Ideas have consequences. Today, secular leaders define the ideas that shape our culture. Religious belief, especially Christianity, has been sidelined in academia and the public square. Consider recent legal battles in the Supreme Court that threaten Christian belief and practice, or the silencing of Christian believers at universities, primary schools and secondary schools.
The result? Christians must seek new ways to influence our culture.
Under the guidance of the Benedictine monastic and academic communities at Portsmouth Abbey and St. Louis Abbey, the Portsmouth Institute for Faith and Culture is bringing Catholic thought to the forefront of public discourse. By fostering dialogue rooted in the rich intellectual heritage of the Church, the Portsmouth Institute will promote a comprehensive understanding of the common good, reassert the role of faith in society, and redefine the ideas that shape our culture.
I was recently reading a report from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on the “Intellectual Tasks of the New Evangelization.” The tasks are many and varied. But they all stem from a desire to re-evangelize a secular world. That starts by “evangelizing in the pews,” a vital task unique to secular modernity. We need to engage in a robust discussion about the role of Catholicism in our lives and our communities, our politics and economics, our art and literature. And above all, we must affirm the “joy of the gospel,” and share the truth that God is love to an age and a people that has largely forgotten the claims of our ancient faith.
When thinking about our mission, I am reminded of the work of Saint Paul in Athens, as recounted in Acts of the Apostles:
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he grew exasperated at the sight of the city full of idols. So he debated in the synagogue with the Jews and with the worshipers, and daily in the public square with whoever happened to be there. Even some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers engaged him in discussion. Some asked, “What is this scavenger trying to say?” Others said, “He sounds like a promoter of foreign deities,” because he was preaching about ‘Jesus’ and ‘Resurrection.’ They took him and led him to the Areopagus and said, “May we learn what this new teaching is that you speak of? For you bring some strange notions to our ears; we should like to know what these things mean.”
Is our time not reminiscent of first century Athens, when Saint Paul was engaged in discussion with philosophers, worshipers, and whoever who would listen, all of whom were ignorant of the Truth? Like Saint Paul, we must bring our faith to the public square and engage in discussion with false philosophies. Indeed, that is the task of the Portsmouth Institute: to welcome fruitful discussion of the Catholic intellectual tradition, to encourage a deeper commitment to the faith, and to foster an awareness of Catholic teaching as it applies to the dignity of the human person and a just society.
Since 2009, the Portsmouth Institute, under the leadership of James MacGuire, offered a rich opportunity for Catholics to delve more deeply into the nexus of scholarship, faith, and contemporary culture. The Institute hosted a weekend conference each summer that attracted speakers of international renown and drew participants from around the world. The conferences received widespread acclaim in First Things, National Review, The Catholic World Report, and National Catholic Register, and praise from over six hundred attendees. You may have even experienced the wonderful conferences first hand.
Building on our past successes, the Portsmouth Institute for Faith and Culture will now explore Catholic thought in a variety of formats: from our annual summer conferences to public lectures and invitation-only seminars year-round. In fact, our first public lecture, “Faith and Fear in the Ebola Crisis: Volunteering in Liberia for Two Months,” will take place on Saturday, December 13 at 11:00 AM. The lecture will feature Dr. Timothy P. Flanigan, a deacon in the diocese of Providence and infectious diseases doctor at Brown University Hospital, who spent two months this fall assisting in the Ebola crisis in Liberia, West Africa. You can reserve a seat and find out more about the event here.
If you have attended a conference in the past, we look forward to seeing you more often. To newcomers, we are excited to meet you at one of our high-quality programs. Together, we will restore our culture, renew the Church, and share the joy of the Gospel. You can keep up with news and events through our email newsletter. Please know that you are welcome to visit Portsmouth Abbey’s campus—Mass is open to the community, and I would be delighted to talk over a cup of coffee sometime.
Thank you for your support and your prayers. I look forward to embarking on this important mission together.
Portsmouth Institute for Faith and Culture