“By the grace of God…we’re ready…”
The following homily was delivered this past Sunday by Fr. Michael Geiger of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Crestline, Ohio. It was shared with us by parishioners and long-time CCL Teaching Couple Dennis and Rachel Rall, who reported that the message was received with a standing ovation. Father Geiger gave his permission to share his message “if it would help others.”
“Whoever loves his life loses it, whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”
What could Christ possibly mean when he tells us that we must first lose our life in order to gain it, and if we truly want to be his disciple, then we must also be prepared to be hated by this world? Don’t we all just want to be loved? Don’t we Catholics simply want to exclaim to the world: You like us, you really like us! Not so much.
Rarely has it been easy to be Catholic in this country. From the early colonies, English settlers were very hostile to those first Catholics joining them in the new world. Catholics were expected to keep to themselves, and were victims of outright hate and prejudice. Then came the age of the media, and we were treated to some positive images of priests and sisters – the Bing Crosby and Ingred Bergman variety who were idealized, but still positive. Soon after, we witnessed a Catholic Bishop, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, have a hit TV show. But then it happened: a Catholic would become president. President Kennedy was elected – and something changed.
It started with a speech that Kennedy gave to a group of Evangelical Christians in Texas, where he basically promised that his faith would not impact the way he led the country. Some believe this speech was a step forward; others believe it was a betrayal of his Faith and the ushering in of a new era/epiphany for Catholics: all we have to do is chuck our faith out the window if we wanted to be popular. Oh, we could still retain the cultural identification as Catholic, we just didn’t have to live any of it or publicly profess it. After all, don’t we want the world to like us, to really like us? Not so much.
Then, just off the heels of this so-called epiphany came what history refers to as the sexual revolution, which was anything but revolutionary. Many Catholics bought into the lie that we could contracept our way into a new and freeing existence with all the pleasure and none of the responsibility. Suddenly and tragically, children became an illness or disease to avoid, rather than a gift to behold. And when Pope Paul VI put out Humanae Vitae – the Church’s teaching on birth control — well, there we had it – black and white – just how out of touch the Church was – RIGHT?
Sadly – even many priests and sisters bought into this new ‘freedom’ mentality which did anything but lead to freedom. So in this effort to be liked – really liked by the world, what happened to the Church? I’ll tell you what happened: Catholics bolted from their faith – 65% of Catholics quit going to Church weekly, many stopped completely. We became cafeteria Catholics, choosing what teachings we liked — or that didn’t challenge our sins.
So what happened to the Church? Our convents emptied out, our seminaries became ghost towns, and the divorce rate increased exponentially. Surely the world would like us now – RIGHT?! And just about this time some clergy decided that this would be a good time to hand our detractors lots of ammunition (not to mention lots of money) and break their vows of celibacy, harming the most innocent souls entrusted to their care. Okay it was a small percentage of the clergy a – really small percent – but it was enough to do considerable damage to our children, to our trust – to the body of Christ. And while many Catholics were abandoning their faith it became common place to hear priests and religious publicly trashing the Pope or Church teachings .
But for those faithful Catholics – Clergy and lay alike – who decided to stick it out, the ones devoted to their faith – the attacks have been relentless. The more faithful we are, the more they hate us, they really hate us – and we should be happy about this. Really, Father Mike – happy? Truth be told, we shouldn’t want the world to like us or approve of us. We don’t need its stamp of approval because our Savior tells us time and time again that His Kingdom is not of this world. The entertainment industry will continue to portray all clergy and religious as idiots or sexual deviants. The media will continue to portray faithful Catholics as ignorant, intolerant, and hypocritical. Secular culture will continue to ridicule the Church as an outdated institution. And now, even our government is getting into the action, by stripping away our rights. SO WHAT!?
Our collective attitude should be: BRING IT! History shows that whenever we are persecuted is when we grow. When we take the moral high ground is when we prevail. When we are forced to defend our beliefs, faithful Catholics have risen time and again to the occasion. If this sounds defiant – remember the words of Christ, who tells us that TRUTH is TRUTH, and that if the world hates us, know that it hated him first. The Beatitudes honor those who are persecuted and curse those who are liked by the world. The Catholic who doesn’t see their faith as something worth dying for is the Catholic who doesn’t see their faith worth living for.
So to Hollywood – bring it on! To the liberal, intolerant, main-steam media – bring it! Government officials – hit us with your best shot! The Church came before you, we’ll be here long after you. We have outlasted every kingdom, empire, trend and sin that has tried to destroy us. We have survived every foolish self-inflicted wound with which we have struck ourselves. And why? We hold fast to the promise of Jesus who tells us the gates of hell will never prevail against us.
Holy Week is almost here, and we believe the tragedy of Good Friday will pave the way to the glory of Easter Sunday. Truth will always be truth, So BRING IT! By the grace of God, we’re ready…