Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois says today’s Catholics must “adjust” to living in an environment of persecution similar to that suffered by Christians in the early Church and under communist rule.
In an exclusive interview with William Kelly of The Washington Times, Bishop Paprocki expressed his concerns about the growing hostility toward Judeo-Christian values in the U.S. and attacks upon the Catholic Church in general.
“We [Christians] have to mentally adjust. I know it is an adjustment for me because – and I assume for many other people as well – because I grew up in this country at a time when the values in our secular world mirrored the values of the religious world,” Bishop Paprocki said. “And I think what’s happening now is that relationship – that symbiosis between our culture and the church -has been ruptured.
He went on to compare today’s situation in the U.S. to that of the early Christians or those who endured under communist regimes.
“We [Christians] find ourselves now – just in this short period of time – where the early Christians found themselves in the Roman Empire. So the church in 2,000 years, we started out as being a persecuted faith, with Constantine [making it] an accepted established faith, then for centuries, kind of moving in that direction that had this close relationship between the secular world’s values and Judeo-Christian values,” Bishop Paprocki said. “And now I think we are moving in a direction that – not only is it more than secular – it’s a rejection. It’s an outright rejection [of Judeo-Christian values]. It’s a pagan kind of a culture.”
“The reality is that – ironically, it is becoming more like the Church was in the time of John Paul II in Poland under Communism where you [Christians] lived in a very hostile environment. We still have the First Amendment of our Constitution but that is being sorely tested.”
He also commented on how the media and entertainment industries promote hatred and bigotry against the Church.
“I think it is more acting out of ignorance. They think they [the media and celebrities] are being funny perhaps. They think this is where our culture is at. I don’t know if it is overt hatred for the Church but it is probably an unconscious hatred for the faith,” Paprocki said.
Although Christians are surrounded by hostility in today’s America, this is certainly no reason to be discouraged. As Bishop Paprocki points out in this interview, persecution tends to have the opposite effect.
For instance, he described how Christians responded when the communists ruled Poland and arrested or murdered clergy and religious, stripped all religious symbols from the public square and closed all schools and organizations that were affiliated with the Church. Through all of this, the Christians quietly and silently endured until that infamous day in 1979 when Pope John Paul II visited Poland and brought 13 million of them pouring into the streets.
It’s also worth noting that the inhumane and bloody persecution endured by the Church in its earliest days did nothing to stop the momentum of Christianity as it marched across the continents and eventually conquered the world.
Perhaps the reason for this is because forcing people into submission never works – at least not for long. Bullying doesn’t change hearts, it only changes behaviors. No movement, be it communist or secular, will ever be successful if it relies on pummeling people into submission. The human heart just doesn’t work that way.
“I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts,” we read in Ezechiel 36:27.
We have been programmed to love and to recoil from all that is not love. And for this reason, no matter how bullied we might be, our hearts and souls will remain forever nvincible.
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