It is not enough to believe; the faith must be lived. We are not called to simply adhere to a creed, or give our assent to a series of propositions. But taking these creeds as a starting point, how are Catholics called to live the faith on a daily basis?
These are the central questions addressed by Bishop Donald Hying in a new book. Bishop Hying is the fifth bishop of Madison, in Wisconsin, the successor to Bishop Robert Morlino. He was appointed on April 25, 2019, having been bishop of Gary (Indiana) since 2015, and before the auxiliary bishop of Milwaukee since 2011. He was installed as bishop of Madison two months later, on June 25, 2019.
His new book is Love Never Fails: Living the Catholic Faith in Our Daily Lives (Ignatius Press, 2021). The title comes from his episcopal motto: Caritas Numquam Excidit (Love Never Fails). In the book, which is essentially a compendium of his diocesan newspaper columns over several years, Bishop Hying pulls from years of pastoral experience in different settings—the suburbs, the inner city, the mission field, and the seminary—to give practical advice and reflections on how Catholics can really live the faith, all day, every day.
Bishop Hying recently spoke with Catholic World Report about his book, the challenges facing the Church today, and the way Catholics can live out the faith in their daily lives in spite of (or sometimes because of) those challenges.
Catholic World Report: How did the book come about?
Bishop Donald Hying: It’s really a compilation of my newspaper columns from when I was auxiliary bishop in Milwaukee, and then bishop in Gary [Indiana], and it was edited and put together in that form. I didn’t do anything with it, really. A friend of mine submitted it to Ignatius Press, and told me that he had done that. I kind of forgot about it, and then all of a sudden I got a letter from Ignatius Press saying my manuscript had been accepted!
CWR: The subtitle of the book is “Living the Catholic faith in our daily lives”. Can you speak a little about why it is important to live the faith, rather than just knowing it?
Bishop Hying: My columns are an attempt to make some pastoral application of the teachings of our faith. Our faith calls us to do, to act, to imitate Jesus, to put into practice the virtues and become more holy. What we do flows from who we are, but also who we are is formed by what we do. It’s that dynamic of being and action that is part and parcel of Christianity and Catholicism in particular, because we are called to act out our faith.
CWR: That sounds a lot like the old principle lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi (the law of what is prayed is the law of what is believed is the law of what is lived).
Bishop Hying: That’s right.
CWR: When I was reading the book, I kept coming back to that subtitle. There are many high-profile Catholics (including politicians) who very publicly clash with and contradict the teaching of the Church. That is a big topic of conversation in this country. Do you think that Catholics living their faith, being a visible example, could have a positive impact on the state of our nation and our world?
Bishop Hying: Absolutely. And I think if we have counter-examples to that, it reinforces the notion that to be in public life we need to park our faith outside the door. The First Amendment recognizes our religious freedom, and religious freedom is more than the right to worship; it’s the right to live out faith in the public square, and make our contribution to the common good. The positive way to say that is: when you have people with an integrated, active faith in public, it demonstrates the contribution that religion and Catholicism have to make. When you have a counterexample to that, it reinforces the idea that one can’t really bring their faith to politics or economics or anything else.
CWR: Would you say it’s harder or easier (or neither) for Catholics to really live their faith today? Are there more challenges, more obstacles from the culture?
Bishop Hying: I’d say it’s both harder and easier. It’s harder in the sense that we’re more secularists, more relativists, more anti-religion in terms of the culture, but paradoxically I think that makes it almost clearer in terms of what’s at stake. So I find that, with Catholics today, if they’re in, they’re really in, because they understand where we’re at culturally. Whereas the weakness of pre-conciliar Catholicism was perhaps that its numerical strength bred a certain complacency, people just feeling that if they go to Mass, they do enough. I think today we are called to a heroic, apostolic courage. And that’s a good thing. Saints would rejoice to live in a moment like this! This is the moment that makes saints.
CWR: There are a lot of questions lately about high-profile Catholics. The terms “practicing Catholic” and “devout Catholic” are thrown around a lot. What would you say to the idea of a “practicing Catholic” vs. a “non-practicing Catholic”?
Bishop Hying: I think those terms can be inadequate, and sometimes even deceiving. When people say “practicing Catholic,” what they usually mean is that they go to Mass. The bar is kind of set low! “If I go to Mass most Sundays, I’m a practicing Catholic.” I think we would understand to practice the faith means much more than that (as central to our faith as Mass is): living a life of prayer, going to confession, practicing mortification, putting Christ at the center of your life, embracing the teachings of the Church. It’s more than simply going to Mass.
CWR: How would you say your ministry as a priest, and then a bishop, informed your perspective on the question of how to live the faith in our daily lives?
Bishop Hying: I went into college seminary right after high school, when I was 18. What has really formed me as a priest and as a bishop is the faith of fellow priests, religious and laity, whom in my ministry I’ve been blessed to work and serve with, thousands of different people. Anyone striving to live the faith has something to give. My understanding of God, my experience of Jesus, is mediated through the Church, and individuals in the Church who inspired me. We say the priest is there to serve the people of God, and of course that’s true, but in many ways the people of God carry us and inspire us, as well. It’s a mutual building-up.
CWR: What do you hope people will get out of this book?
Bishop Hying: I would hope that when people read it, they’ll experience a combination of consolation, inspiration, and challenge. I think the Gospel is consoling and challenging both; if it’s only consolation you can fall into complacency, and if it’s only challenging you can fall into despair. But when you put those two together we have great firepower. In the end I hope it leads them into deeper relationship with the Lord, and how to live that out in the practical details of life.
(Editor’s note: This interview was originally posted at CWR on May 17, 2021.)
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