History of Catholics United for Faith

Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) is an international lay apostolate, building on the only sure foundation for happiness and renewal of the family and society: the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Church.

Founded by H. Lyman Stebbins in 1968 to support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church, CUF has helped tens of thousands of people discover and strengthen their Catholic faith.

The Family Apostolate Defined According to Vatican Council II
(Talk for Tucson CUF Conference, Oct. 29, 2004)
by Madeleine F. Stebbins

Though my topic is called, “The Family Apostolate Defined According to Vatican Council II,” I have been asked to tell you first of all about Lyman Stebbins’ original view or vision of Catholics United for the Faith, and then about our present duties in our families.

Lyman’s first speech after having been chosen as leader and founder of CUF was in September 1968 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC. Brent Bozell, editor of Triumph Magazine and savvy about the media, arranged the affair, and had a television crew with a national hookup and reporters there. Lyman was asked to be spokesman for a new lay movement called CUF. But the idea of a movement was in the minds of many lay people long before that. When the faith at that time was starting to be attacked, distorted, and watered down from all sides, and the Second Vatican Council was misinterpreted, misapplied, and hijacked almost from the beginning of the Council, it was felt that we ought to do something about it. However, the proximate impetus for the formation of this new lay initiative CUF was the massive revolt mostly by theologians against the new encyclical by Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae (On Human Life). No sooner had the encyclical been issued, and the Pope’s signature had scarcely dried, when hundreds of theologians publicly rebelled. They couldn’t even have had time to read it, much less reflect upon it, before they made lengthy statements of non-acceptance to the media. Many faithful Catholic laypeople and priests felt something should be done immediately to counter this, and to get across nationally and internationally that we fully accepted the teaching Humanae Vitae and supported the Holy Father. It was necessary to witness to this publicly before the world, a lay witness of fidelity to Peter, to the Church, and thus to Christ.

Lyman however stated that this new lay movement, also an organization, was not merely an ad hoc committee to defend the encyclical Humanae Vitae. Its purpose was to defend and advance the whole faith, since it is all of one piece. To deny one part is to tear down the whole. He also had a clear insight that this revolt against Humanae Vitae was only a symptom of a much deeper malady, namely a loss of faith or a dimming of the faith. He
realized that this loss of faith at the root had to be overcome through God’s grace, with prayer, study, and spreading the faith, including the authentic teachings of Vatican II. Christ’s words, “The Son of man, when he comes, shall He find, think you, faith on earth?” (Lk. 18:8), are a serious challenge to us. Lyman saw that not only a movement but also an apostolate was called for. We are to grow I knowledge and understanding of the faith.

LW.1stHere he was greatly influenced by John Henry Cardinal Newman, whom he deeply loved as a disciple loves his master. Cardinal Newman opposed a type of clericalism prevalent at the time, the clericalism expressed by an English monsignor in these words: “What is the province of the laity? To hunt, to shoot, to entertain. These matters they understand, but to meddle with ecclesiastical matters they have no right at all.” Well, Newman disagreed. He pointed out that at least at one crucial time in the history of the Church, namely after the Council of Nicea in the year 325, when the Arian heresy was condemned and the divinity of Christ defined as consubstantial with the Father, it was the laity, the faithful Catholic laity, who held fast to that doctrine for nearly 60 years between the Council of Nicea and the Council of Constantinople, while most of the bishops either were silent, vacillated, prevaricated, or made compromises with Arianism. In Newman’s words, “In that earliest age it was simply the living spirit of the myriads of faithful who transmitted the apostolic faith” (H.S., p. 209). It was the witness of the laity that saw the Church through the crisis and weathered the storm. This is precisely our task now: to transmit the faith.

Newman wrote: “The divine dogma of Our Lord’s divinity was proclaimed, enforced, maintained, and (humanly speaking) preserved, far more by the ‘Ecclesia docta’ (that is, the Church of those who are taught) than by the ‘Ecclesia docens’ (that is, the teaching Church).” Newman also wanted an educated laity, who had an extensive knowledge and a profound understanding of the faith, and who were able to articulate it and defend it. As Dr. John F. Crosby has pointed out, Newman, especially in his study, “On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine,” was a forerunner of Vatican II, and an inspiration to the Council fathers in Vatican II’s teaching about the universal cal to holiness, and about the place of the laity in the Church, and also about the call to the laity to do the work of evangelization (Lay Witness, November/December 2003, p. 23).

Now, some will ask, “How does this call to the faithful differ from the attitude of, for instance, the organization, ‘The Voice of the Faithful’?” Does this mean Newman was advocating a kind of democracy in the Church, in which the laity have practically an equal voice with the legitimate hierarchy in the Magisterium or in the government of the Church, and that our role is to criticize the hierarchy? Does it mean a power takeover, or that the laity, especially women, must have more power, and become a pressure group? Does it mean that the sin is in the structures, and that the laity must demand changes? Does the Second Vatican Council call for this? But how do you distinguish between the two attitudes?

It is above all in the meaning of the term, “the faithful.” In the situation which Newman describes after the Council of Nicea, it was the faithful laity who held fast to the perennial doctrine of the Church, which the Magisterium (that is, the teaching authority) of the Church itself had just before solemnly proclaimed at that council.

This has nothing to do with dissension, or contentiously wanting to change the structures of the Church, or fighting against the hierarchy, or bishop-bashing, or being perpetually active and busybodies in the Church, or imposing a secular model on the Church.

It has everything to do with faithfulness, with simply remaining strong in the faith. It means being witnesses to the faith always and everywhere. It means literally being full of a supernatural faith, where holiness, our own inner striving for holiness, is primary, where the spirit of charity and joy reigns, where the view of the Church is a supernatural one. This means closeness to Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Supreme Shepherd, and of greatest importance in the Church at the present time is closeness to the Shepherd of the Universal Church, the Supreme Pontiff, Prontifex Maximus (the term means the “highest bridge-builder,” between heaven and earth), the Vicar of Christ, and the Holy Father. The true faithful are poles apart from either heretics or schismatics, or even from any tendency toward either. The touchstone for faithfulness is fidelity to the Pope and lawful obedience to him, and also (I must emphasize this), to the bishops in union with him. This is the touchstone of our faith. The heart of our faith is the Eucharist. However, the Eucharist is possible only through the Church. Therefore, thinking with the Church is central.

I would like to digress and tell you at this point what St. Catherine of Siena advised. By the way, Lyman turned to her more and more in the later years for guidance because she also lived in a calamitous time, when the Church seemed to be self-destructive. Just imagine, the Pope absent from Rome for almost 70 years, up in a palace in Avignon, France. Just imagine the situation if John Paul II were to move to the luxurious Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, and the popes were to live there for the next century. Speak of trials to the faith! But that was what St. Catherine was up against. Then later the terrible situation came about with an antipope against Urban VI—a split in the Church, worldly priests, worldly bishops, worldly cardinals, and even worldly popes. What should our attitude be toward bad shepherds? Here is a quote form St. Catherine:

Foolish then, is he who departs from the Vicar of Christ Crucified, who has the keys of the Blood, or who goes against him . . . Even though the pope were satan incarnate himself, I may not lift up my head against him, but I must always humble myself, and beg for the Blood as a mercy, for in no other wise can I obtain a part of it . . .

Notice, please that she did not deny that there were bad shepherds—quite the opposite; therefore, she uses the worst-case scenario, namely, if the pope were satan incarnate. Some say St. Catherine criticized the Pope. No, she never tolerated that. What she did do was speak deeply to his conscience, personally, with a fire of love for him whom she called “our sweet Christ on earth.” In this way she brought the Pope back to Rome. Concerning our attitude, she said:

Give not ear to what the devil whispers to you, that it is your duty to speak against the bad shepherds of the Church. Do not believe the devil, do not seek to pass judgment, where it is not for you to judge . . . It pleases not Our Savior; He says, “They are my anointed,” and the judgment upon them belongs to Him and not to you nor to any other creature.

You see how this applies to our situation. This is not the spirit of heretics and schismatics. This is the spirit of a saint.

This is also the spirit of Newman in his writing on “The Obligation of Catholics to the Holy See” which I have here. In it Newman emphatically exhorts us to follow Christ’s Vicar and his successors “whithersoever they go . . . in their administration of Christ’s kingdom.”

Lyman.CanadaI must tell you something I have never before made public. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who was in good standing with Rome at that time, paid us a visit in 1971 for about five days altogether with another priest from his newly founded seminary in Econe, Switzerland. My husband served his Mass in the morning at Holy Family Church in New Rochelle and was deeply impressed by his piety and reverence saying Mass, so much so that he told me he almost felt like asking the Archbishop to be his spiritual director. However, I think it was that same evening Archbishop Lefebvre in our living room spoke to us and a couple of friends, telling us stories he knew concerning Pope John XXIII going back on his word and other scandals in the Vatican, really just gossip. I have to confess that I listened to him open-mouthed, rather gullibly, as did our friends. Later when we retired for the night, I said to Lyman, “Wasn’t that amazing?” Lyman said, “I didn’t like it at all. He had no business spreading such gossip. I didn’t like the spirit out of which it came at all. I will have nothing more to do with him.” I recall that Lefebvre continually referred to Pope Paul VI as Montini, something Lyman thought was telltale of his attitude. Later, Lyman felt that there was a schismatic spirit in him which was potentially dangerous.

In later years, when CUF and Lyman were accused of being too obedient to the Pope, he said, “When I stand before the judgment seat of God after I die, I cannot imagine that the reproach will be: ‘You were too docile and too obedient to my Vicar on earth, and did not stand up to him.’ I can imagine many other reproaches, but not that one.”

I say all this because lately in many usually good and orthodox publications we have seen articles murmuring against the Pope—an attitude of suspicion toward him—and attacking bishops—an adversarial attitude toward them. Remember: If doctrine is not taught in schools and in homilies, if the pro-life message is not clearly stressed, it is our responsibility to bear witness to that doctrine in our families and in society at large. Don’t blame it on others or waste time and energy pointing fingers at others, but do it yourself. I heard of a T-shirt on which these words were printed: “My therapist told me it is somebody else’s fault.”

So we of CUF must never succumb to this temptation. The words of St. Catherine must perpetually ring in our ears, not to listen “to what the devil whispers to you, that it is your duty to speak against the bad shepherds of the Church.”

Instead of complaining and griping about the situation, we ought to ask ourselves the question Lyman always posed, namely, “What can I usefully and fittingly do about it?” CUF has a regular protocol on how to deal with different problems, and the approach is necessarily different with each one. For instance, any sex abuse must immediately be acted upon. Liturgical abuses and irreverence rightfully upset and outrage us. Besides the action we can take to deal usefully and fittingly with the latter, we must make acts of reparation to Our Lord to console Him, since the offense is much more against Him than against us. Let us spend more time in front of the Blessed Sacrament also to receive that inner peace.

In the 1970s I was privileged to speak to Marthe Robin in France, a saintly person whose cause is now up for beatification. She was similar in many ways to the newly beatified Bl. Anna Katerina Emmerich. I asked Marthe Robin what our attitude toward bishops should be. Her clear answer was, “Do not criticize them, but help them.” Lyman thought that a model way of doing this was what a CUF chapter chairman in Hartford, Connecticut, the late Frank Haggerty, and his wife Eileen, did. They befriended their quite liberal bishop, they offered to help him, and they showed him that they were with him. Then slowly, after they had gained his confidence, they were able to draw his attention to the harm of sex education, to the wrong catechesis, etc., and to suggest solutions. And it was rather astonishing that this quite liberal bishop listened to them and to some extent remedied the situation. So it is the CUF spirit to help bishops, to pray for them, to encourage them to use their authority rightly, to applaud them when they do, to give support to them to speak the truth courageously, and to tell them of our concerns respectfully, making them aware of the problems. CUF also has continually brought our concerns to the Holy See in Rome.

I know that you here are working in similar ways in the CUF spirit. And that gladdens my heart. Lyman wanted this spirit of “sentire cum ecclesia,” thinking with the Church. St. Paul tells us that we should “have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). To have the mind of Christ, it follows that we must have the mind of the Church.

The Apostles and the early Church and the saints lived and breathed this spirit, this thought of the identity between Christ and His Church, as the Mystical Body. How important it is to pray daily for the Church and for the Holy Father.

This brings me to another ingredient which entered into the mix in the fourth century, and which helps define the true meaning of the word “faithful,” namely, closeness to the saints. The faithful whom Newman referred to as keeping the light of faith burning in the days of the sway of the Arian heresy were influenced not by the subtle and sophisticated theologians and their sophistries, but by the holy monks of the desert, followers of St. Anthony of the desert, whom people called “God’s beloved.” These monks held fast to the orthodoxy of the faith and rejected the Arian heresy. There was such sweetness, joy, peace, love, and humility in their holiness. They radiated Christ.

St. Athanasius, the great defender of orthodoxy against the Arian heresy, wrote, “Among the mountains there were monasteries, as if tabernacles filled with divine choirs, singing, studying, fasting, praying, exulting in the hope of things to come, working for alms deeds, having love and harmony one toward another . . .” So the people listened to these holy monks, not full of contentiousness and self-assertion. This was the great influence on the faithful.

This is our model. You can see how all this had a profound influence on the founding of CUF by Lyman. He was totally imbued with it. It was his vision of CUF which he repeated again and again. Here is a quote by Lyman:


Catholics United for the Faith has offered assistance to the Catholic bishops in the United States in their great work of furthering the all-important renewal which the documents of the Council call for and which Pope Paul VI described as an inner, persona, moral renewal. This purpose, which is first in importance, and which is a prerequisite for the others, means that we exist in order to respond publicly and together to what Vatican II called the universal call to holiness. This spiritual renewal must be realized by the response of large numbers of the laity to the call to perfection, by an awakening to the depth and totality of Christ’s call; it means a real conversion into that leaven, that salt, that light which Christ asks us to be.

Springing from this, it is CUF’s apostolate to spread the faith. This evangelization, which the laity must undertake, has to start in the home, in the family.

Lyman Stebbins wrote and spoke often of the family as the domestic Church—a Church in miniature. The expression “domestic Church” is found in the Second Vatican Council’s “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church”: “In what might be regarded as the domestic Church, the parents by word and example are the heralds of the faith with regard to their children” (Lumen Gentium). Then Lyman added that there is a priesthood of the laity in this domestic Church, a common but not ministerial priesthood. This ought to be taken much more seriously, especially by fathers of families.

This goes together with an earnest striving for holiness. Only then will wholeness come, that is, families intact and in harmony, by taking up daily one’s cross, performing one’s duties according to one’s state in life. We must nourish our children not only with physical food but, a hundred times more importantly, with the nourishment of the true faith, educating them in doctrine, in the Bible, and in the wisdom of the saints. A hundred times more important than educating them for a successful life is educating them in the faith, which means happiness in this life and in the next. St. Paul says, “The wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God” (1 Cor. 3:19).

Some parents are so busy shopping for toys, clothes, and consumer goods for their children, and have the TV on a great part of the day. I say, give all that up, cut down to just what is absolutely necessary. Simplify your life. In St. Paul’s words, “Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). Instead, take time to teach your children and grandchildren the faith, that is, doctrine, Scripture, the history of the Church, the lives of saints. Never expect that school to do that. Vatican II tells us that parents are the primary educators of their children. You must do it in the family, in the home. In your free time study it yourself. Then you will come to see how enthralling that study is.

We must try to be imaginative and creative in ways to transmit this knowledge to our children to make it fascinating for them. I know families who have guessing games about the history of the Church, on doctrine or lives of the saints, at meal times. Also, we invented a card game on these topics.

Above all, live the sacramental life, pray in the family. Start early praying with your children and telling them Bible stories. I remember as a child how I loved our picture Bible and how I loved the lives of saintly children which my mother read to us.

Lyman-4The whole idea is that when the heart is full, the mouth floweth over. When we fall in love with Christ, with His Church, and with the glorious doctrines of the faith, with the beauty of Scripture, with our whole Catholic and apostolic faith—in short, with what Chesterton calls “the thrilling romance of orthodoxy” (there never was anything so wondrous as orthodoxy). We will want to share it, first of all with our children. We will want to set their souls
on fire, by transmitting to them this divine spark, which will grow through God’s grace.