|The Ahırkapı Lighthouse- Michael Zeno Diemer|
“Faith cannot be reduced to a private sentiment or indeed, be hidden when it is inconvenient; [faith] implies… a witness, even in the public arena, for the sake of human beings, justice and truth.”
These words were read by Pope Benedict XVI during Blessed Clemens August von Galen’s beatification in 2005. This was the message of Bl. Clemens, a German bishop who opposed the Nazi regime by wearing his faith on his sleeve. He’s also a great example to Catholics in the 21st century, who seem to have allowed the practice of their Catholic Christian faith to become a “comfortable” Catholicism, instead of the demanding challenge involved in following our Lord by picking up one’s own cross, as Jesus reminded us in the Gospel. Perhaps a significant cross for many today is simply living out the faith in public. How many situations have we found ourselves in, be it at work, at Thanksgiving dinner or even on the street, where when challenged on a specific tenet of our faith, we shirk our responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel handed down by Christ’s Church by remaining quiet, or by even joining in on the mocking of that same Church?
Perhaps the reason this happens is because we don’t know how to articulate those beliefs that we purport to hold by virtue of our baptism. We should know how, though. St. Peter tells us in his first letter that we must “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Pet 3: 15-16). Even if we get laughed at, mocked or maligned, we need to be able to make the effort to intelligently respond to criticisms and questions our peers and others around us may have.
But that’s just one possible reason for our remaining quiet. Another reason could perhaps be that we, at times, feel ashamed of our Catholic faith. We may feel that because of things like the Crusades, or the abuse scandal, or even someone’s bad experience with a priest, nun or overzealous family member, we cannot love our Catholic faith, much less broadcast to the public at large that we are indeed Catholic Christians. We feel that because of these things we have to take the criticisms that are thrown at us, and even maybe agree at times so that we don’t appear to be “going against the grain”, as it were. For whatever reason, we divide our lives into “public” and “private” aspects, and more often than not, we see Catholics relegating that part of their life to the “private” side, while our Evangelical Christian brothers and sisters proudly declare their love for (and faith in) Jesus Christ and His teachings. And we wonder why our parishes are shrinking and closing; because we’re not doing what Jesus commanded… evangelize! This is where we get into that “comfortable Catholicism” that I mentioned above. We’ve adapted to the culture, or the ways of the world so much, we no longer are identifiable as Catholics, let alone Christians of any stripe. We’ve become comfortable in doing just the bare minimum to self-identify as Catholic, and sometimes not even that! We can tie this in with another term coined by Bishop Robert Barron: “beige Catholicism”.
|The Light of the World- William Holman Hunt|
Bishop Barron defines this as “the dominance of the prevailing culture over Catholicism, [where Catholics are] too culturally accommodating and excessively apologetic.” Ring any bells? I know it does for me, primarily when I look back on my years in college. How do we avoid falling into this “beige Catholicism”? Well, the first step is to stop being afraid of being a Catholic; to be unapologetic in our faith and in what that entails. A good example of the dichotomy between a Catholic publicly living his faith, and a Catholic privatizing and being ashamed of that same Catholic faith comes from a movie that was recently in theaters, Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of the novel Silence (spoiler alert). In 17th century Japan, the young Fr. Rodrigues is sent to retrieve a priest Fr. Ferreira, who apostatized when threatened with his death and the death of other lay Japanese Catholics during the prosecution of Christians by the Tokugawa shogunate. Fr. Rodrigues is eventually captured by the shogunate and is directed to renounce his faith to save his and the other prisoners lives by trampling on the fumi-e, a wooden image of Christ. Like Fr. Ferreira before him, he then completely renounces his faith by taking a Japanese wife, takes a job with the government, dies years later, and is cremated in a Buddhist funeral, although a close-up reveals a tiny cross clenched in his fist.
Contrast this with the witness given by four ordinary Japanese Catholics in the film. They refused to trample and spit on Christ’s image. They refused to hide and abandon their faith, and are tied to crosses near the sea shore, where over the course of a few days are pummeled by the waves from the incoming tide until they drown and meet their heavenly reward. Martyrdoms, in various forms, took place often during this time period, and many of these martyrs are honored by the Catholic Church.
One such martyr was a lay catechist, St. Michael Kurobioye. He and his companions are commemorated every year by the Church on August 17th. The two priests mentioned above actually existed in history as well. After apostatizing, both worked with the shogunate in disposing of any Christian images found during raids of Japanese Catholic homes, as well as encouraging those at mock trials to trample the fumi-e and apostatize. Suffice it to say, these two are not venerated by the Church. Whose example shall we follow: Fr. Ferreira’s, or St. Michael’s?
The second step in avoiding “beige Catholicism” comes straight out of a little ditty. Remember singing “this little light of mine”? Well, let it shine! St. Michael surely let his faith shine bright, while the two priests hid their light under a bushel. Of course, this refers to Jesus’ parable of the lamp (Matt 5: 13-16). No one lights a lamp and then hides it; it’s set on a lampstand for all to see. If we’re the light of the world, as Jesus said, then we can’t snuff it out when the going gets tough.
We may be derided by some that our defense of the Church’s teaching on social issues like the sanctity of life and the true definition of marriage are wrongheaded. Or our non-Catholic Christian friends may chide us for the veneration we give the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints, or for our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. We have to continue to let our faith be a beacon to all around us, even in the face of adversity, and proclaim the truth that Jesus entrusted to the Catholic Church.
|St. Maximus the Confessor|
I mentioned at the beginning that living our faith is a “demanding challenge”. Let’s clarify that. It only seems challenging. St. Maximus the Confessor, a Doctor of the Church, reminds us:
“‘Accept my yoke’, [Jesus] said, by which He meant His commands, or rather, the whole way of life that He taught us in the Gospel. He then speaks of a burden, but that is only because repentance seems difficult. In fact, however, My yoke is easy, He assures us, and My burden is light.”
It only seems difficult to live out our faith, but when we trust in Jesus, we can do all things, and that burden becomes lighter and lighter as we grow in conversion. We might even be surprised to find that it’s not that hard to publicly live out our faith. If the goal is paradise with Christ, we should do everything we can to help those we interact with reach that goal as well; to be a witness for their sake. It’s time for us to break our own silence and come out of hiding.