Summary: With the Church under attack, what must we do?
33rd Sunday in Course 2013
You Will be Hated by All But Not a Hair of Your Head Will Perish
It was a cool November morning and the Catholics of San Antonio were riding high. Our first Catholic president, who had a year ago faced down the mighty Soviet empire over ballistic missiles in Cuba, was coming to town. The Second Vatican Council was in session, and the rumor was that the new Pope, Paul VI, was about to issue its first document, on the Liturgy, and that we would have the Mass in English soon afterwards. Missionary spirit was high. The seminaries were filling; the novitiates of religious orders were crammed. As our high school jammed ninth street to go over to Broadway to see John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie in their convertible, confidence was high. This was the Catholic moment.
Twenty-four hours later, I was taking a physics test when the announcement came over the school’s PA system that President Kennedy was dead and Governor Connolly was in grave condition. In the years that followed, controversy over the Vietnam War, the implementation of the Council’s documents, and a wholesale abandonment of religious and priestly vocations tore the U.S. Church to ribbons. We have learned that our only Catholic president was no saint. The Catholic marriage rate, and birth rate all over the world has plummeted, so that in this parish, and in many others, we already have more funerals than baptisms. It has been said that Franklin Roosevelt would interrupt any meeting to take a phone call from the Cardinal Archbishop of New York. Today politicians are emboldened to create a mandatory health insurance plan that would force Catholic business owners and charities to pay for sterilizing their employees and murdering their babies. The Catholic Church in this country is in greater peril than it has been since the days of the Know-Nothings, the Blaine Amendments, and the Ku Klux Klan.
I’m not going to spend much time recalling what we all know to be true–that U.S. Catholics have brought a lot of this trouble upon ourselves. Over the past fifty years we have as individuals and families literally swallowed whole everything the culture has offered us for our self-gratification: the birth control pill, abortion, no-fault divorce, in-vitro fertilization, on-line pornography and now even inconceivable alterations of the natural law. OK. We get it. We messed up and are paying a terrible price, one that our children and grandchildren will inherit. Now, Lord, will you get us out of it, please?
Jesus is, as Malachi promised, the sun of righteousness, who rose from the dead with healing in His wings. At His first appearance, He prophesied that just as He was persecuted because of His preaching of justice, because of His forgiveness of sinners, so will His disciples be. Catholics do not handle success very well. We never have. We start thinking that we must be terrific when we succeed, and when we are popular with the culture. We forget our mission. The Lord allows troubles to come to His Bride for the reason He gives here: This will be a time for you to bear testimony. We have seen quite a bit of that modern testimony in the past two years. For example, the EWTN network–not to be confused with ESPN–has sued the federal government for continuing, in their words, “ to make the erroneous assertion that contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs are health care. They are not.” This courageous stance taken by them and many other Catholic businesses and ministries is a kind of bearing testimony.
But we have to understand here and in any other issue of anti-Catholic bigotry and immorality that even if the Supreme Court rules against this and other lawsuits, we cannot be complicite with evil. Our testimony may have to be given in whatever court the government prosecutes us, in whatever sentence the government imposes. What that testimony will be, we cannot know. So it does no spiritual good for us to worry about it, to buy out survivalist bookstores. During persecution, Luke reminds us, the Holy Spirit is particularly active in our hearts. The Spirit of God that we received in Baptism and Confirmation, that we reactivate every time we take communion, that goodly Spirit will tell us what to say, what to write. Because God’s purpose is not to save only us. God wants to redeem and be one with every human on earth–even His enemies.
In order to demonstrate that this actually happened in his day, St. Luke gives us a story of the testimony of the first deacon, Stephen, early in his second volume, the book we call the Acts of the Apostles. Stephen was ordained to wait tables and serve the poor, but we find him speaking in his old synagogue, trying to convert the Jews of his day. They would not listen, and dragged him off to court–just like Jesus–where the Holy Spirit showed Him Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father in heaven. As he testified to Christ, as he preached as the Holy Spirit prompted, the Jews stoned him to death. Yet not a hair of his head perished; his soul was taken up into heaven. And as he passed into the arms of Christ, he dropped the torch aflame with the love of God at the feet of another young man, a young rabbinical student named Saul. Months later, Saul took it up, accepted the name Paul, and began the rapid expansion of the Church into the Gentile world.