07 January 2013

"The fear of God frees us from the fear of men."

Rorate Caeli has run the following translation of an excerpt from the Holy Father's sermon on the Feast of the Epiphany.  The subject is the role of the Bishop in today's times.  The words are powerful and prescient, but apply to all Catholics who would stand firm in the faith, so I will take the liberty of reproducing them here, with the emphases given these words by Rorate:
How can we not think, in this context, of the task of a Bishop in our own time? The humility of faith, of sharing the faith of the Church of every age, will constantly be in conflict with the prevailing wisdom of those who cling to what seems certain. Anyone who lives and proclaims the faith of the Church is on many points out of step with the prevalent way of thinking, even in our own day. Today’s regnant agnosticism has its own dogmas and is extremely intolerant regarding anything that would question it and the criteria it employs. Therefore the courage to contradict the prevailing mindset is particularly urgent for a Bishop today. He must be courageous. And this courage or forcefulness does not consist in striking out or in acting aggressively, but rather in allowing oneself to be struck and to be steadfast before the principles of the prevalent way of thinking. The courage to stand firm in the truth is unavoidably demanded of those whom the Lord sends like sheep among wolves. “Those who fear the Lord will not be timid”, says the Book of Sirach (34:16). The fear of God frees us from the fear of men.  It liberates.

Here I am reminded of an episode at the very beginning of Christianity which Saint Luke recounts in the Acts of the Apostles. After the speech of Gamaliel, who advised against violence in dealing with the earliest community of believers in Jesus, the Sanhedrin summoned the Apostles and had them flogged. It then forbade them from preaching in the name of Jesus and set them free. Saint Luke continues: “As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the name of Jesus. And every day… they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah” (Acts 5:40ff.).  The successors of the Apostles must also expect to be repeatedly beaten, by contemporary methods, if they continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that can be heard and understood. Then they can rejoice that they have been considered worthy of suffering for him. Like the Apostles, we naturally want to convince people and in this sense to obtain their approval. Naturally, we are not provocative; on the contrary we invite all to enter into the joy of that truth which shows us the way. The approval of the prevailing wisdom, however, is not the criterion to which we submit. Our criterion is the Lord himself. If we defend his cause, we will constantly gain others to the way of the Gospel. But, inevitably, we will also be beaten by those who live lives opposed to the Gospel, and then we can be grateful for having been judged worthy to share in the passion of Christ.

We are "out of step" with the prevalent way of thinking.  Yes, if there remains any thinking at all, that is.

"The regnant agnosticism has its own dogmas and is extremely intolerant."  Yes, the chief dogma is that there is no God that matters.  One might say the word, God, but it either means "just what I want" or else that His name is used to support positions that He clearly does not.  Tolerance means that only Catholics may be humiliated, scorned, beaten or killed.  True, in a neutral situation Catholics are not yet always singled out, but if the subject matter comes up that involves the Church, the hatred is palpable.  If a moral issue of the Natural or Divine Law is at stake, an issue that only the Church remains to defend, the hatred is palpable.

Soon, the hatred will spill over into action. So, how do we handle it?  The Holy Father says we must be courageous, as is demanded of the disciple.  "And this courage or forcefulness does not consist in striking out or in acting aggressively, but rather in allowing oneself to be struck and to be steadfast" before the prevailing "dogmatic" heterodoxy.  And the Holy Father points out that the Successors of the Apostles (and by extension all of us) must expect to be beaten, by contemporary methods, by those who are the rulers of-- or the unreflecting adherents to-- the culture of death that envelops us.

That is the phrase that jumped out at me in reading the Pope's remarks:  by contemporary methods.  Modern man has an aversion to the appearance of violence in the punishment of society's enemies.  Don't get me wrong-- modern man is as violent as ever, or more so.  The secular power raises armies and uses them.  The police are increasingly militarized.  Violence in our streets, our schools, our homes, our entertainment, and our minds is rampant.  But like so many other areas, we have the lie of tolerance in this as well.  We just want tolerance.  Let's leave everyone alone, let's celebrate our diversity, let's get rid of the means of violence (except for the ruling class).  But violence towards the inconvenient Church is the end.

It starts with disapproving language, exclusion from polite society, and being thought stupid.  Then the stupidity of the believer and his beliefs are labelled "dangerous" or "insane".  Once that happens, there is a basis for state action.  Oh, you're a Catholic bishop who won't "marry" homosexuals?  You're a Catholic employer who won't provide access for women's "healthcare"?  You are a perpetrator of hate crimes, you're dangerous, you're a threat to women and children.  Your children aren't safe with you-- we'll take them and reeducate them.  You're trying to influence the political process-- we'll take that tax exemption.  You're in our way-- goodbye.

By contemporary means indicates that the means, which are always contemporary, will change and evolve.  Get ready.  The tree will be shaken.

But don't despair says Our Lord, and the Holy Father echoes it in his remarks:

"The fear of God frees us from the fear of men."  May it be so.

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