By Will Deatherage, Executive Director
A wise frog once sang:
It’s not easy bein’ green
It seems you blend in
With so many other ordinary things
And people tend to pass you over
Cause you’re not standing out
Like flashy sparkles in the water
Or stars in the sky (Kermit the Frog, The Muppets)
It seems as if Catholics suffer from the opposite problem of our friend Kermit. Over the course of the past few decades, we have descended into a new normal that rejects normalcy altogether. It is not trendy or even acceptable to believe in or conform to any social standards. Modern Western culture thrives under the ethos of raw liberty. “I can, therefore I should” is the mantra of our generation. It is inevitable, therefore, that any organization that encourages uniformity of any kind would be antagonized and ridiculed. Attempts to define anyone else’s life are now considered acts of hatred, bigotry, and war. It is no longer okay to believe in binary genders, a singular moment of conception, or a fixed idea of the family. In essence, it is no longer okay to be Catholic, but has the contrary ever really been the case?
It is easy to fall into a false sense of nostalgia for an age that never existed. Our Faith was forged in fires that our ancestors were burnt in. It was sharpened by friction of iron hammers on iron nails, driven into the wrists of martyrs who begged for their lives. Even today in distant lands, so many “infidels” are raped, decapitated, and suffer horrors we could never imagine experiencing. Even when our Faith is popular, authentic Christianity has always been marred by the vices that couple temporal authority, from the Popes of the Dark Ages to the power-hungry warmongers of the Middle Ages. The fact is that it has always been difficult to be Catholic precisely because Catholicism was never meant to be easy. But what exactly is holding our faith back today?
Our modern Western challenges do not come from Romans, corrupt Popes, or even foreign armies. Instead, Christianity’s most immediate threat comes from a universal starvation of hope that has only worsened over the past few decades. Whether or not we realize it, we are products of a Marxist movement that has swapped out our desire for spiritual permanence with a desire for worldly, historical, permanence. We want to be seen, we want to be known, and we want to leave our mark on history. By focusing on our most immediate surroundings, obsessing over money, careers, and egos, we abandon the God who gives us everything and place our hope in a passing world that gives us nothing. This tendency to put hope in what is most apparent to us, in what is most pleasurable to us, is quite tempting, and those who benefit and even profit off said mindset are threatened by alternative worldviews. So, why wouldn’t they make fun of Christians or deem them socially unacceptable? Catholicism is the antithesis of a hedonism that sustains markets and keeps politicians in power. Catholicism is the greatest threat to the world because it abandons the world.
“All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.” (Jer 20:7-9)
We are all called to martyrdom: not necessarily by fire, crucifixion, or decapitation, but by suffering in our own ways. God gives us obligations and duties that correspond to our unique situations and contexts. He certainly does not expect a middle-class American boy to behave the same way as a tribal elder in the Amazon does. However, if there is one commonality that unites all vocations, it is suffering.
A good athlete works hard for his game, but not all athletes are the same. This is why there are several weight classes in sports like boxing and wrestling. A sumo wrestler cannot compete against a lightweight (as entertaining as that may be), nor are they called to train the same way. God gave them very different body types and training methods, but He expects them to give themselves fully to Him, especially when giving hurts.
I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.
Do not conform yourselves to this age
but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, (Rom 12:1-2)
Saint Paul begs us to give ourselves to the One who gave us life. We are called to embrace the jeers of our peers, to wear the labels people stick on us proudly because to God, these are badges of honor. Catholics have a sacred obligation to protect the vulnerable and provide for the needy, but we also have the task of defending marriage and the unborn, no matter how unpopular our opinions may be. Christ did not live to be popular. He was killed in the most brutal and humiliating way the ancient world knew.
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life?” (Mt 16:21-27).
Christ’s warning regarding persecution was not limited to early Christians, rather it transcends all cultures and ages. The world may judge us, but the world will pass. God’s righteousness never does. Catholicism can and likely will be relegated to the bottom of society’s totem pole. It can be stripped of its wealth, censored in the public squares, and opposed by mega-corporations, but we must stand strong together. We Catholics are called to commit ourselves to our convictions, stand up for our brothers and sisters, and proudly, yet respectfully, disagree with the errors of the passing world. To slink back at the slightest sense of fear is to abandon the cross as Christ’s Apostles did. Every “I don’t know” is a strike against Christ’s back, and each “I don’t have an opinion” is a nail in his wrists. Christ came to Earth to teach us, to invigorate us to live in Truth, not so that we may float along in an ocean of falsity that has been shaped by the tides of the times. The world may laugh at us, mock us, and treat us like garbage, but if one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, then the scourge of the passing world must be the apple of God’s eye.