Pope John Paul II called the twentieth century the “century of martyrs.” Although persecution of Christians has been ongoing throughout our history, during the twentieth century, there were more Christians killed for their faith than in all the other centuries combined.
Even today, while in many parts of our world people die rather than deny their faith, we, in the United States, have been blessed to live in a country that supports freedom of religion. While we have not had to lay down our lives to defend our faith, we need to practice it, appreciate this gift, and take advantage of the help offered to strengthen our faith. We need to listen attentively to St. Paul when he encourages his followers in his letter to the Romans 8:35-39:
What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written:
‘For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
These days, we may need to be ready to defend our faith from those who will ridicule our faithfulness at a time when the practice of religion is declining. As the scandals of Church leaders were revealed, many became disillusioned, especially young people who were abused by clergy or youth leaders.
As time has gone by, the abuses of many powerful people have come to light. This widespread problem is finally being addressed. However, the abuse by trusted clergy has had a devastating effect on young people. Even sons and daughters of very devout Christians have turned away from religious practices. Grandparents suffer greatly when their children do not have their grandchildren baptized or brought up with religious instruction.
While some grandparents take on the responsibility to share their faith with their grandchildren, others are not allowed to do that by the parents. All they can do is give a good example and pray for their loved ones. Perhaps later, the young ones will search on their own and find the Lord who will then be their Shepherd accompanying them on their life’s journey.
Sometimes, there are friends and coworkers who will challenge those who
continue to practice their faith, in spite of the failures of their clergy. These faithful understand that the purpose of prayer, Bible study, and attending Masses or religious services is to grow their relationship with God. The Lord is their anchor in the peaceful times and storms of life.
Although the types of suffering for the faith may vary, if offered to the Lord, He will give the strength to bear them. Psalm 62 line 2 is a great comfort:
“He only is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken.”
Reflection Question: If I have a friend or relative who has turned away from religion, what can I do?
Pat Chiaffa, ASBS It makes me very sad when someone I care about announces they are leaving the church. Frequently, the reason given is that organized religion is merely a tactic of power and control and a means of getting money. The clergy sex abuse scandals are often cited as the cause of declining attendance at Mass. The church may have done some things that would make a critical person want to leave it. However, it is this same Church that contains in its center the Word of God and the sacraments of God’s healing love. Henri Nouwen asks, “Can we trust that in the midst of all its human brokenness the Church presents the broken body of Christ to the world as food for eternal life? Can we acknowledge that where sin is abundant, grace is superabundant and that where promises are broken…God’s promise stands unshaken? To believe is to answer yes to these questions.”
I believe. Therefore, I pray that these restless hearts will remain open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Whenever the opportunity presents itself, I ask about their relationship with Jesus, encouraging them to keep their connection to God alive even though they chose to “turn away from religion” as stated in your reflection question. I listen to their reasons for leaving without judging. I hold them in a space of love, not lecture. It is really important to listen prayerfully because while some individuals may express anger and point fingers about who and what they perceive to be at fault, others may be silently suffering, feeling betrayed by the behaviors and actions of religious leaders whom they respected and viewed as models of the faith.
These conversations are opportunities for us to be the caring presence we were created to be to reflect the love of God to our wounded brothers and sisters in Christ. At risk is the loss of a precious soul. “Losing our soul means losing touch with our center, our true call in life, our mission, our spiritual task. Losing our soul means becoming so distracted by and preoccupied with all that is happening around us that we end up fragmented, confused, and erratic.” Speaking from personal experience, I am in total agreement with Nouwen’s words. If one forsakes their relationship with God, they will lose their true sense of self. That is a terrible tragedy for the truth of our being is that we are the Beloved of God.
Allen Hunt’s recent Dynamic Catholic Daily Reflection addresses the importance of being concerned for one another’s spiritual well-being. I share it here because I feel it fits this dialogue. “We need a community to help us reach our goal. Faith is not an individual journey; it’s a team sport. We need each other. We are on this journey together.”
Let us remind one another of the stepping-stones on the path: forgiveness, acceptance, and love.
We need to forgive others when they fail to meet our expectations. We need to forgive ourselves for the times we fail to behave as followers of Christ. We need to accept others in their brokenness while acknowledging our own woundedness. Lastly, we need to love as unconditionally as our Source loves us.
Stephanie Morris, Ph. D, Historian, Certified Archivist, emerita
People have been leaving the Catholic Church for generations. It hurts when a friend or relative turns his or her back on the Church. Trying to talk to them about this change can result in being hurt yourself when they call you names or insult the Church. They may have valid reasons for not liking the structure, and the hierarchy of the Church; some Church leaders have made serious mistakes. If I have a chance, I tell them they are still welcome. I pray for them and hope that they will someday return to the active practice of their Faith. The best I can do is to be a witness, to practice my Catholic Faith openly and sincerely, and hope that someday they will want to reconnect with God through the Catholic Church.