Consider an example from Seattle’s major newspaper. A column, titled Theology has its place, and this isn't it, had a strange starting point, but still it typifies modern prejudice against Christianity. The editorialist opened by criticizing a pastoral statement made by African bishops. They spoke about the immorality of condoms and of homosexual behavior – and thus, according to her, contributed to the spread of AIDS. From there, she launched into an attack against Catholic teaching on contraception, homosexuality and the use of embryos in stem cell research. While she acknowledged the pope as “an important religious and moral beacon for the world,” she insisted that “theology” has no place in the public forum. In other words, it is OK to have moral convictions but, please, keep them to yourself.
That restriction did not apply to the editorialist because what she expressed, apparently, were not beliefs, but conventional wisdom: that contraception is simply being responsible, that homosexual activity harms no one and the paramount value of overcoming disease through scientific research. To take seriously Jesus’ teaching about marital fecundity, the sacredness of sex and human dignity from conception to natural death, clearly separates one from our culture’s store of wisdom - and therefore disqualifies one as a public spokesperson.
However, to follow Jesus not only divides one from the dominant culture. There is something much more painful – and Jesus warns us about it in today’s Gospel. Following him will place one in opposition to family members. (Lk 12:52) The above editorialist was well aware of our internal divisions. Part of her case against Church teachings is that many Catholics reject them.
Recently I was talking with a priest who teaches at a large Catholic university. I asked him how things are going.
“Rough,” he said, “other faculty members are accusing me of being divisive.”
“What did you do?” I asked.
“Well, the University was preparing a ‘Gay Positive Day’ and I used the occasion to explain to students what the Catechism says about homosexual acts.”
We both smiled at the irony, but it turned out there was a price to pay for teaching Church doctrine at a Catholic university. When my friend entered the faculty lounge, the temperature dropped. Later, a professor assured him they have nothing against the Catechism; what cannot be tolerated is using it in a rigid and divisive manner.
Now, division is never something we should directly seek as if, in itself, it authenticates one as a follower of Jesus. Working for unity within the Church has to be at the top of our agenda (see Jn 17:21). Moreover, even though we are a small voice in relation to the powerful media of our society, still we must work to transform the culture. Culture is like the water of a lake. If it becomes contamined, many fish will die. We each must do what we can to reduce, not add to, the pollution. Cardinal George said we need to recover the spirit of the early Christians. In spite of being a minority in the Empire, they acted like a majority because they knew their message applies to all.
We are not a political party or a lobbying group. Nevertheless, as citizens of a democracy, we have a right and duty to bring our moral convictions to the public forum. Also, because of our Christian belief in the dignity of man, we listen to and respect the convictions of others, even the ones we profoundly disagree with. Our ultimate goal is not the triumph of Christian values, but the salvation of souls, that is, each individual human person. What saves one is not right belief or even doing the right thing. Correct teaching and good activity are means, not ends. The goal is to place our sinful selves under the mercy of Jesus Christ, to allow him to work in us.
Last weekend I had a marvelous experience of that mercy. With about 200 others I attend the national conference of Courage – an organization for Catholics with same sex attractions who desire to live Jesus’ teaching on chastity. The members come wounded and broken, but not placing the blame on the teaching. Rather, as in today’s second reading, they desire to “keep (their) eyes fixed on Jesus.” They know that with God’s help it is possible to arise from darkness and misery. Like those beautiful brother and sisters, may be not “grow weary and lose heart,” but “rid ourselves of ever every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race.” (Hb 12:1)
From Archives (20th Sunday, Year C):
Bulletin (Visit of Fr. Denis Wilde; Marriage Annulments)
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Seattle Columnist Joel Connelly Responds to Anti-Catholic Stereotyping: "On issues from AIDS to stem cell research, Catholic teaching and 'the Vatican' get described as medieval obstacles to 21st century progress. Archbishop Alex Brunett is wondering whose agenda and what purpose is being served."
Anti-Catholic Stereotyping at Ashland Shakespeare Festival
Germaine Greer on Birth Control