Silencing the Church’s Voice
As we make our way through Lent, we remember that Jesus calls us to see God in the face of others, especially the poor, to be compassionate, to respect human life and to be forgiving, chaste and loving. He said in challenging us to live a life that fully reflects God’s plan for us, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill…[W]hoever obeys and teaches these commands will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-19). But we also are reminded of just how different are the values of the Christian way of life from those so often described today as “secular” or “modern.”
One area where the contrast between the revealed word in Sacred Scripture, the teaching of the Catholic Church and the current politically correct practice of today is most evident is our teaching on human sexuality and how we are to live that gift. There is nothing new in the Church’s teaching today. We can start with the Book of Genesis, continue on through the proclamation of Jesus and see today in the words of Saint John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis the same essential points. God created us – male and female. Our sexual difference is a good that we must respect. Marriage is that first human community willed and blessed by God. Sexual activity is meant to be exercised in marriage. Children are the fruit of that blessed human love.
This is not new teaching – but it is challenging. Human sexuality is a gift and every generation finds the desire for sexual activity to be strong and inviting. For some, it can be even overpowering. Often the teachings of the Church flowing from the words of her Lord strike some as confining, even distasteful. So it has always been. Saint John the Baptist reminded King Herod that he could not just take his brother’s wife. The woman and the king had John put to death.
The Church presents a splendid vision for life. Yet, we also struggle to live it. The tension between what we know we should do and what we actually do is something referred to as the “human condition.” Nonetheless, we are called to strive to reach our potential, to manifest our faith in our actions. This is particularly true for those who minister in the name of the Church and teach and provide charitable and social services on behalf of the Church.
But today there is a new challenge. Some who reject the Church’s teaching – who choose to live by another set of values – not only find the voice of Christian values annoying, they would like to see it silenced or at least muted. Thus we have a whole new upside down version of words like “discrimination,” “freedom” and “human rights,” and laws to enforce the new meaning.
Today, many would have us believe that to present marriage as the union of a man and a woman is “discrimination” and as such should be punished. They would tell us that our rejection of abortion offends their sense of personal liberty and we must change our position if we intend to participate in the works of the common good.
This increasingly loud position implies that freedom extends only to those who share this new “moral code,” a redefinition of human life, marriage, sexual activity, and morality. For them it is not bigotry to challenge Catholic teaching. It only becomes bigotry and discrimination, they say, when Catholics assert our beliefs.
We all know that the faithful are to bear witness to the Gospel in both word and deed. We hear this expressed in the colloquialism, “We need to both talk the talk and walk the walk.” Yet increasingly Catholics are being told that we cannot – should not – be allowed to present and follow our beliefs if they offend politically correct thinking.
We are being told that in our schools, social service ministries and other Church programs we may not insist that those who teach the Catholic faith and carry out Catholic ministry should do so in word and the manner they live their lives. Nor should we be allowed to require that those who share in our teaching, healing and charitable ministries would also bear witness to the faith in their actions as well as in what they say.
In recent legislation in the District of Columbia, we are about to be forced to accept on our teaching faculties, Church staff and charitable services personnel those who live in a way that publically repudiates the teaching of the Church. The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act of 2014 (RHNDA) would deprive the Church of its right to ensure that those whom it entrusts to carry out its mission are faithful to its teachings on human life and sexuality. The law would instead force the Church and its ministries to hire and retain employees who obtain abortions, conceive via surrogates, and so on. Meanwhile, the Human Rights Amendment of 2014 (HRAA) would require Catholic schools to formally recognize, endorse, and support student groups dedicated to promoting homosexual behavior. The new law says that for the Church to do otherwise in either case is unjust discrimination.
This reversal of the understanding of the freedom to present one’s position has now taken on the form of coercive public policy. Basically it says only some people are free to express and live their lifestyle. The rest of us have to conform in some way to that new morality. The Church does not require others to believe or live by her teaching. We simply ask for the freedom to do so ourselves and to insure that those who minister in our institutions also do so.
This Lent is a time to reflect on what the new social order means to each of us. It is a moment to ask ourselves if we are prepared simply to put aside our faith, moral conviction and understanding of human integrity and accept what someone else tells us must now be ours.
But there is even more. This Lent we all need to ask ourselves if we are prepared to stand up for our beliefs and to speak up on behalf of our schools, parishes and charities.
Yes, Lent is always a time of renewed conviction and deepened faith. This Lent is also a time when we have to deepen our courage not just to hold to what we believe but to be able to speak up on behalf of that faith.