NEW HAVEN – The former prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith challenged a Yale University audience to explain and defend their faith with a "new apologetics" of Christian thought that is rooted in both truth and credibility.
"It is imperative that we work on deepening our spiritual life and come to a mature understanding of our Catholic faith," said Cardinal William Joseph Levada, who spoke April 21 at Yale University’s Thomas E. Golden, Jr. Center at St. Thomas More (STM) Chapel. "A New Apologetics for the New Evangelization" was the title of his talk.
Noting that the perennial task of the Church since the time of the apostles has been to evangelize, he said that "each of us is called to be an apostle and a disciple." Every one of us must "proclaim the Gospel by word and example."
Cardinal Levada explained that the term "new evangelization" was first used in 1983 by Pope John Paul II, who called for it to be "new in ardor, methods and expression." Among its chief characteristics, the cardinal said, are the centrality of Christ rooted in a personal relationship with Jesus; and an ecumenical context that calls for interreligious dialogue through which participants learn from one another.
Those engaging in that dialogue, he said, drawing upon words from the first encyclical issued by Pope Paul VI, must possess clarity, be marked by meekness rather than arrogance, be confident about their own convictions and in the goodwill of the dialogue partner, and show sensitivity to the persons involved.
He encouraged Catholic colleges and universities and campus ministry centers to provide students with courses on apologetics, and to "let their students have a say about the landscape" the new apologetics should address.
In summarizing the content of the new apologetics, the cardinal said that it must be knowledgeable about the existence and knowledge of God, offer tools that enable students to deal with biases raised between faith and science, address human sexuality that reaffirms the responsibility of human love, examine the common good of the ethical questions that underlie human interaction, incorporate the beauty of the arts, and address the individualistic spirit that dominates American culture.
Father Robert L. Beloin, chaplain at STM since 1994, said that Cardinal Levada was invited by Yale’s Catholic center to deliver the inaugural Rev. Richard R. Russell Lecture. Father Russell and Cardinal Levada were classmates in the seminary. Father Russell went on to hold various chaplaincy posts at Yale University for 25 years. Some of his friends and brother priests from those years were on hand to honor him.
"It (the lecture) was very inspiring," said Deacon Mario DiRenzo, who serves at St. Augustine Parish in Seymour. "The main point is to love Jesus with all your heart, mind and soul; and that is what he was trying to say."
Msgr. Michael Motta, pastor of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in West Hartford, agreed. "It provided an opportunity to think about the new evangelization and look at ways of bringing it to a world that is very much in need of that," he said.
"We’re living in a culture of fear and violence right now," he observed in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, "and we need the peace and compassion and love of Jesus Christ in our hearts. We need to communicate that we are part of the Body of Christ, and that Jesus Christ is integral to our lives."
Prior to the lecture, Cardinal Levada celebrated Mass and had dinner with 35 Yale students who discussed topics ranging from his experience at the conclave to his work in the Vatican, according to Katie Byrnes, assistant chaplain at the center. "For them, to have that kind of access is pretty extraordinary."
"It was fantastic," said senior Patrick O’Keefe about Cardinal Levada’s remarks. "We need to have a dialogue and be open to other ideas while still coming back to the centrality of our faith." There is "a delicate balance," he said, between evangelization that does not condemn other views, but also does not slip into relativism.
Cardinal Levada served as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – the principal defender of the moral and theological doctrines of the Church – under Pope Benedict XVI from 2005 until retiring in 2012. Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller of the Diocese of Regensburg, Germany, succeeded him. Another American and periodic homilist at St. Mary Parish in New Haven, Archbishop Joseph Augustine Di Noia, a Dominican, also currently serves as Under-Secretary of the CDF.
Cardinal Levada previously was the Archbishop of Portland, Ore. (1986-95), and Archbishop of San Francisco until 2005. He is also the President emeritus of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and International Theological Commission and President emeritus of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei; and he served on the editorial committee for the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In 2011, he was appointed as one of the first members of the newly created Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.