There is no question that as Catholics living in the culture of our day, we are facing unprecedented challenges. I could write a whole series of blogs about those challenges, but my guess is you know many of them already. Recently, for example, our apostolate was unable to lease space because of a usage clause that prohibited religious purposes.
Not long ago we featured on our program, Father Joseph Esper, author of the book, Spiritual Dangers of the 21st Century . In this book, he identified the stages of persecution as follows:
Stage 1 The group is stereotyped.
Stage 2 The group is marginalized
Stage 3 The group is villified.
Stage 4 The group is criminalized.
Stage 5 Outright persecution ensues.
Father Esper stated that researchers tell us Christians are hovering between Stage 3 and Stage 4. Some would argue, however, that Catholics are hovering between Stages 4 and 5. With the demise of the federal government’s “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” policy on September 20, 2011, the continued legislative push for gay marriages to be recognized across state lines, the Obama administration’s hammering to overturn the conscience clause, Catholics are in the cross-hairs.
So much so, that Francis Cardinal George (Archdiocese of Chicago) stated, “I expect to die in my bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr.” Some wonder if his statement is more prophesy than prediction.
The question, therefore, ought not to be, “Are we facing challenges?” but rather, “How do we meet the challenges we are facing?” I think the answer to this question can be summed up as follows:
1. Admit where we are. George Weigel in an address at St. Patrick’s Church, London, entitled “Benedict XVI and the Future of the West,” said this: “A decisive moment has been reached in the history of the Catholic Church; the catechetical-devotional Catholicism of the counter-reformation is giving way to what may be called Evangelical Catholicism.” He reminded listeners that the Church itself is mission and always about the business of pointing to Jesus Christ as the answer. We must realize that, as laity, we are called to mission activity.
2. Prepare ourselves for the struggle. Many would read this as a call to stockpile food, create safety bunkers, and head for the hills. While such strategies may have value, we must remember that ultimately the battle is not with “flesh and blood,” but with “powers and principalities” (Eph 6:12). As St. Paul instructs in Ephesians, we need to equip ourselves with the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of justice, the belt of truth, the shield of faith, the sword of the Word of God, and the boots of zeal to propogate the Gospel. We do this through our time of personal prayer, attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, receiving the Sacraments, and striving to live a virtuous life. Maintaining holy friendships and participating in activities that fortify and strengthen our resolve increase our ability to meet the challenges that confront us.
3. Do not give in to fear, discouragement, or anxiety. These three tactics are the most frequently tried strategies of the evil one. He seeks to disarm us, paralyze us, and overtake us through them. When they tempt you, see them for what they are and call upon the name of Jesus. Quoting Scripture is invaluable in these moments. Of course, this presupposes that you have several good passages committed to memory (Tip: Start with “one-liners” and then move on to more complex passages. A good beginning are these words of Jesus, “Get thee behind me, Satan;” and St. John’s words,”Stronger is he who is in me than he who is in the world.”).
4. Read the lives of the saints, especially the martyr saints. These holy men and women show us that “nothing is impossible with God,” even giving the ultimate witness. Ask them to intercede for you as you seek to live your life as a witness of the truth in this our day and time. Their lives also give us keen insight and inspiration regarding the realities of trial, persecution, and travail.
5. Know that God is with you. Jesus tells us He will never abandon us. And He won’t . The Holy Spirit dwells with the soul that is in the state of grace and provides every spiritual blessing in the heavens we need to live out our call and mission. In addition, the peace that surpasses understanding wraps us in the certainty of God’s presence and love. He never calls us to a task or a mission without giving us the grace we need to meet it. He is our Father and our provider.
6. Be joyful. There is a certain joy that accompanies struggle and challenge. It is the joy in knowing that when our sufferings are united to the Cross of Jesus, we share in the merit accomplished through that Cross. Such is the Father’s will and pleasure. We find something else in that Cross as well: power. The Cross of Christ is the very Power of God (1 Cor.1:18). So, when the cross is presented to you, rejoice! God’s own power can be yours!
These words of St. Pio of Pietrelcina give us good advice:
Being subjected to a trial is not under a soul’s control at all, and no one can directly do anything to be subjected to a trial; it depends exclusively on God’s will. I advise you to remain peaceful and not to be the least bit concerned about what will happen. Everything will be resolved to the glory of God and the sanctification of your soul.
…Give infinite freedom to the action of divine grace in you, and let it always serve to be for his glory and for the salvation of your soul and the souls of others. Never forget that heavenly favors are granted not only for your sanctification but also for the sanctification of others. (To Raffaelina Cerase, Feb. 23, 1915, taken from Padre Pio’s Spiritual Direction for Every Day).