Being Catholic in today’s world is hard. I am sure it has always been that way, but since I haven’t been around for most of Christian history, I can only speak to what it is like being Catholic today. Western civilization is quickly moving further and further away from its Christian roots, and that movement threatens to carry away even many in the Church and make them abandon their convictions.
So how should we respond to this societal pressure? Should we lay low and just keep our faith to ourselves? Should we form some sort of resistance movement and fight back? Or should we fall somewhere in between those two extremes? To answer those questions, I suggest that we turn to Scripture. In particular, we should take a close look at the book of Daniel. It’s about how Daniel and his fellow Jews lived in a world that was just as hostile to their faith as our world is to ours, so if we want to know how we should live as faithful Catholics in an unfaithful society, this book is an indispensable guide that we would all do well to follow.
Daniel is set in Babylon after the Jews were conquered and exiled there, and it tells us about how the Babylonians tried to get them to compromise their convictions or even abandon their faith altogether. For example, one time, the king made a golden image and commanded all the people to worship it (Daniel 3:1-7), and some time later, the king issued a decree that none of his subjects were allowed to pray to any deity except him for thirty days (Daniel 6:6-9).
Both times, faithful Jews refused to comply, and they risked death by doing so. Some of the Jews who refused to worship the king’s golden image were thrown into a furnace (Daniel 3:8-18), and Daniel was thrown into a den of lions for praying to God during that thirty-day period (Daniel 6:13-16).
This shows us that when the surrounding culture tries to pressure us to compromise our convictions or abandon our faith, we have to resist no matter what the consequences may be. In both of the stories I mentioned, God eventually rescued the people sentenced to death (Daniel 3:24-27, 6:19-24), but they didn’t know that would happen. They were ready to face the consequences even if God didn’t intervene, and we have to do the same.
Sure, we probably won’t be killed for practicing our faith (at least not yet), but we have to be willing to endure whatever society might throw our way. We may be mocked, ostracized, or humiliated, but no matter what people threaten to do to us for living out our faith, we have to remain steadfast.
But that is only one side of the coin. The book of Daniel is more than just a doom and gloom story about the hardships the Jews faced in Babylon. It also has some positive passages, and these are equally important for us to imitate. For instance, we read in the first few verses of the book that Daniel and his companions served “in the king’s palace” (Daniel 1:4), and there is no indication that this service contradicted their commitment to God.
Similarly, a few chapters later, Daniel recounts a chilling prophecy to the king, and he says, “My lord, may the dream be for those who hate you and its interpretation for your enemies” (Daniel 4:19). Then, he advises the king to repent and avoid the punishment God said he would bring upon the king for his wickedness.
Even though he was living in a foreign land and serving people who didn’t share his beliefs, Daniel still showed genuine loyalty and concern for the country and its citizens, and that is an important lesson for us today. We may live in a metaphorical “Babylon” that rejects our faith and tries to get us to water it down or abandon it altogether, but that does not mean that we should hate the people around us.
On the contrary, we have to be the best citizens our faith allows us to be. We have to love our fellow countrymen and fulfill all our duties towards our neighbors and our government. We have to faithfully serve the society we live in, just like Daniel and his companions did, and we should always want what is best for it.
The Central Principle
In a nutshell, we should always abide by the central command that Scripture repeats over and over again: love. Just as Jesus taught in the Gospels, we should love God above all else, and we should love others as we love ourselves. This means that we have to live out our faith to the fullest no matter what the consequences may be, but we shouldn’t despise or hate people who try to get us to abandon our convictions. Instead, just as Jesus prayed for his executioners as they were nailing him to the cross, so too are we supposed to love our society, including the people who persecute and pressure us, and always try to do what is best for it.