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Catholicism Pure and Simple: Fr Dwight Longenecker Discusses with Catholic Online the Challenges of the New Evangelization

By Catholic Online
December 3rd, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

We have a problem in the developed world that we have never experienced before. You might call it a "post-Christian mentality". Many of the atheists, agnostics and nonbelievers are former Christians. They say the second largest religious affiliation in America is "lapsed Catholics!"

GREENVILLE, SC (Catholic Online) - In addition to running a parish, Fr Dwight Longenecker is an author, blogger and broadcaster. Catholic Online caught up with him for a quick interview about his latest book and his thoughts on the New Evangelization.

CO: Fr Dwight, you were brought up as an Evangelical Christian. What eventually brought you into the Catholic faith?

DL: I first moved to the Anglican Church and served as a priest in the Church of England for ten years. It was the question of authority which brought me into the Catholic Church. When faced with the difficult questions of the modern age, the Catholic Church spoke with an authority that was both ancient and modern--an authority that was rooted in the ages, but relevant for today.

CO: Evangelicals are known for being zealous to spread the gospel. How well do you think the Catholic Church does in evangelizing?

DL: It's easy for Catholics to be somewhat intimidated by the Evangelical Protestants when it comes to Evangelization. But I think we underestimate the powerful witness of Catholics in the world today. We hear so much about bad priests and hypocritical Catholics, but there are wonderful, radiant examples of saints active in the world today, and it is these shining Catholic examples who are the best evangelists.

CO: What do you think are the greatest difficulties in sharing the gospel today?

DL: We have a problem in the developed world that we have never experienced before. You might call it a "post-Christian mentality". Many of the atheists, agnostics and nonbelievers are former Christians. They say the second largest religious affiliation in America is "lapsed Catholics!"

This means that we are trying to reach people who already know something about the Christian faith but, for a whole range of complicated reasons, have rejected it. They are harder to reach because they believe they know it all already.

CO: So how do we reach them?

DL: Good question! Most often those who have rejected the Catholic faith or God are rejecting a false understanding of God or the Catholic faith. They have been taught badly, or they have only ever known a bad example from those who professed the faith, or they have been taught a form of the Christian faith which is faulty, stupid or incomplete. In a way, if they have rejected a false version of the Christian faith we can't blame them. In fact, they are right to reject it.

CO: But how do they find an authentic expression of the faith?

DL: I think there are several good ways of getting through. First of all, we need good catechetical materials that are up to date in both style and method of communication. Fr Barron's Word on Fire video work is fantastic, and there are an increasing number of Catholics working hard in the new media to get the message across. I'm thinking of Tom Peterson's video work with Catholics Come Home, Grassroots Films and a whole range of blogs, websites, e-newsletters, podcasts and more.

CO: You've been pretty busy in this area haven't you?

DL: I guess so. My blog, Standing on My Head was recently voted one of the top religious blogs in the country, and I'm busy on Twitter and Facebook trying to spread the gospel. I've also started a new weekly e-newsletter on practical Catholicism called FaithWorks.

CO: Do you think all these media messages really get through? Are people converted by them?

DL: You have to remember that people are on a continuum of beliefs from committed Catholics right through to ardent atheists. Conversion is rarely the sudden dramatic moment when a great sinner turns to God. Instead it is more often a gradual drawing closer to the truth. Every time we declare the truth a little bit more light is shed in our darkened world, and someone somewhere is helped.

CO: Have you had people say that they were converted by your writings?

DL: Of course! Yes! People have written from all over the world thanking me for my writings and a good number of them have said that my work has helped to bring them back to the church or to convert to Catholicism or to consider God again.

CO: What is your latest project?

DL: Some years ago, when I lived in England, the Catholic Truth Society asked me to write a series of booklets for primary evangelization. These brief was to write in simple, straightforward language for people who were considering Christianity for the first time. This project was called Christianity Pure and Simple.

CO: Did it work?

DL: I think so. The books sold out, so I suppose that's good going! Now I've put the books together into a single volume and re-written parts of the text for an American readership. The result is Catholicism Pure and Simple.

CO: Who is this book for?

DL: I would love this book to become a basic textbook for confirmation and RCIA classes. The book begins with arguments for God and goes on to explain his plan of redemption for the world. It explains the basic Catholic doctrines then goes on to discuss the church, sacraments and the life of prayer and service.

CO: You said confirmation classes. Is this really simple enough for eighth graders? If so, isn't it too simple for adults?

DL: I've had both groups try the book and say that it works just fine. This is assuming that the confirmation candidates are using the book as part of classroom discussions. But the book is not just an RCIA textbook. It also serves as a good refresher course in the Catholic faith for all those lapsed Catholics I spoke about who need to return to the faith.

CO: Do you think people are converted just through books and videos and blogs and all these words you produce?

DL: The words are only part of the picture, and probably only a minor part. People are really convinced about the Catholic faith when they see it in action. In other words, if you want people to be converted look like you're converted yourself! Live the faith with joy and trust and open hearted service to others. That's what draws people to Christ--by them seeing Christ alive in us.

CO: You're clearly very busy! What do you do for relaxation?

DL: I have a motorcycle, and I live in near the mountains of North Carolina, so on a beautiful day in the Fall you'll find me tooling along the mountain roads soaking up the beauty of God's creation. I also just like to find time to spend with my family and friends.

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Visit Fr Longenecker's website at www.dwightlongenecker.com. There you can learn more about Catholicism Pure and Simple, link to his blog and sign up for his newsletter.

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