Many of my critics insist on telling me that we need to “reach people where they’re at” when it comes to mainstream Catholic writers. “People are so ignorant of the faith that they can’t handle Aquinas, or Scholasticism, or Chesterton, or (insert your favorite Catholic theologian/saint/mystic/teaching authority).” Though, I agree that we do need to “reach people where they’re at,” I find the methods employed by the Church and most Catholic publishers and writers are incorrect in how they approach this issue.
I get that not everyone is at the same level of their faith. That isn’t the issue I have. The issue I have is this; Catholic speakers and their publishers keep pushing the same. exact. watered. down. Catholicism. every. single. year.
The concept of reaching people where they’re at should be understood in its proper context. As a convert, I had witnessed this concept first hand, and can attest to its effectiveness. Reaching people where they’re at, is a matter of not watering down any of the Truth, which has been passed on by Jesus Christ or His Holy Church, but taking the Truth and giving it to the individual, but explained at a level in which the person who is being evangelized can understand. It’s a matter of evaluating the knowledge the person has and teaching them what they do not understand so that they can come to know the Truth. You do not need to be dropping Aquinas in his complete intellectual greatness on someone who has never once heard of Christ, but, through the course of the conversation, you can use Aquinas’ concepts in a simplified form to better assist the person you are engaging.
Today, how we see the concept used is not in the form of helping people understand a complex understanding and explaining it at a level that they can grasp. Rather, what we see is them taking a teaching of Christ, watering it down, or even worse, wrapping it with either modernism or Protestantism, and presenting it as if this new teaching is just as good, if not better than the original teaching. Spoiler: it’s not. I will readily admit that I once subscribed to this erroneous belief.
If today’s Catholic books are supposed to instruct people in their faith at a lower level of understanding, then I’d expect to see some improvement over the course of five or ten years. From here, we should expect to see books and material come out that is deeper and more engaging on an intellectual level, yet, we see no improvement. Instead, every other year, someone has to write a book that waters down and dumbs down some great source of Catholic knowledge that didn’t need dumbing down.
We can see this if we look at the “game-changers” of the last five years or so. We had to Rediscover Catholicism, so that we could have our churches Rebuilt, to Form Intentional Disciples, so we could consecrate ourselves to Mary over the course of 33 Days to Morning Glory, all to make an Amazing Parish.
The very fact that we have so many of these programs coming out every other year and only last longer than a couple of years goes to show that these programs flat out don’t work. Instead of going for a different approach, they end up repackaging the same ideas and rebrand it to make it appear as if it’s a brand new program that will change and engage the Catholic world. We need to look to how the Catholic Church evangelized the world for the last 2,000 years, as opposed to the last 50. The Church evangelized through a reverent and solemn Liturgy that focused itself on Christ’s redeeming sacrifice on Calvary, through simple, deep, and profound catecheses, and worship that focused on God, instead of worship that focuses on people. It is a fact that the Catholic Church grew under these conditions, yet those who continue to push the materials mentioned above will argue to the contrary. Which is why these “new and improved” programs only last for a couple of years before they become obsolete.
Jesus didn’t water down His teachings to make you feel good about yourself. He challenged you and still challenges you til this very day. When one of His disciples didn’t understand a particular teaching, Jesus used parables to ensure His disciples understood what He was discussing. He was not watering down what He was teaching, but rather, explaining it at a more basic level to be understood.
With the constant remarketing and rebranding of the same programs year after year, it would seem that perhaps the issue is that mainstream Catholic writers and publishers today do not want modern day Catholics to grow in their faith. Why? Because they would have to stop writing books and would have to go back to publishing material that isn’t “fresh.” You can read Classic Catholic literature over and over again, always finding something new and exciting which you did not catch on your first, second, or subsequent read-throughs. Contemporary Catholic Literature, on the other hand, can be read once and discarded, ready to be recycled in next year’s next hot book.
At the end of the day, it would seem that money is the key player in it all. When publishers and authors give away copies of books for only $2, it allows them to, of course, sell more books. Selling this many books allows them the opportunity to say later that a particular book has sold “more than a million copies” giving the appearance that it is a “must-have” for any Catholic home, as well as the appearance that it is an excellent book.
I do want to clarify that not all Catholic publishers are like this. For example, books published by TAN and St. Benedict’s Press are, for the most part, much older books whose purpose is to allow the reader to dive deeper into the faith and learn more. These books can also be read over and over again, gaining more knowledge with each subsequent reading.
As we begin 2016, I encourage you all to read good Catholic books, books that have existed for decades, or even centuries. While there are indeed some newer books out that are worth your time, the majority of them aren’t, especially when they water down the classics. Stay in a state of grace, go to confession, pray the Rosary, and live a holy life.