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The Tide Is Turning Towards Catholicism                                      By Dave Hartline


This is a little saying I have been uttering for weeks now.  I thought I would put these words into an essay to lay out why the tide is turning towards Catholicism.  It all goes back to August, when my wife and I visited the Notre Dame campus.  I met up with an old friend who is a priest and professor there.  The first week of football practice was underway and I asked him how the team was being perceived and how things were going for the team.  He said he thought the turmoil of  former coach Tyrone Willingham’s firing was behind everyone and the campus and the Notre Dame community was looking forward to the future.  Do you think the tide is turning for the team I asked the priest?  “Yes. it is,” he said.  “Maybe no one outside this close knit group knows it but yes the tide is turning”


That same tide is now turning towards Catholicism on the world stage.  One might ask how can that be, isn’t the Abuse Scandal still fresh in everyone’s mind and hasn’t it taken away from the clarity of the Catholic Church’s voice?  I believe the tide started to turn in April of 2005.  In that amazing month the Catholic Church was on center stage.  Pope John Paul II died on April 2 and the world was gripped by the events at the Vatican throughout the month of April.  The life of this amazing man from Poland was constantly being shown on various news and information channels.


The world then saw the amazing pageantry of the Catholic Church with the burial of Pope John Paul II and during the conclave when the College of Cardinals convened to elect a new pope.  This was followed by examinations of the life of Cardinal Ratzinger now Pope Benedict XVI.  George Weigel details this more thoroughly in his wonderful book “God’s Choice.”  Catholics and non-Catholics were gripped by these events.  Catholics who admitted to being less than faithful in their church attendance were now going to Mass and churches reported a spike in attendance.


The reason for the turning of the tide towards Catholicism doesn’t stop there.  In the months following April, the world has seen a vibrant Pope Benedict, not only in his audiences at the Vatican and the large crowds that accompany his speeches but also in his travel to his homeland, Germany, for World Youth Day.  The world had been accustomed to seeing the “suffering servant” model of Pope John Paul II’s papacy which in itself was a powerful Catholic statement.  Now Pope Benedict, while also well past retirement age, seemed full of vim and vigor.


The Catholic Church’s perceived conservative stance was deemed an impairment to many but some of the more liberal mainstream Protestant churches that were trying to be all things to all people were finding their numbers plummeting.  The world seemed to be saying what most school age kids say about discipline, they claim to hate it but secretly desire it. 


The entertainment industry was also showing a new found Catholic appeal.  The Lord of the Rings trilogy, one of the highest grossing movies in motion picture history was written by devout Catholic JRR Tolkien.  In the movie all kinds of Catholic teachings were subtly illustrated, perhaps none better than the oft dismissed Catholic notion of purgatory.   Two networks, ABC and CBS quickly produced made for television movies about the life of Pope John Paul II following his death.  The biggest Catholic blockbuster was Mel Gibson’s the Passion of the Christ, which is in the Top 10 all time grossing movies. With all its controversy, especially among some Jewish and secular groups, came support from Evangelical groups.  The irony was that 25 years ago the same Evangelicals that were adamantly against President Reagan sending an ambassador to the Vatican were now actively supporting a very “Catholic” oriented film about Jesus Christ’s Passion.  With it’s theme of a “Suffering Christ” along with a very pronounced role for Mary, the mother of Jesus, the world was seeing a very Catholic movie.


The Catholic theme has returned to the football field in the newly rejuvenated Notre Dame Football squad.  As it was alluded to earlier, Notre Dame like the Catholic Church went through a painful process of first firing coach Tyrone Willingham and then finding a replacement.  Some prominent candidates turned down the job when it appeared it would be tough sledding for the new coach.  However one man, Charlie Weis, a graduate of the school who was not on the football team sought the job and became head coach.  He seemed right out of a Knute Rockne or “Rudy” movie.    As a matter of fact he brought in the rags to riches former Notre Dame player Rudy Ruettiger to speak to the team, the first such  honor ever given to the subject of the movie “Rudy.”   Weis wasn't apologizing for any perceived Notre Dame  shortcomings as some wanted him to do. The beliefs of Coach Weis could be described in the following way:  This is what we believe and who we are.  If you don't like the way things are done here, you have a choice to go somewhere else, there's the door.  Weis seemed to strike a chord with many rank and file Catholics who liked the directness of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI but often longed for the same approach with many local, state and national Catholic leaders. You wouldn't want your favorite sports team's coach to apologize for winning and doing what they think is right. Why then wouldn't you not expect the same out of a religious leader?  It seemed as if many "gray" church attendees were looking for just that approach.  They were now heading for a place where they wanted to win and not aoplogize for it, that place to them was the Catholic Church. Jesus might have been different things to different people.  However most if not all would agree, gray and mealy-mouthed he was not.


It may have seemed from a sports perspective that the Notre Dame team, who many experts picked to have a losing season only to go 9-2 and earn a bid to the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) and earn 14.5 million dollars for doing so, would have been the biggest story.  However, from a Catholic teachable moment perspective the most memorable event may have come on the first offensive play for Notre Dame in their game against the University of Washington.  Coach Charlie Weis had visited a dying boy, Montana Mazurkiewicz who when Weis asked if there was anything he wanted to do, the dying boy replied, “I want to call the first play in the game against Washington.” Weis said sure what do you want me to do, "pass right," said Montana.  The request seemed harmless enough to Weis at the time but when the game commenced Notre Dame’s first offensive possession found them backed up against their own goal line.  Passing right was seemingly the last thing on Coach Weis’ mind.  However he did honor Montana’s request, finding out shortly before the game he had passed away.  The following play resulted in something right out of the lore of a Knute Rockne speech as the tight end, Anthony Fasano, caught quarterback Brady Quinn’s pass, leapt over a smaller more agile defensive back and obtained a first down.  The play and the story behind would be told over and over again as the season progressed.  As Montana's mother said, "Coach Weis honored a dying boy's request under the most impossible circumstances."


The Catholic theme was coming from many sources that weren’t Catholic. CS Lewis was getting a new found popularity, especially as it related to the release of the Narnia movie.  Lewis’ prominence also gave prominence to the person that Lewis said was chiefly responsible for his conversion, JRR Tolkein.  In light of the problems with the Anglican Church and its seeming abandonment of the tradition Lewis most admired about it, is there any wonder that if Lewis were alive today he would follow the path so many other devout Anglicans have followed and become Catholic.  Even bed rock Evangelical writers like Chuck Colson have sounded more Catholic as of late.  The former Watergate conspirator turned repentant prison minister is sounding more and more Catholic and whether that is due to this Catholic wife or not, it is turning heads in literary circles.  In this recent Christianity Today article, Colson recounted the travails of both St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross and how that corresponds to his spiritual journey. Perhaps the most interesting literary development of the year is the return of novelist Ann Rice from the "dark side."  She has come back into the Catholic world, which she left as a teenager, after many years of dabbling in novels conerning dark, occult like subjects. She returned to the Catholic world with a vengence, appearing in various media formats describing her "Prodigal Daughter" experience.  This story, along with many others, were frequently discussed on the rapidly growing number of Catholic websites and blogs.  The overhwelming majority of these websites and blogs reflect the Church's traditional stance on many issues.  Yet another sign that the faithful are happy with the message of the Church.


Finally, as the year closed out, a flurry of stories hit the media about the growing number of large non-denominational churches, often called mega churches that would be closed for Christmas.  The original story seemed to put these mega churches in the same category as a mega store like Wal-Mart closing for Christmas.   Stories hit the press mentioning quotes from pastors of these churches indicating that a church service is a big production requiring lighting and sound crews in addition to ushers and parking lot personnel. These people needed to be at home with their families on Christmas, even though Christmas this year falls on a Sunday.  The more these pastors talked the more it seemed like they were preparing for a rock concert instead of a church service.  Many who fill these churches were once part of smaller mainline Protestant or Catholic churches.  The bad publicity these mega-churches were getting were adding fuel to the fire of many Catholic traditionalists who were saying church should be more than entertaining a large crowd.


While the Catholic Church like many mainline Protestant churches had its fair share of less than inspiring priests, ministers and deacons, the Catholic Mass to believers is part of something that Jesus himself started 2,000 years ago on Holy Thursday night.  Although the Church has been hit with a withering barrage of angry naysayers, like lapsed Catholic Andrew Sullivan, perhaps one can say the Church has taken their best punch and withstood it well. While there have been many ebbs and flows in the history of Catholicism, perhaps we are now beginning a new and promising flow of faith.

The Catholic Tide Continues to Turn

You can buy "The Catholic Tide Continues to Turn" from the link above or directly call the publisher (Aquinas and More) toll free at 1-866-428-2820.

Contact Dave Hartline for any inquiries, questions or to speak to your group by clicking the "speaking links" on the left side of the page directly opposite and above this entry.

Upcoming Appearances
by Dave Hartline

Saint Gabriel Catholic Radio. My Interview With Father Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life

March 7, 2009
Saint Gabriel Catholic Radio, I Will Be Hosting The Post Game Show Following The Columbus Catholic Men's Conference

February 27, 2009
Brian Patrick's Sonrise Morning Show, Sacred Heart Radio EWTN

Brian Patrick Sonrise Morning Show Sacred Heart/EWTN Radio

Paul Clemens Show WLCR AM 1040 Louisville

July 7, 2008
Catholic Answers Live With Jerry Usher

June 26, 2008
Brian Patrick Show On Sacred Heart Catholic Radio, Cincinnati

March 4, 2008
St. Peter-Chillicothe, Ohio

February 11, 2008
St Mary's-Marion, Ohio

Signing Books After Mass-St Michael Parish-Worthington, Ohio

Signing Books After Mass-St Joan Of Arc Parish-Powell, Ohio

Relevant Radio The Drew Mariani Show

Relevant Radio The Drew Mariani Show

Marian Center Conference XVI Boyne Mountain, MI

Michigan Catholic Radio

Theology & A Pub Columbus, OH (Columbus Maennerchor) 966 S High Street

Michigan Catholic Radio

Relevant Radio's Searching The Word Program 12-1 CST

In His Service Catholic Radio, Philadelphia

Radio Maria & Affiliates (Louisiana)

Catholic Marketing Network (Cleveland)

St Gerald Church Farmington, MI (Speaking & Signing Books) Event Begins At The Conclusion Of The 7PM Mass

Paul Clemens Show WLCR AM 1040 Louisville 5PM

Al Kresta Radio Show Ave Maria Radio 5PM EST

St Jane Frances DeChantel Church Sterling Heights, MI (Speaking & Signing Books) Event Begins At 7PM

Teresa Tomeo Show Ave Maria Radio 8AM

St Mary Parish-Marion, Ohio (Briefly Speaking After Masses & Signing Books)

Saint Peter Church-Chillicothe, OH (signing books)

Lino Rulli Show-Sirius Satellite Catholic Radio

Cincinnati Catholic Men's Gathering-Cincinnati, OH (signing books but not speaking)

Maronite Catholic Youth Gathering-New Castle-PA

Catholic Family Theater Productions-Hollywood, CA (Pasta & Prayer Series)

GodSpace Catholic Bookstore-Thousand Oaks, CA

Al Kresta Show-Ave Maria Radio

EWTN Bookmark Program-Birmingham, AL (Taped At The Catholic Marketing Network)

Catholic Marketing Network Gathering-Birmingham, AL

Relevant Radio-The Drew Mariani Show

KVSS Catholic Radio-Omaha, NE (Bruce & Kris McGregor)

The Great Debate
Catholics versus Fundamentalists

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