Travel, our professional travel coordinators, at 1-800-727-1999 (ext. 290), and they'll help you get your space reserved, quickly and easily.
Please don't forget! These ships tend to sell out rapidly, so if you know you want to join me on the Glory of Christendom Mediterranean Pilgrimage/Cruise, July 15-22, 2007 (or even if you think you might want to join us but aren't sure yet), please DON'T wait! Call 1-800-727-1999 (ext. 290) right now and reserve a space so that you won't be left out when the ship sells out.
We're going to have a marvelous and deeply spiritually fruitful time together on the Glory of Christendom journey. I really do hope that YOU will be there, with us.
See you in Barcelona!
With sincere best wishes, your friend and brother in Christ,
P.S. Remember, you can get more detailed information about this pilgrimage/cruise by visiting http://www.surprisedbytruth.com/. And don't forget. The ship will sell out quickly, so please don't delay. Call now: 1-800-727-1999 (ext. 290) and reserve your cabin today. Thank you!
Patrick Madrid is the best-selling author of fourteen books on Catholic themes, including the acclaimed Surprised by Truth series. He is the host of several EWTN television programs, and hosts the Thursday edition of EWTN Radio's Open Line broadcast. Patrick is the editor of Envoy Magazine and gives seminars on apologetics and Catholic history at parishes and universities across North America and around the world.
Patrick Madrid's "Glory of Christendom Mediterranean Pilgrimage/Cruise" departs July 15th from Barcelona, Spain. Information on this cruise can be obtained at http://www.surprisedbytruth.com/ or by calling, toll-free, 1-800-727-1999 (ext. 290).