Like many faithful Catholics, the resignation of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI left me feeling uncertain and deeply saddened. For a few days, I felt a little weepy and the wet, slushy weather fuelled my winter blahs.
With a heavy heart, I went to work each morning as a visiting nurse in the community. On one of my rounds, a patient struck up an unwelcome conversation. A non-Catholic, the person weighed in with unsolicited negative opinions about the Papacy, the outgoing Pope, and the Catholic Church.
“Oh, Lord,” I silently prayed, “I really don’t want to have this conversation today.”
In the nursing profession, we are taught to put the patients’ needs first. Our Standards of Practice instruct us to listen with empathy and to set our own beliefs and values aside so that we don’t make value judgements that might interfere with patient care. A professor in a mandatory Nursing Ethics course once told me to “leave [my] religion at home,” when I voiced my pro-life opinion in class. Canadian nurses don’t have Freedom of Conscience rights; it’s very clear that my religious beliefs are to be checked at the door when I leave for work in the morning.
As a conscientious professional, I am expected to do my job and move on, but the person was attacking my Church and making some very unkind and untruthful comments about my Pope. In defence of Holy Mother Church, I felt compelled to say something. With a quick, silent prayer to the Holy Spirit and with my heart pounding, I calmly and charitably addressed all the erroneous statements that were made. The person countered with more incorrect remarks which I addressed as best as I could. Eventually, the person began to ask questions seeking to clarify mistaken information and then the topic of conversation changed. The visit ended amicably, thank the Lord.
Unless we raise our families in completely segregated communities where we don’t engage at all with the rest of society, faithful Catholics, both young and old, will be subjected to negative comments and attitudes regarding our beliefs. It’s inescapable. Everything from life issues, large families, ordination of women, traditional marriage, clergy scandals, and celibacy is ammunition for those who want to attack the Church. Over the next few months we will most likely experience a surge in anti-Catholic sentiment as we adjust to a new Pontiff. How is a faithful Catholic supposed to respond?
Defending Holy Mother Church begins at home. It starts with families rooted in and strengthened by family prayer and parents who seek to build up the Domestic Church through well-formed education in the Church’s teachings and modelling a Catholic way of life. Children look to their parents as the prime example of how to engage in the world and if we openly love and defend the Church we will raise children who will most likely do the same. Unless we restrict all contact with the rest of the world, we can’t protect our children from anti-Catholic opinions. We need to give them the tools to defend Catholicism in truth and charity. We don’t undertake this responsibility by ourselves and so the support and assistance of other faithful, well-formed Catholics is invaluable. It takes a Catholic village to raise a Catholic child. When our kids become young, independent adults, there is a greater likelihood they too will be defenders of the Faith if they have learned to do so from an early age.
My twelve-year-old son stepped into the fray when he spoke out against abortion to a group of Catholic classmates who said they were in favour of it. He realized that they didn’t really know what they were saying and although he was subjected to ridicule, he felt that their statements needed to be addressed. In a Grade 10 religion class, another son corrected a teacher who obviously didn’t know her facts. In campus lecture halls, my university-aged children have defended the Catholic Church regardless of the response from other students and instructors. My children are ordinary, fun-loving kids with friends of various or no religious beliefs, but with God’s grace, they have learned that speaking up in a restrained, intelligent manner without condemnation is sometimes necessary. I’m sure you can add examples from your own experience.
“If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you” (Jn 15:19). We all know that we are to live in the world but not be of it and sometimes that involves some risk to reputation and career. Jesus’ teaching that we “cannot serve God and wealth” (Mt 6:10) is very evident when it becomes necessary to defend Catholic belief in a workplace setting. That’s why, with the grace of God, we learn to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mt 10:16) and we trust that the Holy Spirit “will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say” (Lk 12:12).
In a world that is pervasively secular, there is increasingly less acceptance of Christ’s Gospels and Catholic teachings. By His own reasons, the Lord has placed us in this time in the places and situations in which we are living. We are called to be witnesses where we are planted. This is not the time to remain silent in the face of insults and false statements. On the other hand, it is also not the time to be adversarial when faced with hostility. A composed, well-informed, respectful demeanour works best. Of course, our actions in society, whether at work or at play, have to reflect our Catholic Christian faith; above all, practice charity. In this Year of Faith, “it is the love of Christ that fills our hearts and impels us to evangelize” (Porta Fidei). “Caritas Christi urget nos” (2 Cor 5:14). Evangelization includes defending, with patience and love, Holy Mother Church.