Today, like every Sunday, we gather together to celebrate the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith. In the Eucharist we celebrate that universal unity we share as a Catholic Church praying with and for all members of our Church throughout the world. We pray also for all Christians, and even for those who do not yet believe in Christ. This past week we also celebrated our freedom and unity as a nation remembering the freedoms and liberties won for us by the lives of our ancestors.
But in all this celebration of freedoms, and unity, today’s readings speak about disunity and rejection. As a prophet, Ezekiel was rejected by many of his countrymen. They found his message too challenging and chose not to listen to the truth he proclaimed. Paul, too, was rejected by many of the Jewish people. This is because he once persecuted the Christians, as well as anyone who did not live according to the letter of the Jewish law. After his conversion, he came to see the light of truth in Jesus Christ and became the foremost defender of this truth giving to the church some of our greatest writings on faith in the form of his letters to Rome, Corinth, Philippi, Ephesus, and the various other Gentiles cities he visited.
Jesus also experienced the rejection of his townsfolk and family. They found him “too much for them.” There was no way he could be a prophet, after all, he was just an uneducated carpenter. Even his birth was questionable to them for they did not identify him as the son of Joseph, as was the custom of the time. Instead they identified him as the son of Mary.
If we truly choose to live the faith passed down to us by the apostles and their successors, then we too can expect rejection. This was the case in the early church. Those first Christians were baptized into the church and out of their culture. For them, baptism was both a religious ritual and a political act. Christians were killed because they were counter-cultural. They would not offer sacrifice to dead emperors or fight in foreign wars or perpetuate the bias against the poor. Those first Christians were considered enemies of the state.
Today Christianity has been embraced, for the most part, by the entire Western world. As we celebrate the 236th anniversary of our nation’s independence we can celebrate the fact that we still have religious freedom in this nation. No one is going to kill us for being a Christian. The church is a respectable institution in this country. Even so, there is an increasingly vocal minority of people in this nation who are generally anti-Christian, many of whom are specifically anti-Catholic.
They have been given a powerful voice in the secular media which in so many ways has abandoned many of the ethical journalism principles of truth and fairness in reporting just for the sake of getting better ratings. Stories against Christians are distorted and sensationalized, while daily we are fed a diet of falsehood and immoral values. The existence of God is questioned and those who believe are ridiculed for following “antiquated teachings” of past illiterate superstitious people.
Christians are labeled as intolerant bigots. The fact of the matter is that those who are shouting the loudest are those who are the least tolerant and accepting. Anyone who does not agree with their particular philosophy or lifestyle is labeled as intolerant and prejudiced.
We live in a day and age that has embraced the belief that each individual person is the final authority of truth. This has resulted in a moral relativism in which anyone can do anything he or she wishes with no apparent consequences. Because of this many people have embraced values and lifestyles that have led them on a path of self-destruction. This has resulted in a marked increase in depression, as well as a lack of commitment to family and community. This has contributed so significantly to the decline of the family that today in America only 49 percent of all adults are married. That compares to 85 percent in the 1960s. What we now have is a society in which so many people have no hope.
If there is no hope then it is no wonder that a growing number of teenagers in this society genuinely believe they will not live very long.[i] Contrary to the popular thought that teenagers have a sort of immortality complex, nearly 20% of teenagers believe they are going to die young. This lack of hope, this fatalistic attitude among teens, is manifesting itself in self-destructive behaviors and even and increase in teen suicide.
This is further fueled by the secular media’s fascination with violence and apocalyptic entertainment. WWF is not very far removed from the ancient gladiatorial contests in which contestants fought to their death. Popular movies and video games are focusing on the destruction of the world. At the very same time that people are rejecting Christ and his teachings on eternal life there has developed a fascination with death and the eternally “undead” as portrayed in the huge number of vampire movies being filmed today. All of this is simply evidence of people either rejecting or at least being ignorant of the truth.
But we Christians have a response to this. We Christians have the obligation of proclaiming the gospel of truth. In an age where “anything goes” seems to be the standard by which people live their lives, we Christians need to model to others that there is another way. There is absolute truth — there are standards by which we are to live our lives. This truth is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ and in the teachings of our faith. When it comes to matters of faith, the truth is not negotiable. The truth is something which is to be held sacred in our lives, and upheld by our own words and actions. In a world where truth is being obscured by the opinions and lies of so many people, we need to listen to the Bishops of the Church as they lead us in the ways of our moral teachings. This is the only certitude we have of knowing that we are following the way of truth.
As our Lord said, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). When we live the truth that Christ has revealed to us we will experience a freedom which gives us hope.
Like those first Christians, we were baptized into the body of Christ. Unlike them, our culture does hold the principle of religious freedom. On this Independence Day weekend, as we celebrate the freedoms won for us by our founding ancestors, let us remember also to pray and continue to fight for those freedoms which they held so dear; freedom from oppression and tyranny; freedom of religion and speech. Freedom to be what God has called us to be, his beloved sons and daughters filled with the hope and guided by the light of truth.
[i] “Study: Many teens expect to die young,” Section B, Pg B2, Fargo Forum, June 20, 2009