New Normal

“Fitting in” with the culture isn’t typical of Christianity. Persecution is.

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you. ” Matthew 5:11-12

That quote from the Sermon on the Mount takes on new meaning in light of recent Supreme Court decisions. Some Catholics in the United States are feeling under siege, which is understandable given that, in the past 60 years, a Catholic rose to the presidency and Catholic Christians have been accepted at all levels of U.S. society.Supreme Court

Even a cursory look at history, however, shows that the past half century in the U.S. was an exception in the 2,000-year history of Christianity. In that history, persecution is the rule.

Beginning with the Romans, governments in places as diverse as Japan, Mexico, Poland, Vietnam, Russia, Uganda, Turkey, and China have sought to suppress the Church, often violently.

So have individual rulers. Nero was probably the most infamous Roman emperor to persecute Christians. In much more recent times, leaders such as Napoleon, Hitler, and Stalin carried out threats against the Church.

Even in the United States, anti-Catholic bigotry, sometimes enabled by state governments, was practiced well into the 20th century. Today we think of the Ku Klux Klan as an organization mainly motivated by race, but Catholics have been a target of the KKK throughout much of its history. When my parents lived in Tennessee in the 1950s, anti-Catholic bigotry was still common.

Persecution, then, has been a constant in the history of the Catholic Church, as Jesus predicted. One difference today is that it’s more insidious, taking the form of a gradual erosion of religious freedom rather than outright violence or aggression against people of faith.

However, we are beginning to see Christian beliefs marginalized and Christians effectively silenced when they express those beliefs.

In this atmosphere, how does a Catholic respond?

  • Pray and learn the faith. Prayer needs to be the basis for all we do, because, frankly, without it, we can’t accomplish anything. Fortified with prayer, we can learn and understand what the Church teaches. If we don’t learn why the Church teaches what it does, it’s hard to explain it to anyone else. Overwhelmed with what the Church teaches, and not sure where to begin? Start with a specific teaching, but don’t stop there. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, now accessible online, provides a single, comprehensive source for Church teachings.
  • Boldly speak the truth with love. Once you know why the Church teaches what it teaches, you can proclaim that teaching. That doesn’t mean being obnoxious. Rather, watch for opportunities. If someone asks for your opinion, give it to them. If someone, especially a Catholic, expresses an opinion contrary to Church teaching, let them know what you believe and why.
  • Be consistent in your denunciation of immorality. Singling out one type of sin for condemnation is a recipe for disaster. Remember that we’re all sinners, and we’re all in need of redemption.
  • Treat individuals with respect and love. As Christians, we are called to love others, regardless of whether we agree with them. We are all children of God and deserve to be treated with the dignity and respect that status accords.
  • Pray for those with whom you disagree the most. During the unrest in Ferguson last year, I found myself regularly getting angry at people I disagreed with. When I shared my feelings with a priest I know, he suggested that I pray for them. I tried it, and not only did it dissipate the anger, it provides me and the people I’m praying for opportunities for grace.
  • Keep it in perspective. Our home is not here. We are pilgrims on a journey. Whatever difficulties we face in this life will be rewarded in the next.

Yes, Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount are as pertinent today as when he spoke them. Persecution is part of our Christian identity. But we trust that our sufferings in this life are preparing us for joys in the next.

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2 thoughts on “New Normal

  1. Well, when you tread into these waters expect to get splashed a bit.

    “However, we are beginning to see Christian beliefs marginalized and Christians effectively silenced when they express those beliefs.”

    No examples? I like the rest of the piece but this, which seems to be the meat, appears to be a stereotypical statement of ‘woe is us’…

    The supposed assaults on Christianity by the conservative Supreme Court (which judging by the photo you are taking task with) are hard to see. Gay marriage? Old Testament supporters will undoubtedly agree with the assault. However, aren’t we New Testament, Jesus-driven disciples who love thy neighbor, refuse to judge and find the sequoia in our own eye first?

    • Mark, thanks for keeping it real. If this came off as “woe is us,” I’ve really missed the mark. I did a lot of reading after the Supreme Court rulings (which are what they are; I’m not taking the Court to task here). Many pieces took the tone of “woe is us” or “let’s fight back,” attitudes that I didn’t find particularly helpful. Instead, my intention here was to put our current situation into the context of persecution throughout the 2,000-year history of Christianity. I didn’t get into the issues themselves because I didn’t want to digress from the topic of persecution. I didn’t use examples because I didn’t feel they were necessary. Apparently, that’s not the case. Here are three:
      – The Little Sisters of the Poor are being forced to pay for contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act. That sentence alone demonstrates how preposterous this situation has become.
      – A bakery was fined $135,000 by an Oregon state agency after the owners invoked their religious beliefs in declining to provide a cake for a gay ceremony. A six-figure fine like that can be crippling to a small business. Similar cases are playing out in Colorado and New Mexico.
      – Closer to home, a friend endured the closure of her social service agency after a sloppily worded and overzealously enforced civil union law in Illinois effectively barred Catholic Charities agencies from foster care and adoption placement services in the state. Shutdowns and job losses ensued.
      So, yes, the cases are real: Christian beliefs are being marginalized, and Christians are being effectively silenced when expressing those beliefs.

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