We are in the midst of the Fortnight for Freedom leading up to the celebration of Independence Day. At its core this now annual observance sponsored by the United States Catholic Conference is to focus on a historical and balanced understanding of religious freedom in an increasingly pluralistic society.
The gut reaction of society is to ignore religious pluralism and the historical role of Christianity in the foundation of our nation as the means of not having to address or clarify the issues at hand. Certainly this is a very difficult and challenging issue in our society. We see struggles not only on the national level but also within cities and towns in our own Diocese.
One way that this struggle manifests itself is grounded in the underpinnings of anti-Catholicism which still run deep in our country.
It is only within the past 60 years that Catholics became fully integrated into American society. While most of us do not personally experience religious intolerance, examples of this attitude surface now and again.
This week’s Readings focus on the reality of persecution. Jeremiah suffered countless indignities due to his commitment to the Word of God and the demands of justice that the Word put on him. Jeremiah knows that his own people have turned on him and that to continue to preach the Word would bring him more suffering and probably death. Yet, he cannot tell the people what they want to hear. To do other than to preach what he knows to be the truth would be deceptive and inauthentic.
Jesus’ instruction to the newly chosen 12, carries through his theme of conflict both within and from outside of the Christian community. Being a disciple of Jesus was not going to be easy. There are real demands, real sacrifices and real sufferings associated with the path of discipleship.
We can often feel very uncomfortable when we are confronted on our faith. It is easy to be viewed as a hypocrite by misguided friends, neighbors and family members. When our understanding of mercy and the world’s understanding of mercy conflict, we naturally want mercy without repentance; we know that repentance is at the core of mercy.
It is easy for others to mock us, making it more and more challenging to defend our faith. The possibility of dialogue is lost when we are using the same words but with different meanings, when we are sharing ideas but with different philosophical categories.
Jesus tells us to be bold and confident – shout the truth from the rooftops, do not hide it. The testimony to the truth will itself be our vanguard.
There has been tremendous witness to this very truth as accounts of Christian martyrdom in the Middle East and East Africa begin to emerge. Christians standing in the face of certain death, choose death over this life knowing that they need not fear.
Jesus promises that he watches over us with the tender care of a parent. Suffering and persecution may come, only to serve the purpose of strengthening us in faith. Our call is to accept the challenge and to stand on the rooftops to proclaim the faith which leads to salvation.
This is precisely the time when the message of Christ needs to be brought to the world. We cannot allow the present to be a time when we cease to stand up for the poor, disenfranchised or outcast in the world. We need to continue to do the work of Christ even when the world is scoffing at us attempting to make us irrelevant.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.