The Catholic Church has always insisted on her rights and freedom to preach the Gospel unhindered. Throughout history, when governments recognized her God-given right to carry out her mission, it has always been considered a blessing. On the other hand, the Church founded by Christ, that great beacon of light to the nations, was never meant to get too comfortable with the world. Whenever Catholics were made to believe that the world was their friend, as in recent decades, the Church ended up paying a price. Indeed, her members were apt to become worldly.
The Federal government, courtesy of the Obama administration, has done the Catholic Church in America a spiritual favor. In forcing the Catholic Church to make a choice between paying for or providing healthcare services that are contrary to the teachings of Christ or shutting down her agencies, it has, at the same time, forced Catholics to decide where their loyalties lie. Indeed, the so-called contraceptive-abortifacient mandate has begun to administer a shock to our system. And with this shock- if it is to persist uncompromisingly –comes a separation between the wheat and the chaff. The question that will be asked of faithful and nominal Catholics alike is this: Where does alliance lie? Is it with the Democratic Party or is it with Christ’s Church?
If the Democratic Party’s hostility toward Catholicism continues (as it has in the past), many Catholic-Democrats will have to make a choice that they have put off for years. It should be an easy choice but for many Catholics it is not. You can bet that not a few are nervously biting their finger nails. And yet others- too many, in fact -are quite apathetic to this moral dilemma.
The Obama-Sebelius mandate and the moral dilemma it occasions speaks to a bigger picture. For too long many Catholics- both clergy and laity –have embraced the world (and here I mean worldliness of people) as a friend. But sometimes we forget that the New Testament depicts the spirit of the world as an enemy of Christ and the Church. As St. James said, “Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)
And like or not, the most powerful expression of the world has often been the State, especially when it has refused to recognized Christ as Lord or claims to be neutral towards him. But Jesus said there is no neutrality as it regards to our fidelity to him; and if there is anything resembling neutrality, it does not last long. Yes, he really did mean it when he said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” (Matthew 12:30) Just as neutrality doesn’t exist in the afterlife- in the end there is either heaven or hell –it does not exist in this life as well. Therefore, in the absence of a positive affirmation of Christ as King, the State will inevitably become intolerant of the Church. And with intolerance comes persecution, even if it be ever so sophisticated and subtle.
Although the followers of Christ are called to pray that they are free to preach the Gospel and worship in peace, nevertheless, when the State interferes with this rightful missionary activity and assumes the role of an oppressor, they are given the opportunity to more fully walk in the footsteps of Christ. T. S. Eliot once said, “When the Christian is treated as an enemy of the State, his course is very much harder, but it is simpler. I am concerned with the dangers to the tolerated minority; and in the modern world, it may turn out that most intolerable thing for Christians is to be tolerated.” This certainly confirms what Pope St. Gregory the Great said centuries earlier: “Virtue acts quietly, but the reputation of virtue is stirred up by the whip.” And to be sure, the whip is a cause of sadness and yet it also a cause of joy. The fact is that when the Church is scourged or menaced, she comes alive with the love of Christ-crucified. Mediocrity and compromise is fleshed out her system. And when she thus resembles the simplicity and lowliness of her Savior, it is then that souls come running to her.
No Catholic bishop enjoyed the esteem of the American public more than Fulton Sheen. He was friends with U.S. presidents, U.S. senators, actors, comedians, and other celebrities because of his Emmy award winning Life is Worth Living television show. And no Catholic bishop in America brought as many souls to Christ as he did. Yet, he never fell under the delusion that the Church, the Bride of Christ, was to be or should be accepted by the world. In fact, in 1948 he wrote: “The value of a trial will be to set us apart. Evil must come to reject us, to despise us, to hate us, to persecute us, and then shall we define our loyalties, affirm our fidelities and state on whose side we stand. Our quantity will indeed decrease, but our quality will increase. Then shall be verified the words of our Master: ‘He that gathers not with me scatters.’”(Matthew 12:30) Mind you, he wrote this right in the middle of an incredible growth spurt the Catholic Church happened to be enjoying in America. I said before that from 1940 to 1960 she doubled in size. And by the 1960’s it had seemed that the Church was no longer an outsider in America. Indeed, America had embraced her. But this was the very decade she, the Catholic Church in America, began to soften up.
This confrontation with the Federal government may seem new and alarming to us, it is not new to the Catholic Church; not even in America. From the 1600’s to 1930’s and 1940’s, Catholics knew what it meant to be a persecuted and discriminated people. Ironically, this Cross that was laid on her back, as in the early centuries in ancient times, served to be a means of courage, martyr-like conviction, and purification. Viewing history from this standpoint, we Catholics should not be discouraged or despondent. In fact, it may be the kind of baptism the Church needs. It may be a new beginning. As the Catholic historian, Hilaire Belloc, once said, “But if I be asked what sign we may look for to show that the advance of the Faith is at hand, I would answer by a word the modern world has forgotten: Persecution. When that shall once more be at work it will be morning.”
Tertullian, Father of the Church. Letter to Roman magistrate:
"We are not a new philosophy but a divine revelation. That's why you can't just exterminate us; the more you kill the more we are. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. You praise those who endured pain and death - so long as they aren't Christians! Your cruelties merely prove our innocence of the crimes you charge against us. When you chose recently to hand a Christian girl over to a brothel-keeper rather than to the lions, you showed you knew we counted chastity dearer than life."
Christopher Dawson: Dynamics of World History, 1938
“The liberal optimism which has been so characteristic of Anglo-Saxon religious thought the last half century [second half of the nineteenth century] led men to believe that the days of persecution were over that all men of good will would agree to set aside their differences of opinion and unite to combat the evils that were universally condemned- vice, squalor and ignorance.
But from the standpoint of the Christian interpretation of history there is no ground for such hopes. Christ came not to bring peace but a sword and that the Kingdom of God comes not by the elimination of conflict but through an increasing opposition and tension between the church and the world. The conflict between the two cities is as old as humanity and must endure until the end of time. And though the church may meet with ages of prosperity, and her enemies may fail and the powers of the world may submit to her sway, these things are no criterion of success. She wins not by majorities but by martyrs and the cross is her victory.
She has been the guest and the exile, the mistress and the martyr, of nations and civilizations and has survived them all. Viewing history from this standpoint the Christian will not be confident in success or despondent in failure.”