Faithful can Expect a Kick in the Pants from Society

Recently on a drive to one of our wonderful parishes in the upper counties, I spotted a sign as we entered a little town. It was a thoughtful sign of welcome from the local parish, inviting people to join the parish on Sundays for worship. The sign stated, "Times for Sunday Masses," except that the "M" had been spray-painted out, defacing the sign to read "Times for Sunday asses."

A teenage prank, perhaps a mean-spirited slam at religion, perhaps.

But it got me thinking: it is becoming more and more clear that our society is looking down on religion. Recent scholarly studies, which I have referenced before, report that fewer people belong to a religion, identify themselves as a member of a particular church, or attend sabbath worship. We Catholics, for instance, show only about 30% of our people at Sunday Mass, the heart of our faith.

You may have seen the reports last week from the Pew Center, telling us that a growing number of Americans do not think religion to be important, and consider the influence of religion on public life to be waning.

Granted, there is some good news. For instance, although many Americans feel that religion is losing its influence, they also regret this fact, believing that one's faith should have public expression, and that faith is good for us, individually and as a nation; and, while some Catholics have left the Church, close to 90% of our Catholics remain loyal.

Even still, we cannot deny that these are not "popular" or "easy" days for those who both believe and belong. Simply put, more and more Americans consider those who take their religion seriously and are committed to the Church to be asses! Believe? Okay; belong? Forgetaboutit!

A case can be made that the true minority today are people of committed faith, who identify themselves as members of a Church, who faithfully attend sabbath worship, and who try their best to practice their religion.

A society that pushes "tolerance on steroids" seems to have little such for those who practice their faith. We are branded as superstitious, backward, and benighted at best, or as narrow-minded bigots at worst.

And any church which believes that its deepest convictions have an impact on the way we live, work, marry, have and raise children, love, teach, heal, serve, and die, is considered "intolerant."

This dismissal and derision of religion here in America is infinitely less than the horror in other nations, as we still respect faith, and cherish and protect our religious freedom. A bishop visiting me from a traumatized region in the Mideast tells me how members of his flock must now wear an "N" (for "Nazareth") to identify themselves as a scorned minority, and paint an "N" on their homes and churches for possible future torching. We're certainly nowhere near that, and, in fact, as a nation soundly condemn that.

But intolerance for religion there is more and more in society considers us asses. Here's what Cardinal Francis George, the Archbishop of Chicago, recently soberly wrote about all this:

"The inevitable result is a crisis of belief for many Catholics. Throughout history, when Catholics and other believers in revealed religion have been forced to choose between being taught by God, or instructed by politicians, professors, editors of major newspapers and entertainers, many have opted to go along with the powers that be. This reduces a great tension in their lives, although it also brings with it the worship of a false god. It takes no moral courage to conform to government and social pressure. It takes a deep faith to swim against the tide, as Pope Francis encouraged young people to do at last summer's World Youth Day.

Swimming against the tide means limiting one's access to positions of prestige and power in society. It means that those who choose to live by the Catholic faith will not be welcomed as political candidates to national office, will not sit on editorial boards of major newspapers, will not be at home on most university faculties, will not have successful careers as actors and entertainers. Nor will their children, who will also be upset. Since all public institutions, no matter who owns or operates them, will be agents of the government and conform their activities to the demands of the official religion, the practice of medicine and law will become more difficult for faithful Catholics. It already means in some States that those who run businesses must conform their activities to the official religion or be fined, as Christians and Jews are fined for their religion in countries governed by Sharia law."

Jesus warned us the world would hate us, as they hated Him. (He also reminded us that He has overcome the world!) Saint Paul admitted that he and the other believers were considered the scum of the earth, and that he and the other apostles were "at the end of the parade," behind even the elephants and horses, meaning they had to clean up the you-know-what!

Pope Saint John Paul II even suggested that the older idea of "cultural religion" where society and culture supported and bolstered an established religion was gone, and that maybe it wasn't all that helpful anyway, since it could produce lethargy, a "take-it-for-granted" approach to religion.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, an esteemed theologian, social commentator, and former Chief Rabbi of England, wonders if now the vocation of committed believers is to be a creative minority. No longer can we assume prestige, honor, or preference from society and probably never should have if we as Jews and Christians have read The Book.

We can, instead, expect to be considered asses by many, to be dismissed, derided, and have our freedoms questioned and intruded upon, as the teachings of our faith particularly on marriage and family, protection of the unborn baby, and preference for the poor and helpless become more and more scorned.

Rabbi Sacks like Popes John Paul, Benedict, and our beloved Francis also cautions against always condemning or running from the culture. We Christians recall that the same Jesus who reminded us that the world would hate us as it hated Him, also told us that He did not come to condemn the world.

Pope Francis prefers the word engagement. Rabbi Sacks suggests, along the same lines, that we are now a creative minority smaller, less in clout and prestige, ignored or snickered at by the elites in society but maybe that's where we can best be a "light to the world, salt to the earth."

Not bad I'll see you other "asses" on Sunday!