Deacon James Toner: We Catholics must be enemies of 'the world'
There is a story that Helen Gurley Brown, the former publisher of Cosmopolitan magazine, found herself seated next to the editor of a well-known and orthodox Catholic magazine while attending a luncheon in Washington, D.C. Upon discovering the identity of the Catholic, Brown frowned at him and said: "So, you're the enemy." The Catholic editor's response to that pleasant greeting is nowhere recorded.
I hope, though, that he was pleased. Any Catholic should be. Jesus tells us that "Everyone will hate you because of me" (Luke 21:17 GNB). Similarly, Our Lord is very plain that "I have not come to bring peace but a sword" (Mt 10:34). This division will set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And, very sadly, our foes may sometimes even be those of our own household (Mt 10:35-36; cf. Micah 7:6).
Those of us whose families are divided into different religions know the sometimes painful truth of this. My late mother-in-law was raised in an anti-Catholic family, and she never fully overcame her antipathy toward my faith. One day, I made a reference to praying to Our Lady. "Why would anyone pray to a dead lady?" she scoffed. She practiced a kind of non-denominational Christianity, and she is buried under a headstone with Psalm 100 inscribed on it. She was a very kind woman, and I am afraid that I didn't always give her sufficient reason to see beyond her bias toward the Church. But her Protestant Christian background put her at odds with my Catholic Christian background. There was a sad division.
But some divisions can be "happy." If we decide to be Catholic; if we declare that we and our actions are governed by Christ's Church; and then if we do what we have decided and declared, well, we are going to be somebody's enemy. But is there any greater consolation than the words of Christ Himself: "Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account" (Mt 5:11 RSV)?
We are all called to be martyrs (witnesses) for Christ and the Church. That sentence is easily written or read; the practice of it, though, around the water cooler, in the locker room, in the classroom, over the neighbor's fence, or at the family dinner table – well, it's not so easy there. Confirmation "gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross" (CCC 1303). That strength is available to us if we call upon it and seek to employ it wisely and well (cf. Philippians 4:13).
Catholics today are called upon – as always – to know, to love and to serve God. Catholics today, more so, I think, than in previous decades, are also called upon to know, to love and to serve Church teaching, which comes to us through the Holy Spirit (see John 14:26 and 16:13; Luke 10:16).
We believe, for instance, in our duty to honor our country, but that we must never place it above our primary commitment to Christ; we believe in the value of stem-cell research, but not in killing embryos, who are small human beings; we believe that homosexuals should be treated always with respect, but not that homosexual practice is morally acceptable; we believe that sex is a divine gift, but that sex is sinful outside of holy matrimony; we believe that the marital act should be open to life and that contraception wrongly separates the unitive from the procreative meaning of conjugal love (that is, that love, sex and normal willingness to have children are all joined in holy matrimony); we believe that, although other religions can be instruments of grace and salvation, the Catholic Church alone has the fullness of the means of salvation and that we should evangelize on that account; we believe that while there is much that is good in human nature, all of us are sinners called to repentance. Professing these teachings will not win us the world's acclaim, but it will make us enemies (see Mt 5:44), precisely as Jesus told us. As G.K. Chesterton put it: "The trouble with Christians today is that not enough people hate us."
When I baptize, I have the honor to call those present to the renunciation of sin and the profession of faith, ending by saying, "This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it, in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rite of Baptism, 59). Amen!
Deacon James H. Toner serves at Our Lady of Grace Church in Greensboro.
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FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy