Ever-increasing attacks on Church calling us to martyrdom

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Sunday night I returned home after spending several hours at the Cardinal Rigali Center with some of my fellow employees, where we had been working on our latest response to the HHS mandate. As I was walking into the house, I received a text message from a friend which read, "if you're in front of your television, turn on the Grammys...some woman is on an anti-Catholic rant."

After spending seven years working in various communications departments of the Archdiocese, where frequent, often daily, exposure to anti-Catholic rants is the norm, not the exception, I wasn't expecting to see anything that would surprise me.

I was wrong.

What I saw was one of the more disturbing displays of anti-Catholicism I've seen in a while. The artist, Nicki Minaj, was at the center of a hodge-podge of gyrating, habit-wearing dancers, women dressed as members of the College of Cardinals acting as thurifers, an older man dressed as a pope—if the pope purchased his garments from a costume shop, and leather-clad women straddling the shoulders of young men who were kneeling at prie-dieus. All of this action culminated in the mock exorcism of Miss Minaj.

If it hadn't been so offensive, it would have been embarrassing.

As the cheers and applause of those in attendance at the award ceremony streamed through the speakers of my television, I became acutely aware of my reaction to this latest attack on my faith. My reaction was different from any previous attack on my faith I had experienced in my life in that I was not just offended, I was angry.

The last several weeks have been an unbelievable and previously unimaginable experience of a blatant attack on American soil against freedom of conscience.

For some—Catholics and non-Catholics alike—this first shock comes from the effrontery of the current administration to attempt to eliminate one of the most fundamental rights an American citizen possesses, a right which our Constitution guarantees explicitly and a right for which innumerable brave souls have fought and died throughout the centuries. This first attack is waged against all religious persons and the Catholic Church specifically, forcing them to fund another's cultural preference of life style in violation of personal and religious conscience which holds to a firm moral principle.

The subtle persecution of religion has taken a turn.

A most visible and powerful response in opposition to this blatant attack on our religious freedom has come from our bishops and laity alike.

For the first time—certainly in my lifetime—we have bishops talking of martyrdom from the pulpit. What is more, these bishops are not talking of martyrs as something historical, something that the Church used to have. These bishops are talking of martyrdom as something that may come. They are talking of their own martyrdom. They are talking of the spilling of blood in defense of the faith—in defense of the Catholic faith. The reaction of these bishops has brought to mind the statement by Francis Cardinal George when he said, "I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square."

The just anger I felt last Sunday evening, viewing the insult to Jesus Christ in His Body the Church and to my own abiding faith, sprang, I believe, from the culmination of the anxiety and resentment I, and others have experienced in the wake of the HHS mandate. The open mocking of my faith as the disgusting display of Miss Minaj was transmitted into my home. On the other hand there was the fact that we have our bishops talking to us about defending our faith to their deaths. In his January 29th pastoral letter, Most Reverend Fabian Bruskewitz, Bishop of Lincoln stated, "...Like the martyrs of old, we must be prepared to accept suffering..." Our own Auxiliary Bishop-Emeritus, Most Reverend Robert Hermann, made mention in his February 5th homily that many Catholics will be reminded of the import and reality of their faith only after our bishops begin to be martyred.

We have the "Cardinal" red of our bishops which symbolizes their willingness to die for the Savior of the world. What is in the hearts and minds of these so-called entertainers and the laughing audience to mock my Lord and God! Perhaps the question is: what has died in their hearts and minds?

The mocking of the Catholic faith is nothing new. We must be sober and ever-vigilant, as we are wisely counseled in I Peter 5:8. Many of us have been silent in the subtle attacks against supernatural life; we must not be reticent or complacent in these blatant attacks.

Not every form of anti-Catholicism comes in the eradication of our rights or in a lascivious display in a public broadcast into millions of homes. Nowadays I believe there is a more polite version of anti-Catholicism to which many, if not most of us are exposed. You may have experienced it at a social event where, when the company you're with, eventually learns you are a Catholic, there is chiding and the unspoken expectation that you will in some way, be apologetic for being Catholic. There is an expectation that you will denounce your entire faith because of the hideous sins of some, or the belief that the Catholic Church is an antiquated institution, out of touch with its members.

In the messages we saw recently in the Catholics Come Home campaign we are reminded that we are the Church founded by the Son of God! We are the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church which has existed for over 2,000 years, educating the young, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry—in other words, doing just as Christ Himself instructed us. We are members of the Body of Christ, His Church. We have nothing for which we need be ashamed. We have much of which to be proud. We have much to defend.

We, the members of Christ's church on earth are the Church Militant, and as such we are obligated to both spread and defend the faith. Does that defense of the faith mean we will lose our lives? Not necessarily. Is defending our faith an easy task to undertake? Not always.

The second century Ecclesiastical writer Tertullian said, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." While it's important to denounce attacks on our religion, remember that martyrdom needn't always be red. We have seen in these recent days, our beliefs and those who would uphold them tested, tried, and mocked. We experience the words of Christ,"and if the world hates you, know that it hated me before you." (Jn. 15:18) come to fruition once again. We have seen those who believe and hold dear our one, true faith take the first steps as, perhaps, white martyrs, persecuted for our beliefs.

We know how our story ends. It ends with the Church Triumphant in heavenly glory, but what of the chapters until then? How much suffering and persecution will we experience? How many red martyrs will the Church gain? How many white martyrs?

What we must rely upon for now, in the face of these ever-increasing assaults, is our faith and our prayer. Without those, we are nothing. 

Westhoff is the director of marketing and mission awareness for the archdiocese.

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