We just celebrated the Solemnity of Pentecost and I delivered a homily in reference to the Gospel reading we heard which speaks of the Apostles after the death of Jesus Christ. They were locked up in a room “out of fear of the Jews.” Why were they afraid? They were afraid because the person they loved and followed had just been killed in probably one of the worst possible ways known by the Roman Empire at the time. The Jewish leaders had handed Christ over to torment and death because of the Gospel message, his acts of healing and defiance towards the Jewish leaders.
The Apostles were afraid because they knew they would likely share the same fate as Christ, and thus were locked away, hiding from the Jews. In the midst of their fear, Christ, the Resurrected Lord, comes among them and says, “Peace be with you.” In the midst of their fear, Christ bestows upon them His supernatural gift of peace. While the Apostles are fearing death, the one who has conquered death offers them peace – no other could do this.
Christ again says, “Peace be with you” but adds, “As the Father has sent me, so I now send you.” In other words, as the Father sent me to the Cross to die a terrible death in the name of love, so I send you to the same fate. Christ sends them on a mission to relentlessly share the Gospel message which so many hate (that is, the message of real-love), even if that leads to a horrible death. Why would anyone listen to such a maddening God? Because He is not mad – Christ has defeated death, they have nothing to lose, and everything to gain – and their future glory is right in front of their faces.
It is by this, therefore that the Holy Spirit is breathed on them, giving them the promise of the Resurrection, the courage and understanding and trust in God that if they abide in His love they will be raised up. And this Spirit sets them on fire, equipping them with all the tools needed to spread the message to the ends of the Earth. Nothing can hold them back.
So what do the Apostles do as a result of this new found freedom? They do exactly what Christ does, they stir up some serious trouble, theychallenge the status-quo, they attack the powers that be, with zealous love and truth-telling. The Gospel Message is subversive and always has been, and I would like to give one particular example of how the Apostles go out, undermining the Roman Empire with the subversive message of the Gospel.
One of the first things that the Apostles proclaimed was the cross of Christ. The Cross has become a very familiar symbol for us, and as St. Thomas Aquinas aptly points out, “familiarity breeds contempt.” Meaning that the profound meaning of the cross has become superficial and not very powerful to us. Furthermore, we are so far removed from the context of this culture that we do not understand what the cross really meant to the Jews at the time of Christ. Here is a clue: the Roman Empire used the cross to threaten, coerce, and instill fear into anyone who might possibly disobey their commands. In other words, the Roman empire used the Cross to control the Jews.
When the Apostles walked out into the street publicly rejoicing in the crucifixion of Christ they were essentially saying this: “You killed our Lord, but he has killed death. All you can do to us is the same thing, and we do not care. Our Lord has defeated death, so bring it on, you’ve got nothing on us. Bring it on.” In other words, the Apostles essentially took away the “control” that the Roman Empire had over the people through torture and coercion.
But the Apostles were not proclaiming an ideology – typically a man who fights for an ideology sells out when threatened with death – because ideology cannot save a person from death. But the Person of Christ in the resurrection can. Furthermore, the very beauty of that relationship with Christ, whereby we come to the realization that He died for us, the one who knows us best and loves us most – we would be willing to put it all on the line for the one who did the same thing for us. Human beings generally desire to reciprocate love – the good ones do.
This passionate love they hope to share with the world (that many in the world in fact hate) is what they proclaimed. In other words, “You hate what true-love is, but we will continue to love you in truth despite your hatred for it.”
Most of the Apostles were killed, some skinned alive or filled with arrows, others having their head cut off, crucified in a few different ways, and others being run through with a spear or sword. Only one apostle was spared an unnatural death: St. John.
In our modern times we see that this tradition of laying down our life for our Friend, continues especially in countries such as the Middle-East. I recall one story among many, of a priest and a few deacons whose car was pulled over by some radical fundamentalists. They were asked to renounce their faith in Christ, and because Christ was not merely an ideology but the truest friend, they refused. As a result they were all shot point blank, and thus died. Among stories like this we also hear of bombings during Christmas and Easter in Christian Churches. The Vatican came out with a statistic which showed that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the entire world. There have been more martyrdoms in the last century than in the entire history of the Catholic Church (starting from 33 AD).
One of the beautiful realizations about these strong witnesses and heroes of the faith is that the Church always flourishes when it suffers. When the Church suffers it is forced to make a very black-and-white decisions: Yes or No to God’s love and will. When we do not suffer but live in complacency, we become weak, indecisive and inconsistent. We practice our faith when it benefits us and we don’t when it involves a little bit of sacrifice. When the Church suffers, however, the spiritually weak fly away while the courageous stand out, dying for their faith. The Church sometimes gets smaller before it gets larger. The Church sometimes has a few good witnesses before it has a great number of followers.
Right now the Church in the West is getting smaller. Not too many people ascribe to a heroism or desire to become a saint, and it is because of fear and spiritual weakness, cowardice. It is no wonder why there are so few men in the Church, since we naturally are drawn to trouble and the risk of losing our lives. Instead we are locked up at home watching the hockey game out of fear for standing up for something true and beautiful. Men, how would you feel if you spoke the name of Jesus (to seriously speak His name, rather than in vain), in public? To profess your undying love for Him as your Brother in arms? Or are you concerned with vain ambitions?
But Christ says to this fearful Church – Peace be with you. He doesn’t smash them for being weak, but offers them first his generous gift of peace. He then sends us out.
What are we being sent out to face in the West? Well certainly not anything as bad as being slaughtered (unfortunately for us who look for trouble). Rather our suffering will involve being highly misunderstood for the teachings of the Church, the teachings of the Gospel. The Good News which is perceived as terrible news, the love that is perceived as hate, and the spiritual boldness that is perceived as Karl Marx calls it: “an opiate;” will all be laid upon our shoulders. Irrational groups endorsing abortion, same-sex marriage and the redefinition of what it means to be a man or a woman, will all come out accusing us of hate. But we can prove them wrong – we can proclaim the truth and continue to love them, because we are not doing this for them or for us, but primarily for love of Christ, and from that flows a genuine love of neighbour and self.
In the USA, the President has mandated that Catholics must pay for insurance that goes towards abortifacients and contraception. Catholics are called to be civilly disobedient to this, and stand up against the unjust expectation that limits one to practice his faith without being harassed by such an imposition of (flawed) morals on the Church.
Praise God for the Catholic Universities in the US that have launched a law-suit with the government. May this be a time where the Church loses touch with its tendency to embrace ambiguity and rather seek to draw the line that enables Catholics to be proud of our distinctive, unique and beautiful identity: zealous followers of Christ, a tradition that never changes, a truth that remains the same century after century.
In Canada a similar situation is happening: Catholic schools along with all private and publicly funded schools are now being forced to allow groups such as “The Gay Straight Alliance” (GSA) into the schools. With this name and title, is packed a certain anthropology of the human person that is contrary to Catholic or (equally) a philosophical/rational-based anthropology. The government has passed this bill and Canadian Bishops have objected to it. So long as the government can impose such views on a legitimate Catholic Education system (according to our constitutional rights), we must respond with sincere objection. Praise God for this chance to rebel against the government – it is a great opportunity to show the world we are willing to die for these truths, even if that death means being unpopular and misunderstood. While we continue to compromise and act like a fearful Church, we merely convey that the Gospel Message isn’t worth putting our necks on the line. We convey that we have little confidence in our faith and are more grounded towards a worldly mindset.
For many of us, the issue of contraception, abortion, and homosexuality are confusing topics. And admittedly because of our given culture and its pseudo-definition of love and its nominalistic attempt to redefine the nature of the human person and sexes, it is difficult to see where the Church’s love is in accepting these teachings. But this only means that we ought to educate ourselves on these matters so we can intelligently discuss them with others.
But studying the answers is not enough either. While we must hold up this cross of Christ, this sign of defiance in the name of true-love, we must make sure that we are supporting and confronting bullying in a legitimate fashion. We must uphold the dignity of all women and men struggling with a same-sex attraction, by genuinely loving them and welcoming them to discuss their struggles. The Church provides such venues, but it would seem they are not always widely welcomed by various church-communities. As a result, Catholics, if we want to convey that our teaching is loving, perhaps we ought to do our best to practice that as well in word and deed.
While there are martyrs in other countries we have the chance in this defining moment in the Church of Canada and the United States of America to stand up for the teachings of the Gospel, and how exciting is this? We will not care about the maligning of our reputation, nor the violence that may result as we defy such hedonistic driven doctrines. But know this, the few people we convert with the Gospel will be able to enjoy the true freedom that comes from knowing, loving and serving Christ all the days of their life. And this is a treasure that is of eternal value.
So lets no longer sit on our hands, and alternatively take the Gospel Message seriously. Lets stop being locked up at home out of fear, but in peace, go out into the streets to proclaim to the world: Christ Crucified; otherwise known as “bring it on, because we are bringing the love.”