Panel fields questions on Catholicism in evangelization effort

GREENVILLE — In an attempt to evangelize proactively, St. Mary Church hosted a “Challenging Catholics” panel discussion in Gallivan Hall on July 17.

“This event is just to be a little more positive, to give people a forum,” said Father Dwight Longenecker, who runs the church RCIA program with Deacon George Tierney and Dana Williamson. “We want to evangelize lapsed Catholics, Catholics who are just not sure about their faith, non-Catholic Christians and non-Christians.”

As part of the format, attendees wrote out questions as they entered, and Williamson directed the questions to the six-member panel.

The panel consisted of Father Longenecker, a former Anglican parson; Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor of St. Mary and a canon lawyer; Richard Ballard, a 22-year Lutheran pastor who converted to Catholicism; Richard Peck, an evangelical who said he is “a Catholic in the making;” Tom Whalen, who was raised Greek Orthodox and met his Catholic spiritual director on a cruise; and Marcia Silvestro, the only cradle Catholic on the panel and a veteran religion teacher.

Some of the questions handled by the panel included:

How can you explain God’s presence in the Eucharist?
At the Last Supper Jesus reiterated a hard truth that he had revealed earlier — in what is known as the Bread of Life Discourse — telling his disciples that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood to have life, according to Father Newman.

“This leads to a great falling off from among the many hundreds of people who were his students, when an untold number ceased to follow him after hearing this,” he said. “They found this doctrine so difficult, so impenetrable, so shocking that they ceased to be his disciples. ‘What can this mean?’ they asked.

“The Eucharist is a reality that surpasses our understanding. It is not merely a symbol and the consequences of it are terrifying. If the Eucharist is not truly Christ, if the same Jesus adored by the saints and angels in glory is not present in the Eucharist, then Christianity is fraudulent.

“The Catholic Church teaches that after the action of the Holy Spirit, what we call the consecration, the creative realities of the bread and wine no longer exist. Now the glorified body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is present in what appears to our eyes and tastes to our tongue like bread and wine; it is revealed to be the real sacramental presence of Jesus Christ.”

What is the role of Mary as venerated by the Catholic Church?
“We honor saints, to thank them for their gifts, as all Christians honor special Christians,” Father Longenecker said. “Only one person bore God. Never has anyone had this special relationship with God before, and no one ever will, so we Catholics honor what God has done through her. We venerate Mary; we worship God alone.”

Why is being a good person not good enough?
 “We are saved by God’s grace, completely undeserved,” Richard Ballard answered. “Then, we cooperate with this grace by our good works and faith, hope and love, that enable us to grow in sanctification and grace, to grow in holiness, to actually become what he wants us to be. We need the sacraments for grace. Think of salvation as a reward, not something we merit.”

What is the role of women in the church and why can they not be priests?
Pope John Paul II was the main source for Marcia Silvestro’s answer. She said that the late pope tells us that men and women are made in the image and likeness of God, equally, and that there are a lot of feminine attributes in the Scripture’s depiction of God.

“Jesus treats women well, especially in Luke, but Jesus chose men to be his apostles, not because of their gifts, but because it was his choice. And we, the church, don’t have the authority to change that choice,” Silvestro said.

She added that Jesus often went against cultural norms, so changing culture is not an excuse to change his choice.

Why are Catholic and Protestant bibles different?
Richard Peck explained that some of the original Scripture of the Christian church was deleted after Protestants started their own churches. The deutero-canonical books of the Bible, what the Protestants call the Apocrypha, or not divinely inspired ones, were removed from the canon of Scripture during the Reformation.

“The first edition of the King James version of the Bible contained these books,” Peck said, “but between the 1500s and the 1600s they were removed. What were not removed were the marginal references to these books, 102 in the Old Testament and 11 in the New.”

Is it sinful for a Catholic to vote for a pro-abortion candidate for public office?
“There can be only one answer,” Tom Whalen said. “The church cannot support anyone who supports the ending of innocent life.”

When a later question came from the audience, Father Longenecker explained that in death issues, such as capital punishment, war and abortion, the honest Catholic must ask such questions as who is being killed, how many are being killed and for what reasons. Whalen said that there is a hierarchy of death issues.

After fielding more questions from the floor, Dana Williamson recommended that questioners attend an RCIA class, where Catholic matters and doctrines are discussed in a non-obligatory setting.

Father Longenecker said he expects to put on another “Challenging Catholics” forum next year.