There are many great tools available that can help us grow in our Catholic faith. In the last ten to fifteen years there has been a virtual explosion of orthodox Catholic media in print, on the radio and television airwaves, and on-line. Even with all that is quickly accessible at the touch of a remote control or the click of a mouse, as a national speaker and syndicated Catholic talk show host, I still find there are a large number of Catholics who shy away from reading Church documents. They are eager to learn about or continue to grow in their faith but at the same time seem to feel that they are unqualified or not prepared to read what comes out of the Vatican, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, or even their own diocese.
Say the word “encyclical,” for example, and the knee-jerk reaction, even among many strong Catholics, is to head for the hills – so to speak. I recently had one listener, following the release of Pope Benedict’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), e-mail me asking “Do you actually think I can read a papal encyclical?” It was as if she felt she had to have some sort of permission, special degree, or stamp of approval to read the beautiful words that, as Pope Benedict himself said in the paper, were meant for Bishops, priests, deacons, men and women religious, the LAY FAITHFUL, and all people of good will. (Emphasis mine)
As a cradle Catholic, it’s my own experience that some of this attitude comes from a healthy respect for Church hierarchy. We accept what the Church teaches because we trust that the Pope, and other leaders passing on the teachings, is led by the Holy Spirit through Apostolic succession and the Sacrament of Holy Orders. So, we don’t bother to read those teachings or letters and we never think of going directly to the source – as in the Church. And that’s where the problems can sometimes arise.
We may hear about the latest encyclical or Bishop’s letter from our local paper or daily television news programs and we accept the media spin, which in many cases is not only incomplete and inaccurate, but is giving the viewer, or the reader, a very biased view of what the Pope or the Church is saying about any given topic. Speaking from the experience of someone who spent more than two decades in the media as a working journalist and anchor woman, I can tell you that even the most experienced reporters don’t have the time or the support needed to report on religious issues effectively. Combine deadline issues with a media that, by its own admission in survey after survey, disagrees with just about every core teaching of the Catholic Church and you have a recipe for a catechetical disaster.
I spend a great deal of my time on the air, and on-line, correcting the secular media’s mistakes while also encouraging Catholics to be willing to do a little homework and check out what the Church really says instead of buying into what the press is claiming the Church says. I believe that if we could have a one-on-one conversation with Pope Benedict, that the Vicar of Christ himself would tell us that while respect for authority, and the acceptance of Church dogma and doctrine are absolutely necessary to be a Catholic in good standing, blind obedience and/or willful ignorance out of fear, insecurity, or laziness are completely different matters, ones for which we will be held accountable. It is our responsibility to learn about God and apply not only faith but reason, as well.
John Paul II taught us that faith and reason are, after all, the two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth. I don’t need to go into details about the crisis that occurred in the Church post Vatican II. Much of the breakdown was due to Catholics and the “8th Sacrament” of Holy Osmosis, as Catholic Answers founder and apologist, Carl Keating would say is the idea that we could appreciate our faith simply by a blind obedience of being told the what but not the why.
And that is why books such as Cheryl Dickow’s Mary- Ever Virgin, Full of Grace: A Study of Papal Encyclicals on Mary are so important. This beautiful publication should be at the top of the list of those “many great tools” available to Catholics that I mentioned earlier; tools for Catholics who take their faith growth and knowledge seriously.
My hope is that those who read Cheryl’s papal study on Mary will have the same passion that Cheryl and I do for all things Catholic, especially writings from the Holy Fathers. The way I see it, this book is particularly important for Catholic women. We have been fed so many lies from our culture concerning so called “freedom” that when studying Mary through papal documents that span over one hundred years we discover true “freedom” as modeled by Mary’s fiat. Mary shows us that it is only when we say “yes” to God that we are truly free.
While feminism brought us many needed changes and advances in terms of opportunities, it also took a radical turn to the left leading to a push for women to act like men behaving badly. As pro-life activist and Catholic speaker Helen Alvare explained to the 2008 Vatican Women’s Congress: Feminism drew upon the worst features of male behavior for its prescriptions. Thus was the feminist woman urged to be a sexually adventurous, marriage and children spurning, money and career driven creature. Feminism urged women to imitate the male version of original sin – domination – to attain equality and happiness.
For women, the encyclicals on Mary provide powerful insights concerning our greatest intercessor in the Communion of Saints, and one of our greatest witnesses: the Blessed Mother. While the world prescription for happiness includes aggressiveness, selfishness, and domination, Mary shows us that, as John Paul II explained, we don’t find ourselves until we lose ourselves in Christ. It’s only in selflessness and submission to God’s will that we learn our true calling or vocation. Our Blessed Mother also gave us examples of how to build on our relationship with God. We read in Scripture of her “pondering” things in her heart and how she and St. Joseph were “amazed“ about what was being said about Jesus. Countless women in these frenetic times have lost the ability to ponder; to really stop or at least slow down even for a few minutes, to pray and contemplate. Understanding, through the Papal encyclicals on Mary, how the Blessed Mother lived, and how she intercedes for us, can make a major difference in our daily lives.
Mary- Ever Virgin, Full of Grace: A Study of Papal Encyclicals on Mary provides the reader with a dozen Marian encyclicals reprinted in their entirety – with Vatican approval. No searching, printing, or downloading is needed, just an open heart and mind as to what you might be able to learn from some of the greatest Catholic teachers; Pope Leo XIII, Pope Pius XII, Pope John XXIII, and John Paul II. The book also provides Scriptural references, study questions, and visual images that help lead to further prayer and contemplation.
So no more excuses. You can and should be reading Papal encyclicals. They are absolute blessings filled with gems that can jump start your faith life or deepen it in ways unimagined. The fact that we have a talented, contemporary writer and educator such as Cheryl Dickow who uses her communication and teaching skills to guide us smoothly through these writings is just icing on an already irresistible cake.
As we say in Italian, Buon Appetito!