Thursday, March 22, 2012

Do Not Be Afraid!

In the body of Christian literature, in our treasury of writings really, there is no small amount of counsel offered to potential martyrs as to how they should behave: when to flee and when to stand up and be counted, if you will. The bulk of the advice given over the centuries is far from what might be classed suicidal or breakneck. A constant concern would be whether the individual or the given Christian community is ready or able to receive the grace of martyrdom from God’s Hand.

No doubt those who are well versed in the lives of the saints will be able to prove the lie of what I am about to affirm, and namely, that martyrs generally are not solo virtuosos. Christian martyrs are not lone rangers. Apart their life already prior being one of communion with God, we have countless examples of martyrs over the centuries accompanied to their supreme witness of faith by the community of faith itself. I'll just mention the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch on the road to Rome and his execution for the crime of being a Christian leader. In fact, when dealing with those whose witness was indeed solitary the Church often anguishes over long years before issuing a decree attesting to that martyrdom.

To a less extreme degree, we can say the same of confessors and doctors of the faith. If they were controversial, if their witness to the faith which comes to us from the Apostles was solitary, we’re sometimes hard pressed to give them their due, whether during their lifetime or thereafter. Scripture gives us the credentials for recognizing a prophet and characteristic of their message is that it have more of the condemning than the consoling tone to it. The community is generally condemned for its exaltation of preachers who tickle their fancy. Even so it would be hard to find a saintly prophet who has never found at least one place, one community, a house or a city where he was welcome.

Europe these days (Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, Slovakia) are listed by some reporters as hot spots where numbers of Catholics are standing behind renegade priests demanding the option to marry or regularize de facto living situations in violation of Church precept and their ordination promises, as well as to admit those to Holy Communion who are openly and publicly cohabiting outside of marriage (call it “remarriage” or a civil union to spite the law of the Church, which upholds the prior sacramental marriage bond). The press talks all of this up, of course, and no doubt every journalist has a personal agenda in reporting such instances of rebellion. One almost gets the feeling that if you want to be a faithful Catholic or a priest holding to the fullness of truth which comes to us from the Apostles, then you’ll be going it alone, at least in certain parts of Europe.

Personally, I don’t believe it's that bad. It is not the case that such rebellions universally or even extensively touch regular Catholics; these people might be vocal and aggressive but they are still fringe. The light of the fullness of truth will not be eclipsed by either the darkness of some people's desperation, or some priests' self-pity or the self-indulgence of those who don't really pray. Today’s Gospel (John 5:31-47) for Thursday of the 4th Week of Lent brought light and encouragement to my day early on:

“‘Were I to testify on my own behalf, my testimony would not be valid; but there is another witness who can speak on my behalf, and I know that his testimony is valid. You sent messengers to John, and he gave his testimony to the truth: not that I depend on human testimony; no, it is for your salvation that I speak of this. John was a lamp alight and shining and for a time you were content to enjoy the light that he gave. But my testimony is greater than John’s: the works my Father has given me to carry out, these same works of mine testify that the Father has sent me. Besides, the Father who sent me bears witness to me himself. You have never heard his voice, you have never seen his shape, and his word finds no home in you because you do not believe in the one he has sent. ‘You study the scriptures, believing that in them you have eternal life; now these same scriptures testify to me, and yet you refuse to come to me for life! As for human approval, this means nothing to me. Besides, I know you too well: you have no love of God in you. I have come in the name of my Father and you refuse to accept me; if someone else comes in his own name you will accept him. How can you believe, since you look to one another for approval and are not concerned with the approval that comes from the one God? Do not imagine that I am going to accuse you before the Father: you place your hopes on Moses, and Moses will be your accuser. If you really believed him you would believe me too, since it was I that he was writing about; but if you refuse to believe what he wrote, how can you believe what I say?’”

Even the Son of God, Jesus Who spoke with authority and not like the Scribes and Pharisees, had His share of refusals and opposition. We His disciples can expect no different and should not be surprised by weeds amongst the wheat, that by His Will must remain until harvest. Meantime we need to make no secret of our adherence to the truth.

The burden on bishops in all of this is awesome, I know. But no priest and no lay person can excuse himself or herself of posing the question to the hard of heart and posing it over and over again: "But what does the Catechism of the Catholic Church say? What is and has always been the teaching of the Church in this matter?"

The rub in all of this, and hence my opening reference to preparation for martyrdom, is we cannot pretend to defend our faith without being slapped down and spit upon... Praise be Jesus Christ, our King!

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