It seems to me ironic in this day that this debate [faith and works] is still going on. Ironic because we are approaching a point in our society when both our faith and our works will be forbidden - when we will be prevented from either speaking about or acting on our faith in Christ and His Church. A time may come very soon when our faith will be permitted us only in the privacy of our own homes and churches.
I say this because of the trend of recent events: Last week a woman in England was charged with the equivalent of a hate crime because she distributed a flyer that defended the traditional definition of marriage between a man and a woman, and dared to buttress her position with quotations from scripture. Earlier this year a bishop in Canada was threatened with prosecution and hauled before the Canadian human rights tribunal because he preached in defense of the Christian definition of marriage, and spoke against the so-called right to gay marriage.
If you think such things could not happen here, recall that a few months ago the Archdiocese of Boston was forced by the State of Massachusetts to stop doing adoptions, because the Archdiocese, in conformity with Catholic teaching, would not place children with gay couples. If that's not being prevented from exercising faith by good works, I don't know what is. Earlier this year, a conference of legal scholars debated the conflict between the right to free religious expression versus the "right" to gay marriage. They questioned whether, as such a right became established in law, churches could be compelled to recognize such marriages. They concluded that the right to freedom of religion and this so-called new right were "irreconcilable". What that means, in ordinary language, is that when push comes to shove between the rights of churches and this new "right", the churches will be the losers.
Last week, the Pope visited his native land of Germany, and he gave a lecture to university professors. Now, normally, most of us would think of an academic lecture as something rather dry and probably not very interesting, but this lecture has the whole in a storm of controversy. The pope quoted a 15th century Byzantine emperor who pointed out that in Islam, it is considered OK to convert people by force at the point of a sword, and that such a practice is evil. (By the way, this muslim practice of forcible conversions is not merely some historic aberration. Recall that just three weeks ago two American journalists were kidnapped and forced to convert at gunpoint.) The pope said that violence in the name of God is "unreasonable", that it is contrary to the nature of God and the nature of the human soul.
For pointing out these truths, for saying that violence in the name of religion is not pleasing to God, the Pope has been widely condemned as preaching "hate" for Islam. The Muslim world has erupted in violent protest against the pope, demanding retractions, demanding that the pope "keep in his place", calling for violence against Christians and making threats against the pope's life. Leaders of muslim nations have even joined in, whipping their people into greater fury. Churches have been burned and Christians have been attacked.
I tell you all of these things so that you can see that they are all different aspects of the same phenomenon. All of these things, from the attempt to silence a bishop in Canada to the threats against the pope, boil down to one thing: they are the powers of this world telling the Church, telling believers, to SHUT UP!!! "Shut Up!" they are saying. "We don't want to hear about this Christ! We don't want to hear about good and evil! We don't want to hear about right and wrong! Shut Up and keep your religion to yourselves!" The powers of this world do not want to be reminded of things besides lust, power, greed and domination.
This should not surprise us. For the powers of this world tried to tell Our Lord to Shut Up. They told Him to shut up and stop preaching the Good News, shut up about the Kingdom of God, shut up about righteousness. And they went so far to shut Him up as to put Him to death. They nailed him to a cross and bled Him to death to silence Him. In our Gospel today Jesus foresees his passion and death, and in our reading from Isaiah the prophet foretells of the sufferings of the Christ to come.
But we know how the story ends. We know that the powers of this world were unable to silence Christ. He rose again, and ushered in the Kingdom which will have no end. His word, His teaching, has rung out through the ages and have changed the world. Countless millions have heard and followed His call, even to the point of shedding their own blood in His name. And from the blood of those martyrs the Church has received the abundance of graces, and has grown stronger...
Friday, September 22, 2006