In a world which seems to value technology, science, and progress above all else, many Catholic Christians are becoming more and more concerned with the role that faith will play in modern culture. On Tuesday, Loras brought to campus one of the greatest observers of the global Catholic Church today in order to address this specific question along with offer insight into the development of the modern Church.
George Weigel, a distinguished senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center as well as a New York Times bestselling author, has spent much of his career chronicling the Church in novels, essays, and articles. Perhaps best known for his authoritative and comprehensive book, Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, Weigel has become a distinctive and well respected voice in both religious circles as well as contemporary media.
As a part of Loras’ 175th anniversary, Weigel offered a free lecture and book signing where he primarily focused on his latest book “Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st Century Church.” The well-attended lecture brought faculty, staff, students as well as community members together with the intention of engaging this relevant and important topic.
“We are being asked to reach back into history, to recover the originating, missionary, evangelical impulse of the church and to put that at the center of Catholic identity today,” said Weigel. “We thought the Church of our grandparents was unchangeable. The church was just the way it was. It was set in concrete. But we have learned in the past 50 years that this wasn’t the case. We live, my dears, in a time of transition.”
His lecture focused on unpacking this idea of a Church encountering transition and transforming into a Church of the 21st century. Beginning by placing the Church in the context of the last 200 years, his lecture culminated with his emphasis of the importance of the pontificate of John Paul II and his call to the new evangelization.
“If we are going to be the kind of missionary disciples who can bring the world to Christ, we are going to have to be a people who know the answers, who understand the symphony of how Catholic truth plays together,” said Weigel. “That requires continuous learning, continuous study, and a thirst. Religion class is never over, and it shouldn’t be because that extraordinary symphony of catholic truth is something we should more deeply and more broadly be in touch with our entire lives.”
At the closing of his lecture, Weigel reflected specifically on Loras and the role it plays in helping the Church encounter the modern world. Drawing upon the 175 years of tradition, he recognized the changes that the school has witnessed and encountered. Still, he pointed to the fact that Loras, and schools around the country, still have an important job in modern culture.
“Catholic institutions of higher learning have an important role to play in this conversion,” said Weigel. “They are a kind of safe deposit box for Western civilization. But we aren’t just saving it to save it. We are saving it to form young people to go out and transform their world.”
The lecture, which was followed by a Q&A session and the book-signing, was well received by the diverse crowd.
“I appreciated the emphasis Weigel gave to the fact that the Church responds to the historical context in which it finds itself,” said Amanda Osheim, professor of religious studies. “He drew on the need to ground ourselves in a Church united together in Christ, but also what it means to invite others into Christ and the need to respond to the needs of the times.’
In addition to offering the free lecture in the evening, Weigel spent his day on campus, including spending the lunch hour with a small group of students and faculty. The discussion centered on many of the same topics of his evening lecture.
“We got to ask him questions relating to modern day Catholicism and what the Church is doing to counteract these problems,” said first-year Allison Klimesh. “Learning about Catholicism here at Loras has been transformative, and relating that back to my own life has allowed me to grow, but it is totally different when you learn about it on a global level. It definitely added perspective.”
Ultimately, what Weigel ended his evening with was the challenge to embrace the mission of the Church, the “Great Commission” to bring Christ to the world.
“Mission territory is not out there,” said Weigel. “Mission territory is right here: our neighborhoods, our lives as friends, colleagues, business associates. All that is mission territory.”