Although February is Catholic press month, the feast day of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of Catholic writers and journalists, is Jan. 24. St. Peter Canisius, a Dutch Jesuit who traveled, taught and penned the German catechism – later translated into more than 20 languages – is another patron saint of the Catholic press. His feast day is Dec. 21.
Both of these men used the written word, combined with a missionary mindset and the basic teachings of the Catholic faith, to convert Catholics who had fallen away during the Reformation. St. Francis lived near a Calvinist stronghold and went door-to-door. When he was ignored, he left simple pamphlets explaining Catholic beliefs. Although the printing press had been developed well before his time, St. Peter was the first to take advantage of it by publishing his 1555 catechism in the vernacular, effectively becoming a leading and lasting figure in the Counter-Reformation.
I haven’t studied church history in any great detail – my academic background is in English literature, which primarily focuses on the Reformation’s effects in England – but given the context of religious upheaval, we can surmise there were similarities between our times and theirs. Many Catholics, some perhaps because they were not particularly well catechized, were converting. Social tides were turning. Protestantism was new, hip, fresh – full of charismatic voices. It also eased up on some of the less popular teachings of Catholicism.
It was, like now, a time of great conflict, deep division and strong emotion. Although religion is rarely the hot topic in the secular world these days – politics, I’d say, holds that position – I’m heartily sorry to report there’s division among Catholics as well. Some want contemporary services, some want the Latin Mass. Some want to prioritize adherence to the catechism, others prefer to march for social justice. Inexplicably, the loudest voices on either side of the debates – online, anyway – are blind to the obvious truth: Catholicism is vast. Comprehensive. Old and new, conservative and liberal, love and law.
Back to Sts. Peter and Francis. Both of these men were intelligent and well-educated and suffered no lack of theological knowledge. Doubtless they could’ve spent countless hours picking fights with peasants. Instead, both men served the people. St. Francis won over parents with his kindness to their children; St. Peter founded universities, but he also cared for the frail and ailing.
In their wisdom, these saints exemplified the walk of faith through divisive times: Stick to the basics, serve the people, keep a missionary mindset and be respectful. We at the Superior Catholic Herald aim to emulate them – to unite rather than divide, to share the core of our faith and the stories of our community, to respect the thoughts, feelings and experiences our readers are accumulating on their varied journeys through a faith-filled life.
Seeking and disseminating truth is a goal of journalists in general, but here in the Catholic press, we hold ourselves to an even higher standard. We seek truth and we serve our community, but we also serve God. Sewing discord and spreading misinformation are not only irresponsible journalism, they are – I am convinced – an abuse of power in God’s eyes. Keeping this in mind, we will do our best to serve God, our pope, our bishop and our Catholic community now and in the future.