STEUBENVILLE, OH—“When we begin to grow in divine wisdom, we’ll recognize that all the pains and irritations and frustrations are like chisel blows from the divine sculptor on a hard marble which is us. And that way, we grow in the wisdom that enables us to ‘count it all joy my brethren, when you meet various trials,’” said Dr. Scott Hahn, citing James 1:2 at Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Applied Biblical Studies Conference on July 24-26.
Hosting the scripture-rich event, Hahn raised many important elements of the Book of James, which was the focus of this year’s conference. One element was the heavy emphasis on the need to grow in divine wisdom.
“I pray that no matter where you are right now in your life, you recognize not only the deep need that you bring for divine wisdom, but the even deeper desire that represents a divine longing, because God wants to give his wisdom to us even more than we want him to,” said Hahn, who is the Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, Chair of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization, and professor of theology at Franciscan University.
Dr. John Bergsma, theology professor at Franciscan University, also tapped into the Book of James’ ongoing theme of rejoicing through trials.
Bergsma pointed out that many times Catholics turn to a doom-and-gloom perspective when bad things happen, rather than trying to grow in steadfastness.
“The Christians of Rome did not convert the Roman empire by weeping and moaning as they went to get fed to the lions,” said Bergsma, a convert to Catholicism and author of Bible Basics for Catholics: A New Picture of Salvation History. He reminded the participants that with the many secular assaults on Christian morals and principles, it is important to keep the broader perspective in mind.
“Yes, we’re going to face persecution, but persecution is normal. If you read what Jesus says about being in the kingdom, he just assumes that it’s going to happen to you. Normality is being persecuted for being a follower of Christ,” he said.
The conference, which included daily Mass, frequent confession opportunities, free time for quiet prayer, and a special eucharistic holy hour, helped the nearly 500 participants from across the U.S. and other countries grow spiritually as well as intellectually.
Faith vs. Works
Dr. Michael Barber, professor of theology, scripture and Catholic thought at John Paul the Great Catholic University in San Diego, addressed the often misunderstood debate of “faith versus works” between Catholics and Protestants.
“Salvation is first an unmerited gift. Martin Luther thought he had discovered a new doctrine that salvation is a gift of God. It’s not given to you on the basis of what you do. The Catholic church affirms that and has always affirmed that,” he explained. “But once we have initially received the gift of salvation, grace is so powerful that by God’s grace our works become meritorious.”
But witnessing to our Protestant brothers and sisters is not the end of evangelization. EWTN host Father Mitch Pacwa, SJ, said that those who are atheist are also struggling to discern truth.
“Atheism is the way of death,” he said. “Faith is the way of eternal life because we know that because we look forward to meeting God, our life is not going to be summed up on a tombstone the way it is for the atheists. For them, the whole point of their life was the dash in between the numbers.”
He emphasized the need to pass on the faith to later generations, for “passing on that source of faith is also passing on the sources of life.”
Share the Word
Likewise, Cardinal Thomas Collins of the Archdiocese of Toronto, Canada, said in his homily that being a Catholic Christian means embracing the Catholic identity to go out in the world, unashamed.
“We are to serve not the people we like, but we’re to serve one another. The deepest form of love is the love of strangers. The people we love because we see in them the face of Christ,” said Cardinal Collins, who is the Toronto Archdiocese’s fourth cardinal and the 16th cardinal in Canadian history.
Father Sean Sheridan, TOR, president of Franciscan University, summed up the conference’s themes with thoughts of his mother, who was an excellent example of Catholicism to him: “It was important for her always to stand up for what she believed. Just as it is important for us to stand up for what we believe, to be able to proclaim the gospel we hold the truths of the faith that we understand and embrace.
“Those are the things that you are here to be able to learn more about, so that you can go out and proclaim the good news to the people that you encounter in your lives.”
To learn more about Franciscan University conferences for adults and youth, visit www.franciscanconferences.com.