Because he would not permit same-sex marriages in his diocese, the Bishop was put into prison. The court appointed a secular committee to oversee the running of the diocese in his absence. They closed many parishes and schools and rewrote the Liturgy to “make it more inclusive and progressive.” When the Bishop later died in prison, his successor rallied his flock to return the diocese to Church guidance. This was met with protests and street demonstrations led by violent anti-Catholic groups. Three weeks into his leadership, the new Bishop was beaten to death as he tried to talk with a group of protestors outside a church. His death was the first of many, until churches and cathedrals only existed in the dreams and memories of a handful of the faithful. They met together in secret and taught the Gospel and the Catechism to their children. In three lifetimes, the Church once again emerged from the shadows and helped their country begin to find its way. It was a time when many saints were made by God to save the faith.
This hasn’t happened in America. Yet. But it may not be too far into our future. I based this little vision on something Francis Cardinal George of Chicago said in 2010. In an interview, he said: “I expect to die in my bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history.” The Cardinal may not have been speaking as a prophet, but it’s prudent that we pay heed to his words and consider what they might mean for our Church and our country.
Francis Cardinal George has seen the Catholic Church in America for the last seven decades. Born in 1937, he contracted polio at age 13. He was ordained in 1963 and has served the Church as priest, Bishop, and Cardinal since then. In 2006 he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer for which he received treatment. His resignation from Church office was accepted last year. Since then Cardinal George has lived quietly at his residence while receiving medical care. In the span of his one lifetime, the Cardinal has witnessed the Catholic Church in America go from being a highly-respected provider of education, health services and spiritual guidance with an abundance of priests serving growing parishes to…something else. Parish numbers and active priests have decreased, especially in northern states. The sex-abuse crisis has damaged the trust of many people. The secular press seems to make every effort to attack the Church. We see restrictions and impositions from the government regarding the free practice of our faith under the Affordable Health Care Act. Colleges and universities regularly restrict the activities of Christians on their campuses. Slowly but inexorably it’s becoming harder and harder to live our faith in the public arena. When you think about it, Cardinal George may be a prophet after all.
Today’s news comes from San Francisco, where many are up in arms about the Archbishop. His Excellency Salvatore Cordileone wants teachers in his Catholic schools to adhere to Catholic teaching. This means teaching what the Church has taught for centuries. Marriage is ordained by God as between one man and one woman. Abortion is a grave sin. Human life is sacred. Protestors want him removed due to his “outdated” beliefs. This Archbishop is standing his ground, but legal challenges are yet to be decided. Once again, the courts may intrude on the free practice of religion in America.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the Catholic Church in our country and elsewhere is under attack. But then the Church has always been under attack. The Roman Empire put Christians to death—and the Roman Empire fell. Catholics have been imprisoned and martyred for their faith for centuries. And yet the Church remains. We remain because of what Jesus promised to the Church He founded on St. Peter: “…the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”(Matthew 16:18). Christ is with us. Christ goes before us. The Church is His spotless and holy Bride. But the times we live in demand us to be watchful, faithful and prayerful. And kind. Many who attack the faith have never felt the charity of the faithful. We also have to vote in support of those who will respect freedom of religion. Know your faith. Love your faith. And put on the armor of God.
“Therefore put on the full armor of God so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…”