Wake Up, Church!

5 Apr

Hey, folks, it’s time for us to come in for a check-up — you know, grace level, anger coolant, control loose talk fluid.

The national health care plan, dubbed “Obama Care,” has awakened Christians to the once subtle threat to freedom of religion in our country. The threat to religious freedom is no longer subtle. It is front and center. For years it has undermined our personal and social conscience – and it will be fortified if this legislation is allowed to stand. 

Besides seeking to socialize medicine, this health plan contains an attack on religious freedom – forcing Churches to fund things diametrically opposed to life and the sanctity of human sexuality – abortion and artificial contraception. 

 Our Catholic “ox” is being gored – and at last there arises a strong indignation, fueled perhaps by the pugnacious “they can’t do this to us!” But they have done it – and it’s our fault. The audacity of this challenge to freedom forces us to ask, “How could this happen?” There is only one answer: The tepidity of our faith in God and the weak-kneed public stance of Catholics and some other Christians in this country. 

Identify the Problem 

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM, of Philadelphia, in his e-book, “A Heart on Fire,” writes of this anti-religious trend. He gives evidence that this attack by both government and media goes way back. And it has produced what the archbishop describes as “the deep split in America’s personality – a nation where faith and cynicism, self-denial and self-indulgence, cohabit the same public square.” And he further notes a “global crisis in religious liberty” and that “even in developed democracies, religious freedom is under increased pressure.”

 Pope Paul VI way back in 1975 asked this tremendously important question:

In our day, what has happened to that hidden energy of the Good News, which is able to have a powerful effect on man’s conscience? (Pope Paul VI, “Evangelization in the Modern World,” No. 4)

One thing has happened here in the United States: Catholics were slow in growing up. Because many Catholic immigrants were uneducated and could not speak English, they had to depend on their parish priests to help them in everyday circumstances. Understandably, this sense of dependence, along with what might have been an overreaction  to Luther’s Reformation, developed into a certain paternalism welcomed by the laity (it was Father’s job) and perhaps by some clergy (fewer problems this way).

Discover the Mission

Generally speaking, Catholics still have not arrived. There remains among active Catholic lay people a real dedication to the parish and, among some, to the diocese. But, in my view, people in the pew lack a commitment to the mission of Christ, namely, to bring all of humanity into the kingdom of God.

That is a monumental task, and possibly impossible, but we are not excused from that mission. If we fail to evangelize, many people throughout the world will never know the blessing of faith in God and the power of his Word and Sacraments.

But Catholic laity will never embrace the mission of Christ if they are not formed in faith. The weakness of faith in American Catholics may be due in part to the timidity of preachers and teachers who don’t want to “offend” for fear of alienating people – or perhaps for fear of sounding too authoritarian or even a wee bit orthodox.  But if the truth is not taught, people can easily slip into ignorance or indifference – and the fire of Pentecost slowly goes out. 

A case in point 

In an April 1 interview in the Wall Street Journal, Cardinal Timothy Dolan discussed at length the government’s encroachment on religion freedom. He also briefly discussed the state of the faith in America. He addressed the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the impact of Vatican Council II, and the widespread dissent from Pope Paul VI’s reaffirmation of the Church’s stand on artificial birth control. In the midst of this, he said, church leadership “forfeited the chance to be a coherent moral voice when it comes to one of the most burning issues of our day.”

Archbishop Chaput hits the mark with this quote in the opening pages of his e-book:

Truth is like a threshing machine; tender sensibilities must keep out of the way. (Herman Melville)

In his book, “Reaching Jesus,” Fr. David Knight gives us refreshing insight into conversion, discipleship and the stewardship of our faith. I quoted this before, but it’s worth quoting again:

If we think the choice before us is just a choice to be more rather than less – more Christian, more holy, more religious, more devout – we don’t understand the question. It is not a question of more or less; it is a question of either-or. (“Reaching Jesus,” Page 11)

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us: 

“The renewal of the Church is also achieved through the witness offered by the lives of believers: by their very existence in the world, Christians are called to radiate the word of truth that the Lord Jesus left us.” (Porta Fidei, No. 6) 

We need a great revival of faith throughout this nation. Catholics and all other Christians must give witness to the full Gospel of Jesus Christ – the Gospel that mourns the reality of sin and rejoices in the grace of salvation through the Cross of Christ; the Gospel that convicts and heals, that calls and sends and challenges and edifies. 

This verse of Scripture is quite applicable for us today: 

So strengthen your drooping hands and weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed. (Heb 12:12)




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