Pope Saint John Paul II warned Americans "who's next" in 1976.
When you hear the words “persecuted Christians” what comes to mind? Do you think of somewhere in the Middle East? Do you think of destroyed churches, pillaged monasteries, beheaded children, women sold into sexual slavery, priests and their people fleeing for their lives? Do you find solace when you are told that these atrocities are perpetrated only by “misunderstanders” of the “Religion of Peace"? Maybe you do. Do you find at least some cold comfort in knowing that persecution of Christians could only happen in distant lands, in cities we can’t find on a map, to people whose names we can’t pronounce, whose languages we don’t speak? I hope not.
Even more, I hope that no one thinks that Christians in the United States do not have highly motivated civil, social, moral, and spiritual enemies. I hope that no one thinks that if we could only find the right wording for the very best “conscience clause,” then all will be well. (A “conscience clause” is the wishful thinking of would-be victims, in the form of a treaty that they ask the bully to sign, in the hopes that the bully will then leave the victims alone.) I hope that we will not be like German Jews in 1935, scouring the texts of the Nuremberg Laws for some wording that will assure them that the anti-Semitic laws apply to some other group of Jews, but not to them.
For decades, anti-Christian bigotry in general, and anti-Catholic bigotry in particular, have been socially acceptable. One can make a nice living in popular culture hurling slurs at Catholics and their beliefs. More recently, the vast apparatus of civil bureaucracy has turned its baleful eye towards faithful Christians and Catholics. Armed with more than just “a telephone and a pen” but also with a blizzard of laws, regulations, and orders, an army of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats, backed by judges and courts, and, ultimately, fortified by men with badges and guns, the political powers are aligning with cultural powers against orthodox Christians and Catholics.
Three current examples: A pro-life Catholic running for state office was vilified in a political ad so scurrilous in its bigotry that the ad would have been unimaginable if aimed at candidate who was a Muslim, a Hindu, or a Jew.
In Houston, a bill was signed into law by the city’s first openly lesbian mayor. “HERO” Houston Equal Rights Ordinance), among other things, would allow members of the opposite sex to use each other’s restrooms. Hundreds of local churches gathered signatures for a petition to subject the law to a public referendum. When the city rejected the petition, the congregations filed a lawsuit. In response, the city subpoenaed pastors, demanding that they hand over sermons and correspondence that referred to homosexuality, gender identity, HERO, or the mayor. Pastors failing to comply face fines, imprisonment, or both.
In Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, a pair of ministers was ordered by city officials to perform same-sex weddings or face fines and imprisonment.
We might tell ourselves that these are isolated and exceptional cases. I think that the Catholic League, which has been producing annual summaries of anti-Catholic bigotry since 1994, would disagree. And so would Pope Saint John Paul II.
In 1976, the saint, then Cardinal Wojtyla, spoke in the United States at a Eucharistic Congress celebrating the bicentennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. There he spoke these prophetic words:
In our times, the lines between “the Church and the anti-church,” as Cardinal Wojtyla said, have become very bright. And, one side at least, is girded for battle and itching for a fight. In fact, one side is clearly on the march. And the other side…?
I don’t think we can avoid this conflict or find a quiet comfortable place to weather the storm. Nor can we be confident that today’s harassment won’t become active persecution tomorrow. And I think that faithful Catholics can count on very few allies. Who will side with us? The Obama administration, which is taking to court the Little Sisters of the Poor to force them to pay for contraceptives? Catholics in c
ongress, who voted overwhelmingly in favor of Obamacare? The Supreme Court, which discovered a constitutional right to sodomy?
Where can we expect to find allies within the popular culture to speak up on behalf of faithful Catholics? Shall we look forward to eloquent editorials in the New York Times on our behalf? Clever satire in our defense from "Saturday Night Live"? Can we imagine Miley Cyrus pouring her heart out in bold anthems in support of our faith?
Shall we find stout defenders of the faith from academe? Can we expect the typical graduates of most public schools (of any level) to be well-versed defenders of the civil rights of Catholics? Shall we expect the Catholic universities that pay for their employees’ abortions to stand firmly against the forces of the anti-church?
We must make a very sober and humble survey of our opposition, our allies, our obligations, and our resources. Our opposition is formidable. Our allies are few in number. Our obligations are great
– we must ensure that the lights of faith and reason are handed on to the next generation. Our fidelity to Christ demands it. We must boldly, lovingly, and persistently proclaim Christ. If we do not proclaim Him now, while the storm is still gathering, then we may live to see the day when our children may have to whisper His name in the catacombs. Worse, we may live to see the day when we watch our grandchildren gasping His name o
n the gallows.
Our resources are our greatest hope. The grace of God, the promises of Christ, the intercession of Our Lady and the Saints, and the ministry of the Church are on our side. Let us be good stewards of those resources.
How shall we be such good stewards? Let’s build our lives around the
Eucharist. Let’s fall in love with the
Blessed Mother. Let’s commit to a regimen of
militant intercession. Let’s arrange our individual, family and communal lives around habits of preparation – preparation to offer the spiritual and corporal
works of mercy to those in need. Above all, let’s live our lives so that all may see that there is no greater good than friendship with Christ. We can follow the example of Saint Ignatius Loyola, who placed himself before the Crucified Christ and asked three questions: “What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What shall I do for Christ?” And then, for the love of God and love of neighbor, in gratitude for Christ and the Church He founded, let’s get to work.
When I write next, I will address this topic: “God doesn’t care about your self-esteem.” Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.
Father Robert McTeigue, S.J.
is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. A professor of philosophy and theology, he has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry, and religious formation. He teaches philosophy at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, FL, and is known for his classes in both Rhetoric and in Medical Ethics.