For it is time for the judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, how will it end for those who fail to obey the gospel of God?"
-I Peter 4:17
Bolstering the Church's Case Against the Claims of the State:
There is something to consider as the Catholic Church in America faces the growing threat to her liberties. If we can still take the Old Testament prophets as an example (which I think we can), we find that they did not focus all of their attention on those nations or peoples that persecuted Israel. In fact, it was frequently the case that when the Hebrew people suffered affliction from her enemies, the prophets called attention to the reason for that affliction. For instance, the Lord spoke through the prophet Amos and had this to say to the House of Israel: "You alone have I favored, more than all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your crimes." (3:2) Indeed, the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires- those superpowers that oppressed and deported the twelve tribes of Israel -were seen by the prophets as mere instruments in the hands of God.
As we move into the New Testament era we find that the Lord God does not change his behavior. In the person of the Risen Lord he commends each of the seven churches for the good work that they have done. Nevertheless, he goes on to charge them with one or more serious sins. And what would happen if they didn't do some soul searching and repent from those sins? Jesus, the Risen Lord, answered that question in no uncertain terms: "Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent."(2:5) Eventually, that is exactly what happened! During the seventh and eighth centuries, the forces of Islam eclipsed that light that had burned for five to six hundred years. These ancient Catholic churches had all but vanished.
The Catholic Saints were very much like the prophets. Indeed, they raised their voices against the persecutors of the Church. Many were martyred because of it. However, like the good Christian who first removes the plank out of his own eye before he removes the speck out his brother's eye, the Saints were even more zealous about the sins of those Catholics who should have known better but did not do better!! The Saints held those in the Church to a higher standard. No doubt, the words of the first pope made a deep impression on them: "For it is time for the judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, how will it end for those who fail to obey the gospel of God?" (I Peter 4:17) The Lord God, quite often, will make his chosen ones- his own spiritual children -an example for everyone else.
Perhaps, this is why St. Catherine of Sienna, when writing a letter to Pope Gregory XI in August of 1376 amidst much moral malaise within the Church, said to him, "Up, father, courageously! I tell you, you have no need to fear. But if you don't do as you should, you may well have reason to be afraid." Two months earlier of that same year this Doctor of the Church went so far as to offer this frank recommendation to him: "[God] is asking you to take just action of the multitudinous crimes of those who graze and feed in the garden of holy Church; he says that animals should not be eating what is meant for human beings. Since he has given you the authority and have accepted it, you ought to be using the power and strength that is yours. If you don't intend to use it, it would be better and more to God's honor and the good of your soul resign." What was St. Catherine of Sienna was implying? Perhaps, it is this: If the House of God does not make a distinction between animals and humans or between the sheep and the wolves, who will? How will the world ever know the difference between an authentic Christian and a Christian by name only?
This month marks the tenth anniversary of the priestly scandals in the United States of America. In 2002 a grievous wound was revealed that laid hidden in the Body of Christ. We discovered that we, as Catholics, were not zealous enough in protecting children. However, we are making amends to be sure; better than most institutions. But this dereliction was but a symptom of the greater wound; that is, in recent decades Catholic clergy, parents and teachers were not zealous enough in protecting souls by speaking on the specific sins, inspiring the fear of the Lord and chasing away the wolves. This was borne out of a desire to be affirming and positive. But in St. Catherine's words, wolves were able to "graze and feed in the garden of holy Church." As result, many souls were left defenseless from sinfuul influences. As such, many fell away from her communion.
In 2012 the Catholic Church in America, first weakened from within, is only beginning to face a danger from without. As we mount a defense against those political forces which seek to undermine the Church's liberties, it would be wise- especially for those in the Catholic media -to to do what the prophets and the Saints did. Inspired by their example, we need to call attention to do some soul searching or our lampstand in America might be removed. Removed by who, you ask? By our Lord! It would be a mistake to only see the politicians who challenge our religious liberties without also seeing the Lord who has been known to use such instruments to purify his people. After all, the Risen Lord said that he would remove the lampstands from the seven churches if they did not repent. But he never said how he would go about doing it! As Bishop Fulton Sheen said, God uses gloves to discipline us. Invariably, those gloves are none other than human beings. If he did not use gloves, then who would bear his discipline?
Therefore, as we proceed forward into the public square as a Church to make a case for our religious liberty, it is important to consider what may be at the root of our woes- that being our own sins and errors. And when we see "how far we have fallen" and then allow ourselves to be raised up again by God's fatherly hand, then he is sure to bless our efforts all the more in preserving our liberties. With this, the Church's case against the current claims of the State will be bolstered for the long term...but only through a reform from within!
1. When St. Edith Stein, a Jewish convert to the Catholic Faith, was arrested by the Nazi S.S. Soldiers in 1942 only to be transported to the Auschwitz concentration camps, she told her sister Rose that they were chosen by God to suffer for the sins of the Jews. This, without a doubt, would be deeply offensive to any Jew today. But St. Edith Stein, who was of Jewish descent herself, was of the belief that the holocaust was an instrument used by God to purify her people.
2. Recall also that Our Lady of Fatima, in 1917, foretold the coming of World War II as a punishment from God if people did not cease offending him. The war came. People suffered, including the Pope and the Church.
3. Finally, St. Faustina, in her Divine Mercy Diary, foresaw in 1930's that the coming persecution of the Polish people was a divine punishment for their sins as well.
4. With all of this being said, establishing a relationship between any misfortune and God's intent to use such misfortune as a punishment comes with various hazards and difficulties. Not all persecution and not all suffering is necessarily a punishment from God. After all, we cannot read the mind of God. All we know is that God does punish out of love for us and he uses both people and circumstances to bring that about. My point is that it is worth considering- and it certainly is not out of the realm of possibility -that our current threat to religious liberty is the result of our failure to take a stand against the evil which lurked in our own backyard. It is neither sensationalistic or apocalyptic to believe that sin merits God's punishment. As demonstrated above, the Saints and the Prophets held firmly to that belief.