What is Worthy of Defending?
Although the Church defies such labeling, our teachings are described as “traditional,” “old-fashioned,” and in some circles, “conservative.”
Faithful Catholics find themselves surrounded by dissenting views on all sides — from television and radio, the newspaper and magazines, in motion pictures, among non-Catholic friends and family, and even, at times, among fellow Catholics.
If we know where to look, however, we can find light shining in the apparent darkness. If we look beyond the headlines, into our own communities, we will discover pockets of great faith. If we look within our Churches we will find vibrant Catholics and Catholic families — signs of contradiction leading us toward history’s greatest Sign of Contradiction.
It is by looking up to the vibrant Catholics among us that we can best learn how to defend our faith in an age that seems to have abandoned most of the Church’s values.
If we are like most people, we defend those things we love — our freedom, our families. Just as a worried gardener constructs a fence to protect his garden against rabbits that might raid his precious carrot and cabbage patches, good parents should defend their families against the many dangers threatening their children.
We protect our families and gardens, yet we take our faith — and our Lord — for granted. How much more should we love Christ and His Church than we love our garden, our pet, or our spouse? How much more should we love Christ than television, golf, or shopping? What does it mean to love Christ as he loved His Bride, the Church? Are we willing to lay down our very lives for her?
By virtue of our baptism, and the graces received at confirmation we, too, are called to defend Christ’s bride, the Church. The question, however, might be “how do we defend the faith”?
Perhaps it would be advantageous to first examine those ways in which we fail to defend our faith. For in exploring what we should not do, we will discover that which we should.
Foremost, we cannot defend our Catholic faith if we do not understand it ourselves. When in casual conversation at the office, and Joe or Jane Watercooler make an off-hand, offensive remark about the Blessed Virgin Mary or the pope, are we willing, ready, or even able to come to the Church’s defense? When a non-Catholic questions why we believe in purgatory, are we prepared to provide an intelligent response, or do we simply shrug our shoulders? Too few have received the proper catechesis to explain, let alone, defend the Church’s teachings.
The key, then, is education. It is said that knowledge of Scripture is knowledge of Christ; ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ. Because the Church’s teachings are founded upon Scripture, we can also say ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of the Church. So, then, in order to defend the faith we must study it, and come to know it. Whether our coming to know the faith is through spiritual reading, apologetics tapes, fundamentals classes, adult education, or Bible study, we must educate ourselves in the truth. Only then will we be adequately equipped to defend our Catholic faith and heritage.
How Do We Defend the Church?
Furthermore, we cannot defend our faith if we are not living it. As the Evangelical convert Thomas Howard said, “Catholic is not enough.” We cannot be content to be mere “Catholics” — Catholics who attend Church irregularly, who ignore the Church’s teaching on contraception, or who do not partake of her sacraments.
We are not free to pick and choose the doctrines we will follow any more than we can choose whether to believe in the Trinity. To do so is to make a mockery of our faith — anything less than orthodoxy is heresy.
Finally, we cannot defend the faith if we say one thing and do another. We lead by example. Therefore, if we are living a sinful lifestyle, we are not defending the faith. Rather, through scandal, we are leading others away from it.
Certainly, one way of defending the Church is by constructing a fence. Yet, while not being of the world, we are called to be in the world. Therefore, rather than fencing ourselves in, we need to defend our faith by becoming living examples.
Being living examples requires we actively defend our faith. We can actively defend our faith by engaging in friendly apologetic debates with friends and colleagues, writing letters to the editor, or publicly standing up for the Church’s teaching on a given issue. If we are called to defend the faith in this way, we can rest assured the Holy Spirit will be with us.
We can also defend the Church simply by living our faith fully. We defend the Church every time we avail ourselves of her sacraments. We defend her every time we are absolved of our sins in the sacrament of reconciliation, every time we pray in public, and every time we receive of Our Lord in the Eucharist.
Such acts of faith speak, perhaps, more loudly than any letter we could ever write. Husbands defend their faith when they go straight home to their wives and children after work, sacrificing that trip to the bar. Women defend their faith when they turn off the soap operas, which feed them the world’s lies. Parents defend the faith when they explain to their children what the Church really teaches and believes. And, as the Church, we defend our faith every time we reach out to help another in need.
“…Realize That It Hated Me First'
It is good to recall we are not alone in our struggles to defend the faith. Not only do we have the example of fellow Catholic Christian neighbors, but also a “cloud of witnesses” who has gone before us and intercedes on our behalf.
The Church has officially recognized more than 12,000 martyrs for the faith in the last century alone. Pope John Paul II has beatified and canonized more than 1,400 individuals since the beginning of his pontificate.
Acknowledging we live in an age marked by unbelief, the Holy Father recognizes we need the modern examples of such martyrs and saints as we move forward in the new millennium.
And what shining examples they are — examples such as Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla, the Italian doctor and mother who gave up her life for her unborn daughter; and Blessed Miguel Pro of Mexico, who in the face of death itself could cry out “Vivo Christo Rey!” before his execution. From this year alone, we have the examples of a mystic, a visionary, and the founder of a lay movement in the newly canonized Padre Pio, Juan Diego, and Josemaria Escriva.
Bearing these saints in mind, the Holy Father said to be a Christian in the new millennium may require a different kind of martyrdom. We may be forced to endure the slow, gradual martyrdom of daily defending the Church against the opposition rampant all around us. We take part in this martyrdom every time we receive a hostile comment about a Church teaching, every time we hear a harsh remark about our family size, every time we are insulted for our belief that every human person has the right to life, and every time we stand up in defense of the Church in the midst of the battle raging against her.
It is not difficult to see what we are being called to defend the Church against. We are called to defend her against the secular humanism and the moral relativism so abundant in the culture at large. We are called to defend her against both apathy and heresy. We are also called to defend her against false ecumenism, or a watering down of the faith, which says that all roads lead to Truth. In short, we are called to defend her against anything less than the fullness of the faith.
We would do well to recall the words of a young, Polish cardinal who was asked to preach the annual Lenten retreat in March 1976. “If now…Jesus Christ is once again revealing Himself to men as the light of the world, has He not also become at one and the same time that sign, which more than ever, men are resolved to oppose?” said then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla.
Better yet, we would do well to remember Christ’s words from John 15:18, “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.”
Tim Drake is features correspondent with the National Catholic Register and editor of “Saints of the Jubilee” available at 1st Books. He resides in St. Cloud, Minnesota.