The Vatican News Service daily bulletin today has some warm words from Pope Benedict XVI to President Obama, congratulating him on his second term and encouraging him to guide our country these next four years according to principles of life, justice and freedom of religion. It comes last in the daily bulletin, after the naming of some bishops in Brazil and a declaration about relations between the Church and the Republic of Burundi. Seeing that gave me some perspective.
American Catholics tend to think that the problems of the Catholic Church in the US are the problems of the Church, period. However, we are barely 6% of Catholics worldwide. There is so much more on the Pope’s plate than the USA, even though the USA’s role as a cultural and economic leader is widely acknowledged. But the fact is, while some Catholics react as if Obama’s reelection signals the Apocalypse, the Church, that wise Mother and Teacher, looked at the list of countries of the world and saw that the US remained in the “for the most part mildly tolerant of the Faith” column.
I do not mean to say that there are no storm clouds on the horizon. Clearly, the secularist mindset in many circles sees this election as a mandate for widespread politically-driven cultural change: from redefining marriage to driving the Church out of healthcare by making her teachings seem inimical to their definition of health, primarily women’s health.
The Church has survived many such social revolutions, like an unflustered mother facing the teenage rebellion of her seventh child. She’ll survive this one.
The change for us American Catholics, however, may be crucial. It is becoming increasingly impossible to say one can be a faithful American and a faithful Catholic, when the meaning of what it means to be American is being redefined by an exclusively secularist mentality. Do the words “freedom”, “justice” and “life” in the Pope’s words for President Obama mean the same to Obama as they do for Pope Benedict? And where do we as American Catholics stand?
Our generation and several before us have never had to choose between fidelity to country and fidelity to Faith. The truth is, cracks in the foundation have been appearing for some time. When Catholic chaplains in the Armed Forces were told not to preach against President Clinton’s veto of the bill banning partial birth abortion, they had that choice to make. When Catholic Charities in Massachusetts could either place orphans with same-sex couples or simply give-up their successful adoption services, they had a similar choice to make. (One chaplain sued for violation of his rights and won. Catholic Charities in Boston no longer does adoptions…)
Very soon Catholic small business owners will have to choose between paying for employee health insurance plans that by law must cover procedures the Church teaches are immoral, or face a heavy penalty.
Will entire Catholic healthcare systems have to utter the words of Fr. J. Bryan Hehir, who as president of Catholic Charities sadly announced: “We have encountered a dilemma we cannot resolve. In spite of much effort and analysis, Catholic Charities of Boston finds that it cannot reconcile the teaching of the Church, which guides our work, and the statutes and regulations of the commonwealth”?
We will look to our Bishops for guidance, but the choices are ours as Catholic citizens. When Caesar bids our conscience bow before him, will we face persecution or backslide?
It may get a lot less comfortable to be a Catholic in the United States. As I tell my kids, there are things you like and things you don’t, but both are dinner, and you have to eat your dinner. Maybe we took things too lightly. It has been too easy to be a Catholic and an American for too long. Yet we are called no less to holiness, no less to faith, no less to fight for true freedom and justice, just because it looks like things might get bitter. It’s still dinner. Bon appetit.
As Saint Paul said, the mission is to preach, to witness, the Gospel “in season and out of season.” For the future, let’s look at our forbears in the Faith who have weathered far worse storms than ours. The same God who strengthened them has an abundance of grace in store to bolster our faithfulness.