Monday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
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By Benedict Augustine
“For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame
the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather of power and love and self-control.
So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord,
nor of me, a prisoner for his sake;
but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel
with the strength that comes from God.”
A couple of weeks ago, three million people assembled in Paris in solidarity with the murdered cartoonists of the magazine Charlie Hebdo. A few weeks before that, crowds gathered for Eric Garner, a man killed by a police officer in New York. A few weeks before crowds protested, and then rioted, after shooting of Michael Brown in Furgeson, Missouri. In the first case, the people rallied behind bawdy cartoonists who celebrated their freedom of expression with obscenities and blasphemy. In the second case, people were chanting to kill cops because a man selling cigarettes illegally died from the officer’s excessive use of force. In the third case, people vandalized a whole neighborhood for a thug who robbed a cigar store and resisted arrest. The principles animating the people to cry out may have been mixed, but the anger, the energy, was there.
If only the people showed so much vitriol and anger for the widespread massacring of Christians not only in the Middle East, but all over the world. If only people truly spoke out and acted against the repeated kidnapping, human trafficking, and regular ransacking of Boko Haram in Nigeria instead of putting up a feeble online campaign consisting of posting selfies with signs saying, “Save our girls.” If only the world could voice their support with brutally oppressed Tibetans and North Koreans who suffer at the hands of their own government by the thousands; rather, a stupid movie is produced—released only after so much hesitation and hand-wringing—and that is the West’s response to dictators.
As far as global problems go, it seems apparent that the clearer and worse the injustice, the more muddled and absurd is the call for action. People express their disapproval in the safety of numbers, the safety of internet anonymity, the safety of false narratives. In those decisive moments that demand real change, nothing happens: the evil doers continue doing their dirty work. No other word can describe this behavior except cowardice.
Terrorism, police brutality, and racial inequality deserve attention, as do wide-scale religious persecution, widespread criminality, and oppressive tyrannies. However, as Paul notes, not only do these issues of injustice demand attention, they demand a response of “power and love and self-control.” Protests with mixed intentions and false narratives lack love and self-control while those with good intentions frequently lack power. Christian courage requires a recognition of truth, dignified and coherent protest and counteraction, and a commitment to help those in need. Timothy and Titus, whose feast day is today, acted out this kind of courage in their preaching.
By its fallen nature, the world necessitates courage from Christians. Jesus’ exorcism of demons models what Christians should do today: call out Evil and remove it. The developed world today has the materials means to eliminate evil, but it does not have the spiritual means. In fact, the developed world would rather collude with the corrupted elements of impoverished areas than reform it in any significant way. In this situation, Christians need to stand apart. They need to give all they can to the heroes, the soldiers, the social workers, and the missionaries who combat these problems; in turn, they need to refuse as much as they can to the celebrities, politicians, and businessmen who profit from these problems; and at all times, they need to continue speaking out instead of shrugging off these things as necessary evils.
Besides supporting the heroes, which serves as a first step in courage, Christians need to become the heroes; they need to become saints. Saints distinguish themselves with their willingness to do the right thing in the worst circumstances. They speak out against abortion at their reception of the Nobel Peace Prize (Blessed Mother Theresa). They denounce tyranny and state-worship in a country caught its throes (St. John Paul II). They explain the clear menace of contraception in the chaos of social and cultural upheaval (Blessed Paul VI). They generously sacrifice themselves for their neighbor at the hands of cruel Fascists (St. Maximilian Kolbe). They dismantle and and identify decadence in a popular philosophy that has taken hold of the world’s intelligentsia (St. Pius X). These saints have courage, but they are relatively few; their foes, who still haunt today’s world and even today’s Church, have no courage, but they are many.
Fortunately, Jesus empowers his disciples to face these demons. The disciples just need to accept this power, this grace, to do this. Those who shy away from the task of confronting spiritual evil, who pretend it does not exist, do not receive this power. They become slaves to sin and add to the legions of Satan, possessed with indifference and mealymouthed equivocation. They risk committing the unforgivable sin of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit: they live and die refusing God’s salvation through Jesus Christ (see St. John Paul II’s encyclical, “Dominum et Vivificantum”). Many blaspheme this way because of temptation, but more do it out of fear.
Therefore, the Church must unite with the saints, and her members must join their ranks.“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand,” warns Jesus. Heedless of this warning, the spirit of evil divides its followers, giving an opportunity to Catholics to stymie its progress and restore sanity to the world. Jesus and His disciples started this work; Paul and his associates followed their example; and Catholics today must continue onward. It will require courage, but as in all things, the Lord will provide.