16th May 2013

Do the Words "Be Not Afraid" Mean Anything to Us?

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

“When we’re asked about what we believe . . . will we have the courage to speak the truth in love?”

Author Eric Metaxas raises this question as a reflection on the recent Jason Collins adulatory frenzy surrounding the athlete’s announcement that he is gay, which included a presidential phone call and press-conference heralding.

He observes:

[A]nother display of courage came out of all this—with a different result. When asked about Collins’s professed Christianity and homosexuality, ESPN basketball analyst Chris Broussard replied, “If you’re openly living in unrepentant sin,” no matter what it might be, you’re “walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ.”

Well, you can imagine what happened next. For expressing the courage of his convictions, Broussard was pilloried as an intolerant bigot. Calls for ESPN to fire him went viral.

We saw something similar recently when students protested a Catholic chaplain at George Washington University for telling the truth about Church teaching on homosexual activity. And in the Diocese of Columbus, Bishop Frederick Campbell has been under fire for terminating the contract of a gym teacher after it became public that she was in a “quasi-spousal relationship” with another woman. The circumstances are terrible: It appeared in her mother’s obituary. But a parent saw it, and the news is out. The bishop has a responsibility to teach with love, and upholding the identity of the Catholic schools in his diocese is part of that duty.

As the Columbus Dispatch explains:

Campbell said earlier in the day that Hale was not fired because of her sexual orientation but because her “quasi-spousal relationship” with another woman violates the church’s moral teaching. He said Hale violated a teacher contract and Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus policy that prohibits immoral behavior and requires employees to follow general church tenets.

In an exclusive interview with The Dispatch, the bishop said diocesan officials “don’t necessarily go looking for things like that,” but Hale’s decision to name her partner in her mother’s obituary made the relationship public and initiated the termination process.

As bishop, he said, he has a “fundamental responsibility” to maintain the Catholic identity of the institutions under his purview.

“We do this in an atmosphere of care, of calm consideration, but yet out of the realization that at particular times we have to make particular decisions,” he said. “And they are difficult sometimes, but they do flow from what we believe, who we are and how we are to live.”

All too often lost in cries for tolerance is actual tolerance. Does a Catholic school have the right to strive to model the authentic Catholic life, faithful to Church teaching in the life of a Catholic school? Can a priest uphold Catholic teaching in the confessional? Can an ESPN commentator offer a point of view about behavior based on his beliefs? Or are only some views acceptable, particularly when it comes to sexual morality?

I am realistic — as Metaxas notes, there has clearly been a cultural shift in attitudes. But many of our most contentious issues involve a re-ordering that we might just want to consider more carefully. If we were to model and communicate with love the Catholic perspective on all of this, it might just be welcomed by some of the men, women, and children who have been hurt by the values of the sexual revolution. It’s hard to see it all clearly when the experiences of the past generation (or two or three) are what they are. But there is still the nudging reality that traditional marriage and babies do make sense. It’s why government ever got involved in marriage in the first place. And even if we don’t all recognize this ourselves, we’re increasingly faced with the question: Are we going to continue to protect people’s right to voice the opinion, and live as their faith informs them — even in the public square?

That’s not just a question for Catholic schools and ESPN. It’s the question that the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate on abortion drugs, contraception, and sterilization insists we ask. On this front, too, the courage question Metaxas raises is relevant.

Reflecting on St. Thomas More’s relevance to today, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput recently wrote:

Why does Thomas More still matter? Why does he matter right now?

More’s final work, scribbled in the Tower of London and smuggled out before his death, was The Sadness of Christ. In it, he contrasts the focus and energy of Judas with the sleepiness of the Apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane. He then applies the parable to his own day and the abject surrender of England’s bishops to the will of Henry VIII: “Does not this contrast between the traitors and the Apostles present to us a clear and sharp mirror image . . . a sad and terrible view of what has happened through the ages from those times to our own?”

More urges us all “not to fall asleep ‘while virtue and the faith are placed in jeopardy,’” Archbishop Chaput reflected. And he continues:

In the face of Tudor bullying, he begs them, “Do not be afraid”—this from a layman on the brink of his own execution.

Of course, that was then. This is now. America 2012 is a very long way, in so many different ways, from England 1535.

But readers might nonetheless profit in the coming months from some reflection on the life of Sir Thomas. We might also take a moment to remember More’s friend and fellow martyr, John Fisher, the only bishop who refused to bend to the king’s will; the man who shortly before his own arrest told his brother bishops: “. . . the fort has been betrayed even [by] them that should have defended it.”

If we do not have the courage of our convictions — if we do not inform and nourish our consciences and souls so that we might have the strength to do so in love — we betray the fort. We pierce the heart of our Savior. This courage we’re called to is not just a matter for bishops; it's a matter for every one of us who professes to be Christian.

And we ought to be praying for and thanking our bishops when they are profiles in loving courage. We all too often are content to complain when we think a bishop could have acted more courageously. Perhaps he who is without cowardice should cast the first stone.

In the case of that GWU chaplain, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., went to campus to voice his support for a shepherd feeding Christ’s people.

He emphasized: “With respect to those who do not choose to follow, we do not impose those words of the Church on anyone. We propose the ways of the kingdom of God in terms that the world can understand and examine, in terms they may freely accept or reject.”

“When we talk about marriage,” Cardinal Wuerl said, “when we speak about the dignity of human life, when we teach about the natural moral order, these are all elements that we find deeply rooted in the consciousness of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Just because someone wants to change all of that today does not mean that the rest of us no longer have a place in this society.”

He added: “I want to make something very, very clear. Our response must be the response of Jesus Christ, the response of his Church, a response rooted in love. When we are attacked, there will always be the temptation to respond in kind. But we must respond out of who we are. We are followers of Jesus Christ.”

We follow with humility and compassion. He continued: “We all struggle to live up to the demands of the Gospel — even when we fail — because we know that what Jesus and his Church teach are the words of everlasting life.”

“We must be inclusive, we must recognize the bonds of mutual charity and we must continue to reach out to all of those brothers and sisters who come to Mass to be with us,” Wuerl stressed. “We must be allowed to do so freely.”

The courage to follow Christ comes from our acceptance of the Holy Spirit’s guidance, drawing us closer to our Heavenly Father. Do we have the courage to understand this as our reality, as the very meaning of our lives?

Christianity is the greatest love story. If it’s true, we receive God’s love, in love, sharing that love. It is our strength. It gives us courage. A courage that could be contagious -- if we would only actually be Christians!

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. She is a director of Catholic Voices USA and blogs on Catholic things at K-Lo@Large. She is a member of the Archdiocese of New York’s Pro-Life Commission.

(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Catholic Pulse or the Knights of Columbus.)