Hardly a day passes that I do not see a story on Twitter or Facebook about the plight of religious freedom for Catholics. Without a doubt, the battle for religious freedom in the U.S. has been mild compared to many other countries, thanks, in large part, to the protection of freedoms enshrined in the Constitution. For each story that I read, though, I am increasingly left with a bad taste in my mouth, and it is not the flavor of injustice to which I refer.
I think this fight is being fought on the wrong fronts. I have yet to see anyone turn the other cheek. Have you? Have you witnessed one instance in the American Catholic battle for full recognition of religious liberty where a Catholic party was attacked and then turned the other cheek?
I recognize my experience is limited, but I have not seen the cheek-turning I have searched for, and I think the lack of this kind of response is a grave problem. First, not turning the other cheek is possibly a sin of omission. After all, Christ did not suggest this behaviour, He commanded it. The purpose for which He commanded it highlights the second reason for the gravity of this error on the part of Catholics—namely, that we must strive to mimic our Lord in battle.
We fight not with the weapons of this world, and we neglect this world’s arsenal for two very good reasons. Firstly, the arsenal of the world is puny in comparison to the spiritual force we wield. Secondly, our fight is not against things of this world. Our fight, no matter how many people like Obama, Pelosi, or Sebelius assault us, is always and everywhere against spiritual powers, against demonic forces.
That Kardashian show that you probably never watch, and that one (or twelve) that celebrates the fornication of strangers living together in a house? You may recognize it to be a masquerade to distract people from the real concerns of the world. They are demonic puppet shows that draw attention away from God, from neighbor, from spouse, from children. I submit to you that the political play is the same devilish show on an elevated stage.
Religious freedom, including freedom of speech, is not something granted to men by governments. The U.S. Constitution recognizes these freedoms, which is wonderful.—Whether the interpreters of the Constitution acknowledge this is another matter—However, nearly every Christian martyr for the past two thousand years has been a man or woman who did not fight for basic human rights for themselves or for Catholics, but instead turned the other cheek. Our holy men and women we celebrate as models of Christian charity fought for the souls of men, and, if any stood up for the dignity of human persons, the persons for whom they took a stand were the “widow and the orphan in their distress.”That is what true religion looks like, sacrificing of yourself for the good of the vulnerable, the outcast, the disenfranchised. So, my own distaste for the present fight has nothing to do with the worthy end, but everything to do with tactics more reminiscent of the privileged asserting their privilege than the non-violent resistance modeled by our Lord and His disciples.
Do Not Marvel if the World Hates You
I share these thoughts at this moment because an impending judgment is soon to be handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby. (The owners of Hobby Lobby are challenging the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate requiring employers to pay for abortifacient drugs for employees, arguing that the mandate violates their first amendment rights by coercing them to violate their religious convictions.) Very soon we will be told just how much religious freedom has been eroded. As you hear the verdict, let us be mindful of what we were called to as disciples of Christ.
When we accepted the call and the grace of divine adoption, we accepted that we would have a cross to bear. We were called not to popularity, but to persecution. We were called not to renown, but to revilement. We signed up for trials, for temptation, for tribulation. We were told that we would not have a place to lie our heads. Our names, we should have expected, would be impuned by false testimony and the subject of grave insults.
This expectation is the expectation Paul told Timothy (2 Tim. 3:12). This message was the message delivered by St. James (1:2-18; 5:7-12). This exhortation was the exhortation of Jesus to the apostles, that we would be like sheep amidst wolves—and that’s putting it mildly!
We expect to be the object of persecution because we are not of this world. Our baptism, our adoption as sons and daughters of God, took us out of the world of sin, and it made us citizens of heaven. We went from inhabitants to sojourners. We were snatched from death’s dominion and became heirs of the Kingdom of God. We inherit now what Christ experienced on earth, so that we might also have an inheritance in the life to come. Thus, the attack is not against religiosity. The attack is against the reign of God.
When we align ourselves aright with God, we subject our wills to God’s will. We pray that God’s “will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In heaven, there is no personal opposition to the will of God. God’s reign extends to all because all are freely cooperating with God. On earth, free wills—yours and mine—have the choice to reject God. God does not force His reign on us, but He offers us the grace to be reigned. To the extent we live in accordance with the reign of God, we live in God’s Kingdom already, for the Kingdom of God is convertible with His reign.
No doubt putting legal limits on the charity of Catholics is a diabolical means of tempting the faithful to avoid persecution by conforming to this world. The demons are crafting a scenario to tempt us to comply with the demands of this world more than with the mandates of Heaven. The real persecution has yet to come, but even now, as the threat of persecution lies on the horizon, the temptation has already begun. We are being led to pay more mind to the means of human warfare than the weapons of this spiritual battle.
There are No Purely Human Fights
The courts are not our battleground. Our enemy is not Obama or Sebelius; they are mere pawns who are unwittingly doing more harm to themselves than they could ever do to us. They may deny our rights, exact monetary fines from us, incarcerate us, but we are commanded to be not afraid. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was thoroughly Biblical when he wrote, “Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men” (cf. Matt. 10:28). Will we gladly give up our lives for the truth to save our souls? Christianity has a legacy of martyrdom; we ought to be willing to uphold it.
The courts are merely harbingers of the temptation we will undergo, and we cannot use lawyers to duke it out with Satan. We cannot avoid temptation by arguing with the tempter. The only way to avoid temptation is to inoculate ourselves against it by the practice of virtue and by spiritual discipline.
Disciplines are exercises, and with effort and perseverance, the exercises enable us to do the unthinkable. Discipline is the true function of law, not meant to be an affront to freedom but to guide us to freedom. The child who has just started pounding the piano keys cannot conceive of playing Chopin or Philip Glass, something that one is free to do only after many years of discipline.
Spiritual maturity is not a full immunization, though. Sanctification makes the task of rejecting sin easier, which is why discipline and sanctification are the paths of our earthly pilgrimage to sainthood. If we divorce the world, our witness may lead human enemies to do the same. After all, living a life unstained by the world is precisely the witness we are called to give (James 1:27). History has demonstrated that this witness is enough to conquer all manner of evil, and we ought to prepare to be witnesses again.
Only the battle against, and the defeat of, spiritual forces matter, not victory over human foes. Our human foes are not true enemies, but neighbors. So, let’s set aside the distractions, no matter how elevated, and take up spiritual arms. Our aim is the salvation of souls. Turning the other cheek may mean that we are bruised and beaten, but no servant is greater than his master—we serve a crucified King.
The opinions expressed by the DPS blog authors and those providing comments are theirs alone; they are not necessarily the expressions or beliefs of either the Dead Philosophers Society or Holy Apostles College & Seminary.