I had the privilege of attending two Catholic conferences on two consecutive weekends in September. This essay is an analysis of the two and how they differed.
The first one, sponsored by our diocese, had such well-known speakers as George Weigel, author of the official biography of Pope John Paul II, and Robert Barron, bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. It was held in the Olympic stadium at Lake Placid, the largest seating capacity in the diocese. There were about 3000 participants. The multimedia presentation was lavish. The music was great, with close to 50 voices and a small orchestra! I wish I could hear music like that weekly!
The second conference, held in the hamlet of Richmond, N.H., was small. The attendance was barely more than 100. The music at Mass seemed to come from Heaven, as the choir of the sisters and brothers who live at the religious center sang acappella. There was no multi-media presentation, unless you call a chalk board “multimedia”.
The subject of the first conference was “Inspire: Called to Love”, a vocational summit. That is a rather broad subject for 4-5 hours of talks. What I heard was mostly platitudes of happiness and hope for the children who have left the Faith.
I got a few giggles from Bishop Barron, who is an excellent speaker for Comedy Central. I learned that he was distraught over the death of his older brother when he was only 14. I learned that many people helped him through that difficult time. George Weigel is also an amazing speaker, but I was turned off by his description of St. Peter as “obviously illiterate”, “obviously” stinking of fish, and dirty. He obviously had never read my blog about St. Peter having a fishing business with his brother and able to work around the tax situation by moving a few miles along the Sea of Galilee to another province. That doesn’t sound like an illiterate to me. I never heard any explanation about what we are going to do about the vocation crisis, per se. It was more of a call to love each other and pray for each other.
The small conference in New Hampshire had a theme of continuing the Counter-Revolution. This is, obviously, for a more serious-minded audience, and one which is more traditional in thinking. I am a quite literal person. I have to be handed what you want me to understand. I can’t read between the lines. I understood that there are Christians in Iraq who need rescue. And there was a talk about that. I understood the talks about the saints who lived through the times of the Reformation and assisted the Church in its comeback. And I understood that we should continue to study our Faith before we can teach it to others or reach out to those who have left.
Of course, the small conference lasted two very full days as opposed to the large conference which lastedsix hours plus Mass. One can fit in much more information in a longer period of time. Perhaps that is why I was able to glean so much from the smaller group.
I think that my greatest difficulty in understanding the large conference was the white-washing of dogma. It was almost as if being friends with everyone will solve problems, but knowing what to teach as Faith was hidden in a ‘say your Rosary and go to Mass and all will be well” attitude. I was taught that the Catholic Faith was the One True Faith and that we should offer this Faith to all. Obviously, I hadn’t heard our illustrious pope’s newest commentary regarding proselytism: it is “a sin against ecumenism.”