Centuries ago, the Syrian Christian Tatian asked, “Why, men of Greece, do you want to cause society to come to blows with us? If I refuse to take part in some people’s normal activities, why should I be hated as if I were utterly loathsome? The emperor orders me to pay taxes; I am ready to pay. The nobleman commans me to serve and do service; I acknowledge my obligation.”1
Prejudices have not really changed since those days, and though in the “civilized” West we are no longer slaughtered by lions or cut down with swords for being Christians, the secular tongue is a sharp lash indeed.
I struggle with the ceaseless slander from all sides (bear with me, I’m newish). I confess that I am absolutely sick and tired of the secular world’s continual A-OK assault on Catholics in particular and Christians in general. Maybe I’m sick and tired of it because I said the same things for a long time. Maybe enduring the curses of the world is a sort of ironic penance.
Still, I wonder why people feel it is alright to absolutely trash your faith and your church and your God right to your face. Even your friends, at the end of the day, don’t seem to care about respecting you if it means having a chance to take a potshot at your faith.
Catholics who are reading this, do you experience this, too? Any Christians out there feeling bullied and pushed around even though you don’t talk about Christ or push Him on anyone?
Just the other day, I was unfortunately privy to an unwarranted tirade concerning the billions of dollars the Catholic Church has squirreled away; about abetting Nazis and helping in the Holocaust; and so on. He pulled all the standard jabs. Once in awhile, I hear the “all priests are pedophiles” thing along with rants on condoms. Then there are the random ad hominem attacks: the Pope looks evil, the Church hates women, hardy-har-har-har. If people know you’re Catholic, expect a dump truck full of awkward, rude, and bizarre questions, as well as some hateful and ignorant commentaries for good measure.
So, should a Catholic ignore this kind of venomous ranting? Walk away? Sit there and take it?
As someone who is barely able to manage the first rung of the ladder to heaven, let alone go an hour without failing in my Christian walk of life, every bone in my body wants to absolutely trash those who attack Christ and His Church. Having studied the rhetoric of Cicero and Tertullian with a kind of hero-worshipping glee, I have often fallen into employing sharp words against those who lambast the faith. I took a few jabs at the man mentioned above: I said that I know both sides of history, not just one skewed side; I also called him out on his hypocrisy for loving and supporting professional sports, wherein people playing a game are given millions while others starve and die. In essence, I said that he was an ignorant so-and-so, thus successfully failing in my witness to Christ. I did my best, but being human and prone to anger, I fell.
Again, what should we do? And what if this happens not just randomly but even in one’s workplace? Non-Catholics wouldn’t believe the questions and comments we receive. I have been asked to explain everything from the Church’s view on same-sex attraction, to the inspiration of the Scriptures, to why I pray the Rosary when “the Bible says not to.” It’s a tiring affair.
When it comes to the faith, one thing I have learned is that others, whatever their beliefs and stances, pull zero punches. Catholic Christianity, in the eyes of the secular world and even other religious folks (even other Christians!), warrants no compassion, no politeness or basic decency of conversation, no respect in the least. For someone like myself, and maybe you too, this is almost enraging. When I read the words of Tatian above, I felt like he was saying exactly what I regularly feel.
So let us turn to the Scriptures: What does Christ say? “If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you. If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:18-19).
Am I chosen out of the world? I don’t know sometimes. I suppose so, given my baptism, though I never presume upon God’s mercy. But maybe you are chosen out of the world, you who are currently reading this. And I have read that we are to delight in our sufferings, “For whom the Lord loveth, he chastiseth” (Heb 12:6). If we are angered by others’ attacks on our faith and lash out at them, then we are not living the the commands of Christ. I think it is entirely fine to defend the faith, but it must be done in charity, lest we succumb to the furious throat-cutting retorts of Tertullian. As Jean-Jacques Olier once wrote, “The Christian never gets angry. He endures everything without his heart ever changing. He never thinks that anyone pays any attention to him or intends to hurt him.”2
I think the bottom line is this:
Want to be Catholic? Learn to love and accept suffering. Christ was not exempt. Neither, as followers of Christ, are we.
1 - Address to the Greeks, 4
2 - Introduction to the Christian Life and Virtues, XI:9