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San Francisco, London, Ephesus, and Catholic Relevance

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Oct 05, 2012

“The man who chained me up seemed sorry he had to do it, but I did not feel the least bit sorry for myself. Quite the contrary I became very happy—so good is God to the least of His servants. To recompense the man for his good turn I gave him a little money and told him that it was no punishment to suffer in such a good and noble cause.”

Thus wrote John Gerard, SJ in the account of his life as a missionary in Elizabethan England, serving always under a sentence of death. “Everyone” in England thought Catholics should give up the “old religion”, worship according to the new Anglican interpretation of the Faith, and honor the spiritual predilections of the Queen.

Now fast forward several hundred years and read the remarks made by the Episcopalian bishop of California on the installation of the new Catholic archbishop in San Francisco:

The recognition of the dignity and rights, within civil society and the Church, of lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgendered people, and of women, are as core to our proclamation of the Gospel as our solidarity with the poor, with victims of violence and political oppression, and with the Earth…. Some Catholics may find themselves less at home with Salvatore Cordileone’s installation and they may come to the Episcopal Church.... [W]e will not be silenced in our proclamation of God’s inclusion.

Then there was the advice of a former Catholic Charities director that the incoming Archbishop must not, in San Francisco, stress the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of marriage.

In a very similar vein, an Illinois newspaper editorial excoriated Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield for issuing a statement on the moral responsibilities of Catholic voters: “Poll after poll has shown that lay Catholics nationwide reject their church’s teachings on certain issues, particularly the prohibition against using birth control and gay marriage. Statements like Paprocki’s will only serve to increase that divide.”

Even at CatholicCulture.org, we receive occasional emails asserting that the great failure of the Church in the 20th century was its prohibition of contraception, and that until the Church reverses that error, the hierarchy cannot hope to make Catholicism relevant again as a significant force in the world.

What all these modern censures have in common is that they assume we are free to change our morality to suit the times in which we live, which is simply to say that we are free to change our morality to suit the broad cultural temptations we experience. Hand-in-hand with this convenient conception of morality is the conviction that Christians cannot make a significant impression on the world unless they teach what those who are influential in the world want to hear.

This attitude, of course, was the bane of the Church in the West during the second half of the 20th century, as it has been the bane of the Anglican and Episcopalian churches, along with many mainline Protestant bodies, for most of their existence. But of course when the Church seeks to become like the world in order to make an “impression”, it is really the world that makes its impression on the Church. In one famous phrase, when you drop your glove in the mud, it is never the mud that gets glovey.

There is, of course, a deeper point to be made, one which critics of the Church completely fail to grasp. If the Church claims to be the custodian of Divine Revelation concerning faith and morals, then her teaching must reflect what God has revealed, and not what men and women, at any given time, wish to hear. The world may think itself quite relevant in its insistence on the moral (or immoral) fashions of each succeeding age—from chattel slavery to ideological slavery, from taking life to preventing life, from cohabitation without marriage to gay marriage. But the Church can be relevant only by reminding the world that we are designed by God for another way.

Fr. Gerard, who escaped from the Tower of London and so lived to write his story, experienced great happiness when he was suffering for the same sort of commitment to Christ and the Church that so many modern commentators decry. A martyr in the same cause, Fr. Henry Garnet, wrote a letter further describing the occasion when Fr. Gerard was put in chains. It seems that the jailer, who was rewarded by Fr. Gerard when he attached the leg chains, decided later to take them off in the hope of another reward. None was forthcoming, so he put them on again, whereupon Fr. Gerard gave him some more money. This happened several times, until the jailer finally understood that Fr. Gerard was happier when defying his culture than when defying his God.

May I suggest that we all reread St. Paul’s letter to the Catholic community at Ephesus, which was apparently struggling with some of these same temptations. Here is how St. Paul—from prison—conveys the authentic Christian response in Ephesians 4:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called…. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all….
And his gifts were…for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles….
Now this I affirm and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; they are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart; they have become callous and have given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of uncleanness. You did not so learn Christ!

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: rpp - Oct. 08, 2012 5:35 PM ET USA

    Apparently the Episcopalian "bishop" Andrus was frozen out of the installation ceremony for good Archbishop Cordileone. As if he could not see that coming. http://bishopmarc.typepad.com/blog/2012/10/a-post-to-clarify-my-experience-at-the-installation-of-archbishop-cordileone-at-st-marys-cathedral-san-francisco-i-was-dr.html

  • Posted by: Defender - Oct. 07, 2012 2:07 AM ET USA

    Do not the bishops also bear a great moral responsiblity to protect the Faith during this election? Why are Catholic colleges allowed to continue to hide behind "academic freedom" as a means to assail the Magisterium? Why are Catholic politicians allowed to publicly robe themselves in the Faith while undermining it? Not one bishop has taken action against a school or politician, so why should the laity listen?

  • Posted by: jamesbell431857 - Oct. 05, 2012 4:23 PM ET USA

    When I pointed out in the comments to that letter yesterday that it is clericalist to oppose preaching the Gospel but to support instead Bishops deciding matters of prudential judgment, the Bishop deleted my comment along with all the others and disabled comments on the letter. Go figure.

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