Reflections from Declan O’Sullivan, long-time Catholic champion, and attendee at the June 2019 Ruah Woods Press Teachers Training.
In the recent past, I had the pleasure and privilege of speaking with Joe Brinck, one of the founders of Ruah Woods. The conversation included an exchange about the pro-life movement, another mission close to his heart. Somehow it occurred to me to say that I thought that the horrendous Roe v Wade decision saved the Catholic Church. Joe was highly alarmed at the thought until I offered that it saved the Church from irrelevance in the public square by organizing resistance to abortion on a national scale. The mobilization of opposition drew in not only lukewarm Catholics to the movement, but also the forceful presence of Evangelicals. The ongoing campaign of more than fifty years has also mobilized sectors of the non-believing public who abhor the killing of innocents in the womb and has placed abortion at the very center of political debate. The Catholic understanding of the dignity of the human person in this instance was brought to public attention. I believe the possibility exists that a similar phenomenon could arise through the projection of Theology of the Body into the culture at large with salvific results. George Weigel said it best when he described TOB as a “kind of theological time bomb set to go off with dramatic consequences in the 21st century”.
Ruah Woods conducted a seminar on TOB in the week June 23-28, which was attended by 70 people drawn from all parts of the country. Most of them are currently users of the K-12 textbooks published by Ruah Woods Press, that teaches basic Catholic understanding of the human person through analogies and parallels in the way humans experience life. These textbooks use modern graphic art in visually attractive ways, that employ storytelling, famous literature examples and lives of heroic virtue to convey to the young the love relationship of God with them and all mankind. The content is a faithful and expansive treatment of St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body that, portrays the gift of life in a realistic, creative way never elucidated in Catholic education in the past. When some of us first heard it explained by Christopher West in 2003 at the Holy Spirit Center, at the invitation of Leslie Kuhlman, we were excited. The Order of Malta then brought TOB to the Catholic in the pew, by promoting it to several of the largest parishes in Cincinnati with introductory CDs and lectures by prominent advocates of TOB in 2003/2004. I believe that it was out of that experience and other epiphanies that led Tony Maas and Joe Brinck to found Ruah Woods in 2009.
Projection to Catholics
The weeklong seminar on TOB was led by the outstanding staff with break-out sessions to elicit the experience of the attendees in applying the teaching and educational materials at the school level. The teaching is backed by the latest internet tools in propagating TOB and it is available to the public at large for a very affordable subscription fee. As I understand it, close to 1000 Catholic schools from all parts of the country will be teaching Ruah Woods, K-12 textbooks in the fall of this year. This is a significant accomplishment in a short, startup time period. There are approximately 7500 Catholic schools in the US with a population of 2,100,000 so there is plenty of room to grow in that category as well as with the estimated 1,500,000 home-schooled children. And, there are Catholic schools in other English-speaking countries too. Unfortunately, the number of Catholic schools is slowly declining, it was double that number 40 years ago in the U.S. Hopefully, the introduction of the dynamic TOB teaching will convince those in the pews that a Catholic education is a value proposition. I would love to see a confident Church someday sponsor billboards that declare: “Be a Catholic – it’s Good for You!”.
The Catholic school is not the only Catholic target market. Many parishes are now developing programs to expand the knowledge of the faith to all parishioners. With the formidable tools now available parish education and prayers groups might be interested in subscribing to an interactive distance-learning curriculum on TOB. Parishes that adopt a pro-active evangelization program could be especially interested. There are some 70 million Americas who call themselves Catholic according to the latest survey. Even if only 25% are active in terms of attending Mass at least once a month, that is still a huge potential market for a more dynamic presentation of the faith.
Projection to Other Christians
JPII begins TOB by going back to the beginning of the Judeo-Christian story of mankind in the Garden of Eden, before the Fall. The magnificent teaching of how to live in the Christian manner, starts with the Book of Genesis and God’s plan for and love of his creation. It is thoroughly biblical and mainstream Christian, open to any Christian denomination or practice. Suspicion between Catholics and other Christians is still significant but there could be some Evangelical and mainline denominations who recognize that TOB fills a gap in their presentation of the Truth.
Projection to Non-Believers
In his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, JPII places the act of spreading the faith squarely on the shoulders of every practicing Catholic. He said the new evangelization is to be directed to the non-believer as well as the fallen away Catholic. It might seem a tall order to attempt to sell TOB to the non-believer when it is a big effort to get a buy-in even from practicing Catholics. The secular-liberal, agnostic agenda is the practical world view of many of our fellow citizens. However, a survey of the American Culture and Faith Institute reports that just 38% say we are on the right track culturally and only 28%, morally. These numbers reflect the breakdown of the traditional family, the loss of Christian identity resulting in an increase in general anxiety and levels of depression. The trends are pointing negatively, things can only get worse. This leaves a huge opening for an attractive repackaging of the Truth that TOB provides. Some say that the culture has moved beyond the tipping point and the best course is the Benedict Option – to retreat behind the monastery walls. Ruah Woods has a better idea.
The Catholic Church took on the task of turning back public acceptance of Roe v Wade. With TOB the Church has the task and the ability to enter the public square confidently with the good news that Jesus Christ is the answer to the anxiety that besets a culture on the wrong track. Ruah Woods is in the vanguard.
Declan O’Sullivan June 30, 2019
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