Persecution, Or Lack Thereof

armenian-refugeesI noticed Msgr Charles Pope’s commentary on religious persecution on his NCReg blog. I don’t know that his “stages” aren’t really more symptoms–they don’t seem to have a natural progression about them. When I first read them, it struck me that they certainly have been applied to both major party candidates for US president, plus persons or groups with whom the Church itself has been at odds.

1. stereotype
2. vilify
3. marginalize
4. criminalize
5. persecute

That last one seems a bit repetitive on the theme, but let’s go with it.

  1. Human beings as a whole stereotype persons, groups, and even experiences they haven’t fully understood. So people naturally attribute present events as of a kind with occurrences in the past. For example: my boss yells at me–this plays the tape of a parent’s disapproval, and I react with less than optimal maturity. Maybe we can’t always stop to understand a new situation. Or maybe we’ve never met Muslim folks who have experienced profiling or unfair treatment in society. It’s easier to associate dark-skinned non-Africans with terrorists. Bosses with mothers. And so on.
  2. It seems that a lot of conservative Catholics recently vilified American women religious for crimes exaggerated, petty, or imagined. No doubt a few women religious said or did things that raise questions. One might ask why abortion escorts or non-Christian speakers weren’t approached personally, instead of an issue for the entire group. Especially since an entire association was criticized for overblown crimes such as feminism. Or listening to non-Catholics. Or focusing on the poor and needy.
  3. I also recall a lot of otherwise loyal Church employees losing jobs–not for explicitly immoral acts, but merely for refusing to march in lockstep with the more extreme factions of the so-called pro-life or pro-family movements.
  4. My facebook feed is still peppered with calls to send Mrs Clinton or Mr Trump to prison. Enough said.
  5. Msgr Pope wrote, “Already in Canada and in parts of Europe, Catholic clergy have been arrested and charged with ‘hate crimes’ for preaching Catholic doctrine on homosexual activity.” I think it’s one thing to take a stance on the Church’s moral position. It’s another to step into the middle of someone else’s business and be a boor about it. We all know what happens when a liberal goes to a conservative blog and begins to offer Church teaching that doesn’t fly with what the majority wants to hear. Heaven forbid that prudential opinions a offered to the contrary of group-speak. And let’s be honest: the experience is similar for conservatives who visit and comment on liberal sites. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God … or wait: you don’t really want to hear about that, do you?

The fact is that human beings don’t deal well with a lack of uniformity. Catholics like Msgr Pope have a comfortable position in the Church. A parish pastor can certainly order a faith community the way he wants it. Leaders often insulate themselves from the real world, and problems that don’t fit the mold. We all know people in authority who just don’t want the bad news.

Sometimes, the matter is personal. A bride and groom may not like, for example, that they can’t have a Catholic outdoor wedding. Their perception is that they are being persecuted, especially given the popes have outdoor Masses during high-profile events all the time.

Sometimes persecution is just plain-and-simple conflict. Something that needs talking out, listening, and diplomacy. In some quarters, that kind of thing is vilified for being “too nice.” But in reality it is just a matter of good manners.

I’d suggest that Msgr Pope’s “stages” are a matter of sociology–how groups react when a minority surfaces that upsets the status quo. Not a step-to-step guidebook for marginalizing organized religion. The Church, our local parishes, and social media are not immune from these symptoms.

Serious persecution does happen. It has serious signs. When refugees travel across a good chunk of a continent to escape violence. When the people who don’t escape are wounded, enslaved, or killed. When people in safe havens refuse to open their borders and doors to those in need, and the midnight knock at the door goes unanswered.

To be sure, people losing jobs and friends is a serious personal matter for any human being. It is compounded when added to the list of losses are family members, homes, schools, art, religious sites, and whole communities.

If we look to the Gospel example, Jesus doesn’t preach about when we lick our own wounds, bandage our own injuries, feed and water and clothe ourselves, we did it for him. The Lord invites the Christian believer to do it for others. Showing mercy and kindness to non-Catholic victims of religious persecution is a demonstration of the Lord’s agency in the world. If our Muslim, Jewish, or Protestant sisters and brothers want to stand up for us, by all means, let’s express gratitude for that.

But when it comes to American Catholics standing up for real persecution, let’s broaden our horizons. And if we’re really afraid to go overseas, let’s start with standing up to bullies within our own borders. Let’s stand against punks who steal lunch money, damage personal property, stereotype minority students, vilify the un-cool kids, marginalize the non-athletes, criminalize the ones who have committed mistakes and not crimes, and who suffer persecution as the Lord knew: abuse by leaders, abandonment by friends, humiliation, or even death at the hands of overzealous authority figures.

Meanwhile as I ponder the Latin American refugees I’ve known, my grandmother’s relations murdered in Nazi Germany, and pictures of people like those Armenian refugees above, please count me out of the religious persecution schtick. I’m a proud Catholic, and I want no part of it.

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More Mercy


Light posting as I’ve been plunged into a busy post-summer, including our parish’s More Mercy event. This will be an encounter with four of Jesus’ more loved parables, along with music and prayer.

It seems there really is life offline, so after the Amoris Laetitia posts run their course (they are all lined up in the draft file) hard to tell what the future will be on this site. It likely won’t be a busy one.

If any readers happen to be in the neighborhood tonight, stop by and experience More Mercy.

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Amoris Laetitia 162: When The Witness of Marriage Excels

amoris laetitia memePope Francis goes negative on celibates:

162. Celibacy can risk becoming a comfortable single life that provides the freedom to be independent, to move from one residence, work or option to another, to spend money as one sees fit and to spend time with others as one wants.

But not for long. The witness of many married couples is worth emulating:

In such cases, the witness of married people becomes especially eloquent. Those called to virginity can encounter in some marriages a clear sign of God’s generous and steadfast fidelity to his covenant, and this can move them to a more concrete and generous availability to others. Many married couples remain faithful when one of them has become physically unattractive, or fails to satisfy the other’s needs, despite the voices in our society that might encourage them to be unfaithful or to leave the other. A wife can care for her sick husband and thus, in drawing near to the Cross, renew her commitment to love unto death. In such love, the dignity of the true lover shines forth, inasmuch as it is more proper to charity to love than to be loved.(Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 27, art. 1.

Pastoral ministers know these stories of commitment quite well. Clergy and religious impact institutions and can have a wider influence in the community and in the Church. Often married persons give very powerful witness to the Gospel values of commitment and self-sacrifice, but do so in unknown places, mainly within the walls of a home.

Check Amoris Laetitia online here.

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Amoris Laetitia 161: An Apologetics for Virginity

amoris laetitia memeToday, more on virginity. These appear to be the synthesis of Pope Francis on virginity, his own chosen state in life:

161. The value of virginity lies in its symbolizing a love that has no need to possess the other; in this way it reflects the freedom of the Kingdom of Heaven. Virginity encourages married couples to live their own conjugal love against the backdrop of Christ’s definitive love, journeying together towards the fullness of the Kingdom. For its part, conjugal love symbolizes other values. On the one hand, it is a particular reflection of that full unity in distinction found in the Trinity. The family is also a sign of Christ. It manifests the closeness of God who is a part of every human life, since he became one with us through his incarnation, death and resurrection. Each spouse becomes “one flesh” with the other as a sign of willingness to share everything with him or her until death. Whereas virginity is an “eschatological” sign of the risen Christ, marriage is a “historical” sign for us living in this world, a sign of the earthly Christ who chose to become one with us and gave himself up for us even to shedding his blood. Virginity and marriage are, and must be, different ways of loving. For “man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him”. (Redemptor Hominis 10)

I know I want to sit with this eschatology/history thought a bit longer before I make more of a statement on it. I find myself in easy agreement with the focus on either marriage or virginity as ways to love. Do marriage and virginity always represent such a division of values, even complementary values as expressed here? What do you think?

Check Amoris Laetitia online here.

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Amoris Laetitia 160: Marriage and Virginity Not In Conflict

amoris laetitia memeWe touched on this matter in yesterday’s post. St John Paul rejected the notion of values not being in conflict:

160. Consequently, “it is not a matter of diminishing the value of matrimony in favour of continence”.(John Paul II, Catechesis (7 April 1982), 2) “There is no basis for playing one off against the other… If, following a certain theological tradition, one speaks of a ‘state of perfection’ (status perfectionis), this has to do not with continence in itself, but with the entirety of a life based on the evangelical counsels”.(Id., Catechesis (14 April 1982), 3) A married person can experience the highest degree of charity and thus “reach the perfection which flows from charity, through fidelity to the spirit of those counsels. Such perfection is possible and accessible to every man and woman”.(Ibid.)

Perhaps some of the perception of conflict is in our human nature wanting surety, and defending the choice we have made. Sometimes that commitment is accompanied by doubts. Often the most strident voices in favor of a stance are, on the inside, the most shaky in terms of their own self-confidence.

Remember that Amoris Laetitia is online here.

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Amoris Laetitia 159: Virginity, A Form of Love

amoris laetitia memePope Francis looks at virginity, first from a New Testament perspective:

159. Virginity is a form of love. As a sign, it speaks to us of the coming of the Kingdom and the need for complete devotion to the cause of the Gospel (cf. 1 Cor 7:32). It is also a reflection of the fullness of heaven, where “they neither marry not are given in marriage” (Mt 22:30). Saint Paul recommended virginity because he expected Jesus’ imminent return and he wanted everyone to concentrate only on spreading the Gospel: “the appointed time has grown very short” (1 Cor 7:29). Nonetheless, he made it clear that this was his personal opinion and preference (cf. 1 Cor 7:6-9), not something demanded by Christ: “I have no command in the Lord” (1 Cor 7:25). All the same, he recognized the value of the different callings: “Each has his or her own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another” (1 Cor 7:7).

How much is this witness yoked to the prospect of the Lord’s coming? While we know that the imminent resturn of Jesus has not occurred, how does this eschatological view continue to influence our thinking? And what of the “postponed” second coming? Is there not room for a certain mindset that points us to something beyond the current state of affairs in the world?

Theology of the Body does not tout either virginity or celibacy as superior to the other:

Reflecting on this, Saint John Paul II noted that the biblical texts “give no reason to assert the ‘inferiority’ of marriage, nor the ‘superiority’ of virginity or celibacy”(Catechesis (14 April 1982), 1) based on sexual abstinence. Rather than speak absolutely of the superiority of virginity, it should be enough to point out that the different states of life complement one another, and consequently that some can be more perfect in one way and others in another. Alexander of Hales, for example, stated that in one sense marriage may be considered superior to the other sacraments, inasmuch as it symbolizes the great reality of “Christ’s union with the Church, or the union of his divine and human natures”.(Glossa in quatuor libros sententiarum Petri Lombardi, IV, XXVI, 2 (Quaracchi, 1957, 446).)

Perhaps another approach would be to see that persons living out virginity and marriage are well-discerned in each of these ways to witness. For some individuals, one may well be “better” than the other. This could be a matter of God-given personality and temperament. It might also be connected to the work individuals have chosen for themselves.


Remember that Amoris Laetitia is online here.

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Amoris Laetitia 158: Marriage and Virginity

amoris laetitia memeUnder the subheading of Passionate Love (142-162) we look at the last topic of this sub-section, treating marriage and virginity. First, the synod bishops express admiration for clergy, religious, and single people who have set aside marriage as a personal vocation. Many of these people offer great service to their families, to the Church, and in the world:

158. “Many people who are unmarried are not only devoted to their own family but often render great service in their group of friends, in the Church community and in their professional lives. Sometimes their presence and contributions are overlooked, causing in them a sense of isolation. Many put their talents at the service of the Christian community through charity and volunteer work. Others remain unmarried because they consecrate their lives to the love of Christ and neighbour. Their dedication greatly enriches the family, the Church and society”.(Relatio Finalis 2015, 22)


Remember that Amoris Laetitia is online here.

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