As we have seen thus far, difficult situations in the Church and the world have been occasions for God to raise up great saints. When we are in need of certain gifts, whether it is the logic of Thomas More, the fortitude of John Fisher, or the simplicity of Josemaria Escriva, God gives us the heroes we need. Saint Irenaeus (125-202) was one of those heroes.
Like St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Irenaeus spent a lot of time preaching and writing to refute misunderstandings and false teachings in the early days of the Church. His greatest work, Against Heresies, was focused mainly on correcting the false teachings of a group called the Gnostics.
The Gnostics often used Scripture to back up their teaching and claimed to teach in the name of Jesus Christ. Whoever responded to them would need to be articulate, intelligent, and precise. He would have to know the truth and be able to preach the truth in a sophisticated, accurate, and attractive way. He would need to be a deep thinker who would know the message of Jesus Christ through prayer, study, and lived experience, and be someone who could share the fruits of that prayer, study, and experience.
St. Irenaeus was the man for the job. He was a disciple of St. Polycarp, who had received the Gospel message from St. John, the beloved Apostle and evangelist. Irenaeus wrote extensively, clearly, and with wit, while also ministering as bishop to the people of Lyons in modern-day France.
He not only knew the truth — he knew how to preach it. The same thing is being asked of us today.
St. Peter gives us an important reminder in his first letter: “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pt 3:15).
We must know what we believe, but we must also have the words to defend it.
Have you ever had someone ask a question about something you believe in, only to have you at a loss for words to answer them? Hopefully such an experience would call us to investigate deeper, to ask questions ourselves, to read and pray and search for answers.
The religious liberty issue is much broader than the picture painted by most of the media. Are we investigating the issues ourselves? Are we ready to answer the questions that our neighbors, coworkers, or friends inevitably have? The United States bishops have ample resources and articles on their website.
Have we tried to educate ourselves so that we can make a defense for the hope that is in us?
When the bishops of America met with Pope Benedict at the beginning of 2012, he spoke of a need in the American church: “the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity.” He emphasized that the “preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a primary task of the Church in [the United States].” “The Church’s witness … is of its nature public: she seeks to convince by proposing rational arguments in the public square. The legitimate separation of Church and State cannot be taken to mean that the Church must be silent on certain issues, nor that the State may choose not to engage, or be engaged by, the voices of committed believers in determining the values which will shape the future of the nation.”
He said these things the day before the HHS mandate was announced. Are we ready to answer that call? We can’t afford to wait another moment.