Part Two: A Clash of Freedoms
Deacon Keith A Fournier
(c) Third Millennium, LLC
I just returned from Sunday Mass on this Feast of Peter and Paul, Apostles. The visiting priest was a delightful man. He just celebrated his fiftieth anniversary as a priest and a Glenmary Missioner this past year. His countenance and his message were a refreshing breath of fresh air. Still faithful and still in love with the same Jesus who had captured his heart as a young man and prompted him to say yes to Holy orders as a celibate priest, he filled the sanctuary with his joy.
He knew then what every man or woman who hears the call to consecrated celibacy should know. Those who are called to remain celibate "for the Gospel" are forsaking something good, marriage, for something prophetic and beautiful, marriage to Christ and His Church. After fifty faithful years this priest is still in love with both. Given our current crisis, he was a reminder of what is good with the Church!
He is stationed in the outer edges of the western part of my Diocese and pastors two small mission churches. Filled with the hope that characterizes a Christian who has a deep prayer life, he told us that his community had "doubled in size" since he accepted the assignment, making it "the fastest growing Church in our Diocese". He then went on to explain that the parish began with eight members and now has sixteen!
The point was humorous but also profound. The fact is, the numbers did not really matter. The faithful preaching of the Good News of the Catholic Christian faith and this wonderful humble servant's authentic witness of being configured to Christ the High Priest, was, as it was in the time of Peter and Paul, "turning the world upside down" (See, Acts of the Apostles 17:6).
Throughout his homily, this humble servant repeatedly reminded all who had gathered for the Eucharist, that by virtue of our Baptism we are all missionaries.
So we are.
The mission we face in our day is the very same mission that the great Apostles Peter and Paul undertook. We continue the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ on the earth as members of His Body. This mission has not and will not change. So too, the world that we are sent into has not really changed all that much either.
I write the second of these installments in this article "A Clash of Freedoms" intentionally using my clerical title, "Deacon", because I want to make a statement. My assessments of the legal implications of the decision in Lawrence v Texas, set forth in "Part One" of the article, were made as a constitutional lawyer.
This bleak assessment was not intended to imply that I do not have hope! To the contrary, I am filled with hope. It was simply offered as realistic legal analysis. It was also a missionary assessment. How can we be effective in our mission if we do not understand the turf? Some would say we are living in a "post-Christian" age. I choose instead to say we are living in a "pre-Christian" age.
The culture into which we have been sent is one that resembles more the ancient Rome into which the great Apostles and missionaries of the first millennium were sent than we perhaps realized. It is time to accept the fact that some of the vestiges of Jewish and Christian influence in the West, even in our beloved America, are now minimal in their impact. This is not necessarily the case in the lives of the ordinary folk, but in some of our institutions, infected as they are with the "isms" of a new contemporary pagan philosophy and worldview.
We are the missionaries to the Third Christian Millennium, now sent to "turn the world upside down" with our message.
I think a mistake we sometimes make is to think that we have a legal structure that actually favors our message. I have practiced law for twenty three years. I know better. Much of my career has been in the trenches of the most important human rights struggle of our age, the first freedom, the freedom to be born and the inalienable right to life. I have also championed religious freedom, standing on behalf of those who, because of their deeply held religious faith, suffer the brunt of hostility. The current judicial climate is not conducive to our cause.
The same mistake has all too often been made as it pertains to the field of politics. If there really ever was a strong Christian influence in America, I am not sure there is now. If so, why have we had unrestricted abortion on demand since 1973? Oh, I believe we have turned the corner on that issue in public opinion as medical science has confirmed what we all knew, that the child in the womb is our neighbor.
However, the profane notion that the "freedom to choose" means the freedom to take innocent life is entrenched in our political rhetoric as well as in our judicial decisions. If the "religious right" had made so many advances, where are the fruits?
Though there are some wonderful people in elected offices and on the judicial bench, the situation is not what some of our friends seem to think- especially, those Christians who have equated political labels such as "conservative" with the Christian influence on our culture. Our missionary task is first and always about conversion not conservatism. After all, the judicial decision at issue, Lawrence v Texas, "conserved" the status quo of current jurisprudence. In that sense it is "conservative" isn't it? The problem is that the "status quo" needs to be changed. This horrendous Court decision simply applied the "Equal Protection" analysis, developed in Roe v Wade, in another field of "choice".
The same newspapers that I referred to in my first installment of this article are also filled with a myriad of articles in which "conservatives" express their dismay over the Courts opinions this term. Several of these Court observers and policy activists cited were Christians. They sounded like the boxer who thought they had trained so well for the fight only to be surprised by a right hook.
The current cultural situation we face as Christians in America is not an unfamiliar one - if we look at it in terms of Christian history. I do not care how "scientifically advanced" we think we have become, or how "modern" the issues purport to be, we humans do not really change all that much without grace. The struggle we are engaged in still concerns a clash of world views, personal and corporate, and competing definitions of freedom.
The early Church of Peter and Paul, was sent into cultures filled with people who thought they were extremely "advanced" in light of the arts and sciences of their day. Yet, they practiced primitive forms of abortion and even "exposure", a practice of leaving unwanted children on rocks to be eaten by birds of prey or picked up by slave traders. To them, freedom was rooted in a notion of power over others and the right to do as they chose.
One has only to read the ancient Christian manuscripts such as the Didache (the Teaching of the Twelve) or the accounts of Justin Martyr or other early sources to read of cultures not unlike the one in which we live today, cultures of "use" where people were treated as property - cultures of excess where "freedom" was perceived as a power over others and unrestrained license masqueraded as liberty.
It was into these cultures that the early Christians were sent. Many of them, like Justin Martyr, shed their own blood to win these early "converts" to the Christian faith. In A.D. 151, knowing that he would probably be killed, Justin marched right back into Pagan Rome and engaged the debate of his day, setting up a school to train Christians to engage the intellectuals and propertied classes of pagan Rome in dialogue about the meaning and purpose of life.
He and countless other early Christians like him knew that all men and women were made by God and endowed with His Image. They believed, as do we, that because of sin and concupiscence, men and women are often chained to lives of desperate self centeredness that never fulfills. They believed, as do we, that only the One who is "The Way, the Truth and the Life" offered a way out of this kind of bondage and a new way of life that brought true freedom, human fulfillment and meaning.
These early Christians did not point the finger and rail against the "pagans" of their age. They did not present a "negative" message. They proclaimed the freedom found in Jesus Christ to all who would listen and demonstrated it in their compelling witness of life. They lived in monogamous marriages, raised their children to be faithful Christians and good citizens, and went into the world of their age, offering a new way to live. This "way" (which is what they first called the early Church) presented a very different world view than the one that the pagans embraced.
The word "pagan" was not used as a disparaging term, but actually represented a pseudo-"religious" world view. I use it the same way. Many of the "gods" and goddesses" of this world view promoted these lives of selfish excess, homosexual practices, and hedonism masquerading as freedom. In fact the myths concerning them had them acting in much the same way. They have been reintroduced today only the myths and statues are different.
These early Christians, with joy and integrity, spoke and lived a different way in the midst of that pagan culture. As a result, they sometimes stirred up hostility. Some of them were martyred in the red martyrdom of shed blood. Countless more joined the train of what use to be called "white martyrdom", by living lives of sacrificial witness and service in the culture, working hard and staying faithful to the end of along life spent in missionary toil.
Eventually, the Christians became esteemed by those who had once hated them, having been threatened by their lifestyle. For example, unhappy pagan men began to desire to marry Christian women, because they wanted the stability that a monogamous marriage could bring to them and to the children they longed to have. Most importantly however, the living God that these Christians proclaimed, the One whose Son, whom they claimed was the Messiah of the whole world, promised these ancient pagans the elusive freedom that they had longed for. Their lives of excess and their counterfeit claims of freedom had not filled the hole in their soul. He still proclaimed, through His followers, to all who would listen, "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free." They heard--and witnessed--the truth of that message and they were converted.
Slowly, not only were small numbers of "pagans" converted and baptized, but eventually their leaders and entire Nations followed suit. Resultantly, the Christian worldview began to influence the social order. The "clash of freedoms" continued, but the climate changed significantly. It was the Christian faith and the practices of these Christians that began to win the hearts of men and women. The cultures once enshrined to pagan practices, such as plural marriage, homosexuality, exposure and abortion began to change dramatically and this dynamic continued for centuries.
It was Christianity that taught such novel concepts as the dignity of every person and their equality before the One God. The Christians proclaimed the dignity of women, the dignity of chaste marriage and the sanctity of the family. It was Christianity that introduced the understanding of freedom not simply as a freedom from, but as a freedom for living responsibly and with integrity.
The Christians insisted that freedom must be exercised with reference to a moral code, a law higher than the emperor, or the sifting sands of public opinion. It was the Christians who understood that choice, rightly exercised, meant always choosing what was right and that the freedom to exercise that choice brought with it an obligation and concern for the other.
Their faith presented a coherent and compelling answer to the existential questions that plagued the ancients, such as why we existed and how we got here. What was the purpose of life? Questions like how evil came into the world and why we could not always make right choices? What force seemed to move us toward evil and how we could be set free from its power? Christian philosophy began to flourish and the arts also flourished under the Christian worldview. Philosophies of government and economic theory began to be influenced by these principles derived from a Christian worldview,
The Jesus whom these early Christians preached offered a new way of living and loving. Increasing numbers of pagans rejected the pagan philosophies and lifestyles and embraced this new enlightened way. Some of the early Church manuals used to "catechize" these new converts by presenting the Gospel and the Christian faith as the way of light and contrast it with the way of darkness.
Back to the Future
So it can and will be again in the Third Millennium, if we make the choice to give ourselves to the Lord as missionaries for this age.
On a certain basic level, all that we are witnessing in our contemporary age is the re-emergence of paganism. Some call it a "new" paganism. I am not sure there is really anything new about it at all. Partly, it is re-emerging because we Christians have not lived, nor fully demonstrated, the wonderfully "Good News" (which is what the word Gospel means) of the Christian faith.
Our influence has waned, in some instances; because of our own failure to be faithful to the missionary call. Christianity and the Christian world view are not outdated. Jesus Christ is the same, "yesterday, today and forever"
What we need more than anything else today is a new missionary age and new missionaries - men, women, children, families, lay faithful, clergy, in every walk of life and profession, living the full Christian life. We also need to develop what I have begun to call a new "freedomism."
By that term I refer to a new Christian intellectual argument and philosophy that confronts the counterfeit notion of freedom that permeates the culture and re-presents the classical Christian worldview to the contemporary challenges across the entire spectrum of culture.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not giving up the struggle to engage and transform the culture by active engagement. We must be faithful citizens, run for office, and never give up our struggles in the courtroom, the classroom, or the marketplace of commerce, all for the common good. Our social and cultural mission is not an option. It lies at the heart of what it means to be "leaven", "light", "salt" and the "soul of the world" as the early Christians taught.
However, we need to realize that the task we face is first, at root, a spiritual struggle that will only be won in prayer, and through the faithful, positive witness of a vibrant, orthodox, faithful Christianity that is culturally engaging and compelling to the new pagan of our age.
The "clash of freedoms" will be won again by truth and the witness of Love, revealed in the stretched out arms of the One who, in the words of the Apostle Paul "though He was in the form of God did not count equality with God something to be grasped but emptied Himself..." (See, Philippians 2).
We who follow Jesus Christ, timeless yet still redeeming time, are now called to "empty" ourselves and carry on His redemptive mission by building a new culture of life and civilization of love in our day.
The world waits.
Deacon Keith Fournier is a Catholic Deacon and the Editor in Chief of Catholic Online. He is also the President of the Your Catholic Voice Foundation.
Your Catholic Voice is a movement to promote faithful citizenship based on the fundamental truths of the Catholic Church relating to Life, Family, Freedom and Solidarity. For information go to Your Catholic Voice http://www.yourcatholicvoice.org
Your Catholic Voice Foundation
http://www.ycvf.org VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - President, 757 546-9580
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