By Maria Wiering
Archbishop William E. Lori drew a record crowd to Theology on Tap Oct. 16, where he answered audience questions for 90 minutes in a format he jokingly called “stump the archbishop.”
It was the archbishop’s first time at Baltimore’s Theology on Tap, a speaker series for young adults interested in the Catholic faith.
He opened the evening with an invitation for Catholics to embrace the Year of Faith – which Pope Benedict XVI opened Oct. 11 – and the new evangelization, which Archbishop Lori described as “reproposing the faith in a convincing way to the culture of today.”
The church exists to transmit the Gospel, he said, which is why the “new evangelization” – which is how Blessed John Paul II described the movement – must not be viewed as a program or phase, but as a continuing reality.
“(The new evangelization) is so important because you understand things and experience things about this culture that an old fossil like me probably doesn’t,” he said with a smile. “That is why when young people open their hearts to Christ and the church it is so important.”
About 130 people attended the evening event at the Greene Turtle – at least three times the usual crowd, said coordinator Rodnie Matute, 35.
Unassociated Theology on Tap events are organized by other young adult groups in the archdiocese and across the country.
The Fells Point events are usually held in three six-week sessions throughout the year and are affiliated with the Baltimore Frassati Fellowship. The Oct. 16 event was an addition to the normal schedule; the next cycle begins Nov. 6.
In his introductory remarks, Archbishop Lori urged Catholics to reject “the great divorce” between the Gospel and culture that has increased in recent decades.
Many people think God is irrelevant to their lives, “like a distant uncle that maybe on a rare occasion visits and might send a birthday gift,” but does not inform daily life, truth and values, he said.
This fissure between culture and religion affects Archbishop Lori’s work as the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, which was established last year.
“Our challenges, in regard to religious liberty, are not in the first instance judicial or legislative or demonstrative; they’re really challenges that arise from the secular culture, which at best is indifferent to God, and at worst is hostile to God, the things of God, religious people and religious institutions,” he said.
Pope Benedict XVI is calling Catholics to “stand with Christ,” which moves beyond intellectual assent to church teaching to an “opening of hearts and minds to Christ,” entrust themselves to God “intellectually, morally, spiritually and bodily” in order to recognize truth and evangelize; and to have courage to be “a sign of contradiction” in the culture, Archbishop Lori said.
“That’s what we’re being called to in this Year of Faith, and that’s what I’m going to dedicate my ministry to as the Archbishop of Baltimore,” he said.
Attendees asked Archbishop Lori questions on issues ranging from evangelization, Christian unity and prayer to education and conversion. Others inquired about Archbishop Lori’s responsibilities and transition to Baltimore, where he was installed as archbishop in May, after serving as bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., for 11 years.
Despite serious topics, the mood was amicable and often jovial, with Archbishop Lori quipping about his strong-headed dog Noble and his age, 61, compared to the young adults around him. When a Dominican approached the microphone for a question, Archbishop Lori said – without missing a beat – “It’s nice to have a Jesuit here,” poking fun at a longtime rivalry between the two religious orders.
Some questions focused on current issues facing the Catholic Church, including the DREAM Act and same-sex marriage referendums Marylanders will face on the Nov. 6 ballot. The state’s bishops are encouraging voters to support the DREAM Act, but to overturn the law legalizing same-sex marriage.
Regarding marriage, Archbishop Lori said that the Catholic Church is “not against anybody,” but for marriage as a “unique relationship between a man and a woman, that begets life, and is the matrix by which that new life is brought into the world and nurtured” in families headed by a mom and a dad.
“In Baltimore, less than 10 percent of families have a mom and a dad with a kid, and if you want to just drive around the city, you can see the results of this, and there are many studies that speak to this,” he said.
The view is “consistent with our social doctrine that looks to the dignity of the individual and the common good,” he said. “We see the family as one of those intermediate structures that is essential for human flourishing.”
One attendee asked what the church can do to minister to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics, who may be offended by the church’s ardent stance against same-sex marriage.
Archbishop Lori connected the issue to the new evangelization, which he said can be done one-on-one or through groups.
“It’s got to be something that embodies the entire teaching of the church, not just picking and choosing,” he said. “We do no one a favor by pretending we teach what we don’t teach. Rather, it’s a question of creating the possibility that the teaching might be heard not as something hurtful or aimed at anybody negatively, but as something that is actually good news.”
Another attendee asked about the high cost of Catholic education, which she said makes it difficult for some middle-income families to afford.
Archbishop Lori said that the question was “hugely important and one that I’m learning about.” “As I’m coming to know our situation (in the Archdiocese of Baltimore), I’m recognizing the need to find a way to help some of the outer communities, where there’s hardworking families who would love to have their kids in a Catholic school,” he said. “I’m no magician, but I’ll do my very best.”
Justin Sapp, 31, attended the event, along with fellow members of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Highlandtown. He called the archbishop’s responses “poignant” and “direct.”
“He definitely connected with me,” Sapp said, adding that he found the enthusiasm characterizing the exchanges rejuvenating to his own faith and ministry.
Towson-based Calvert Hall College science and religion teacher Katlyn Patterson, 25, is not a regular at Theology on Tap, but said she attended the event to hear Archbishop Lori’s stance on evangelization and leadership of the archdiocese.
“I loved what he had to say,” she said, noting that she found his responses “grounded in compassion.”
Matute, who has coordinated the Fells Point Theology on Tap for six years, said he was pleased with the turnout and the quality of the questions.
“It’s great to hear it from the top,” he said. “Right now, Archbishop Lori is one of the leading Catholic bishops representing our faith, so I think all of his answers really embodied what the Catholic Church teaches, and what she’s trying to share with the faithful and the public.”
Copyright (c) Oct. 17, 2012 CatholicReview.org