Mark Hart recounts his
experiences that taught him
courage in the face of danger.
STEUBENVILLE, OH—"We don't tell God how big our problems are. We tell our problems how big God is." Mark Hart's words to the 1,400 people gathered at Franciscan University of Steubenville summed up the theme of the July 25-27 Defending the Faith Conference: "Holy and Heroic: The Courage to Be Catholic."
Franciscan University President Father Sean Sheridan, TOR, welcomed the participants with a call to evangelize: "Each one of us has a responsibility to preach the good news. That's our duty as followers of Christ, and that's what is going to help bring people to Christ and holiness. Our actions and our words."
Hart, executive vice president for Life Teen International, used the story of David and Goliath to encourage the participants to defend Catholicism. In his talk, "Marching Orders: Unleashing God's Power Against All Odds," he reminded them they need not fight on their own and to always follow God's plan.
"I rarely feel challenged in a place like now, when I have a sea of people who agree with me standing behind me. But God likes to trap me on the plane on a four-hour flight next to a self-proclaimed atheist who hates the Church. But it does not matter if we don't have an army beside us. We are more than a series of parishes. We are a Church. Even though we hail from different ZIP Codes, countries, and dioceses, we are marching together even when we are marching separately. Even when your knees are shaking on the foundation, we have a 2,000-year-old rock beneath us, and it's not shaking one bit."
Tim Staples describes some of
the issues the Catholic Church
faces in the "culture war."
In his rousing talk, "Catholics and the Culture War," Tim Staples, director of Apologetics and Evangelization at Catholic Answers, laid out the challenges Catholics face in North America today. "If you walk in virtue, you become virtuous. If you begin to walk in vice, you become vicious, and then it becomes hard to turn back around. This is not only true for individuals; it's true for nations."
He examined the gradual degradation of faith and morality in the United States. "We kicked God out of our life, then our morals, then our schools, now our marriages," he said. "If you get it wrong on the first principle of justice—to give God what is his due—then it is impossible to have justice in your culture. And you will eventually destroy yourself. But we have the answer to what ails every person walking around. If we stand up as 65 million Catholics walking in the same direction, we can change this nation."
Patrick Madrid, president of Catholic Apologetics Academy, spoke on "Search and Rescue: How to Bring your Family and Friends Into or Back Into the Catholic Church." He called apologists the cleanup crew that comes in after a storm. "The only difference is that this is an ongoing storm. Apologetics in its purest form can be seen as removing the debris that can block someone from returning from the Church."
He explained that people leave the Church for a variety of reasons, from doctrinal issues to boredom to a past hurt. "Some people say 'I could never be in the Catholic Church with all those bad things.' I tell them that the Catholic Church is a hospital for sick people like you and me. The scandals, unfortunately are here, but so are the great saints. We need to remind people that this is where you go to become a saint."
This was the second Defending the Faith Conference for John Domingo, who brought a bus of 40 parishioners from St. John the Apostle Church in Virginia Beach, where he is the director of religious education.
"We want to know how we can affect a counter-revolution in terms of the culture," he said. "Every year it's great to hear a different speaker, but I love them all. I learn something new with every talk. And I love Praise and Worship. It's nice to come here and be fed. When you work for the Church feeding people's lives it's nice to come and be fed personally."
Dr. Scott Hahn speaks on
the role angels and saints
play in the Church on earth.
Dr. Scott Hahn, who holds the Father Michael Scanlan Chair of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization at Franciscan University, said support comes not just from the Church on earth, but from the Church in heaven, in his talk "Angels and Saints: Holy and Heroic Help."
"It's not just a cloud a spectators," he said, referring to the "cloud of witnesses" spoken of in the Book of Hebrews. "They're not looking down on us taking sides. They're not just cheering us on, like Paula Abdul or Simon Cowell judging our performances. They are witnesses who are invested in us in a way that exceeds our awareness of them. So often the graces that come down upon us are a direct response of the prayers of the elders, the martyrs, and the saints. These are our older brothers and sisters."
On the last day of the conference, Dr. Ian Murphy, a staff theologian for the Apostolate for Family Consecration in Bloomingdale, Ohio, gave his testimony, "From Agnostic to Baptist to Catholic: The ABC's of Conversion," where he related the difficulties he experienced coming into the Catholic Church, and recounted the support and push-back he got from friends, family, and even a demonic spirit at one point.
"As all hell was breaking loose around me, all heaven was breaking loose within me," he said, after his uncle and some colleagues who converted before him finally convinced him to leave his secure job as a pastor at a Baptist church. "I had the sacraments, and I was home. God's providential care had it covered. I had tapped into reality itself, as my uncle had talked about. The sacramental power transforming my life was real."
A women's Bible study group from the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, has attended several Defending the Faith and Catholic Charismatic Conferences, during which a Franciscan University student named their group BFAM, or "Be Fruitful and Multiply."
"We all have kids," explained Regina Hiney from St. Patrick's Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia. "Some have 1, some 12. The baby count is at least 80. We come for retreat, girls' weekend, the conference, all of the above."
She explained that they spread out to attend different workshops so they can share notes with one another.
"I homeschool, so it's good to get more to witness for my children," said her friend Ailey Ellis of St. Rita's Church in Alexandria, Virginia. "It's nice to come here and have the renewed, reinvigorated sense of purpose in my vocation as wife, mother, and parishioner, to make sure that I follow the inclination of the Spirit when something comes up."
The Defending the Faith Conference is one of five adult conferences held each summer at Franciscan University of Steubenville. This year there were also 20 youth conferences held around the country and in Canada, as well as 2 new young adult conferences. More information can be found at the Steubenville Conference website.