These are difficult days, days in which our faith, hope, and love are being tested. But these are also days of great opportunity. We are being given the opportunity, whether small or great, to bear witness to the truth of our faith. The question is, are we ready to take our stand when opportunities arise?
Our Lord stood before Pilate and said, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth” (Jn 18:37). Jesus is called “the faithful witness” (Rv 1:5) sent by the Father to bear witness to the truth no matter what the cost. We’re called to do the same.
Opportunities to make this stand are increasing every day, even inside the Church. There are significant, and at times unprecedented, public divisions emerging in the Church, even at the highest levels. These divisions are emboldening dissenters at the local level—in our parishes and schools—to aggressively push for radical change, to make the Church conform to the values of the prevailing culture.
Over the past two years, a growing number of these kinds of attacks have been brought to my attention, and all of them have taken place in a distinctively Catholic context: a talk for parents of confirmation students, a Catholic teacher’s retreat that presented St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, a diocesan priests’ convocation with the bishop present, and a Catholic high school faculty meeting in which the “coming out” of a gay male teacher at the school was being discussed.
Each of these situations had one surprising, disturbing thing in common: one person verbally attacked the teaching of the Church or a person defending the faith. And, in each case, no one defended the person speaking in favor of Church teaching.
In one case, the religious education director who brought the speaker in apologized the next day, saying, “Your talk was excellent, and I’m writing to ask your forgiveness for not coming to your defense when you were attacked. When that lady spoke out with such anger, I was frozen in my seat.”
In the case of the teachers’ retreat, when one teacher aggressively condemned a Theology of the Body presentation, another one responded by defending the Church’s teaching, only to find that no one, not even the principal, said a word to affirm her. The faculty sat silent. The entire staff was bullied into silence.
It is sobering to see how easily intimidated and unprepared we are to take a stand openly, even in the household of faith. Yet rising to the moment can be as simple as asking the Holy Spirit for help, calmly standing up, thanking one person for sharing their opinion, and then thanking the other person for teaching the faith.
In fairness, I can see how one might be rattled and surprised by the unexpected outbursts of bullies in a church setting. Times have changed. It’s time to be on alert and ready to take a stand where and when it is needed—knowing full well that taking a stand might carry a cost.
Don’t Be Surprised
How do we prepare ourselves for moments like this? Scripture provides wisdom to help ready us for battle.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pt 4:12).
“Jesus said, ‘Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also’” (Jn 15:20).
“I John, your brother, who share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance” (Rv 1:9).
Spiritual combat and facing direct opposition to the teaching of Jesus are part of the normal Christian life. Courageous witness in the face of an unbelieving and increasingly hostile world is central to our calling as disciples; it is a precious and great privilege. If we’re not ready for battle, we will be caught off guard, and likely will miss the opportunity the Lord is giving us to share with Him, even in these small ways, the rejection He experienced in this world.
You Have the Help of the Holy Spirit!
“And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious how or what you are to answer or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Lk 12:11-12).
“The promise of heavenly help at critical moments, and the power to do whatever is required of you at each moment, have been given to you by the Lord. In the Holy Spirit, you have the power and the capacity to fulfill your calling and rise to all opportunities. You are not alone! Jesus promised you, ‘I am with you always, until the end of the age’” (Mt 28:20).
Don’t Miss the Blessing!
”Rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you” (1 Pt 4:13-14).
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you gain an apostolic mind. We need his help to see the opportunities and great value that the apostles saw in the suffering they endured for the sake of the Gospel. Imagine, the Spirit of glory resting upon you! The apostles understood the great blessings that await us even in this life when we share in the rejection of Jesus.
“Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Lk 6:22-23).
Jesus calls us to live each day with an eternal perspective that sees the value of suffering for the sake of the Gospel. Jesus promises great, eternal rewards! The devil wants to keep us preoccupied with worldly concerns about our safety, health, comfort, riches, and reputation. We fear losing this world’s rewards. The threat of being “canceled” paralyzes far too many disciples today.
We each have one life to live. Our lives are short. We will appear soon before Christ’s judgment seat. At that moment, the wealth, health, and reputation we’ve accumulated in this world will mean nothing. All that will matter is our fidelity to Jesus. Did you love Him first? Did you love your neighbor? Did you love your neighbor enough to speak the truth in love? The words of St. John Paul II during his canonization homily for St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross are helpful when contemplating these important questions: “Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love. And do not accept anything as love which lacks truth! One without the other becomes a destructive lie.”
Remember the martyrs of the Book of Revelation, whose voices are heard in heaven, and whose life story is being celebrated and rewarded: “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Rv 12:11).
Beware of inordinate self-love, which includes worry about reputation, personal security, and being celebrated and rewarded in this life. It is possible to love oneself in such a way that we lose our life for all eternity. That’s the devil’s strategy for your life and mine.
Let’s pray for one another, for courage, for the willingness to sustain a wound in defense of the faith, in defense of what is true, good, and beautiful in God’s eyes. Finally, let’s pray that by God’s grace, we do not miss the opportunities before us, the moments we will be given, no matter how small, in which we can identify with Jesus in an unbelieving world, and sadly, even in an unbelieving Church!