It is often demanded of the Church today (both by non-Catholics and Catholics) that she ought to strive to fit in more, be kinder and gentler than in the past, and that her essential mission is merely to accept everyone and make sure they feel good about themselves. She ought to be more appealing and less “alienating” then her membership will increase. When the Church solemnly and unequivocally speaks on moral questions so is often criticized for being too harsh, or perhaps of being judgemental and intolerant, or out of touch with modern realities. In recent discussions on this very blog many critics of the Church’s positon on same-sex marriage have accused her of being “on the wrong side of history.”
But is this really the role of the Church? Is it really her role to to be with the times? Surely not, since she is the Bride of Chirst and also Body of Christ (for in this holy Marriage she and her spouse are one).
In the Gospel for today (the 5th Day of the Octave of Christmas) Simeon turns to Mary and says:
Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce)so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (Lk 2:34)
Simeon looked to Jesus and saw that he would be a sign of contradiction to many. Surely Jesus would not be the affirmer in chief but rather, as one who spoke the truthand feared no man, he would stand clearly and announce the truth without compromise. Some would love him and many would hate him, but no one could remain neutral. He would make us choose, tertium non datur (no third way is given).
And to the Church Christ said two very important things:
- If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. (John 15:18-21)
- Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.(Luke 6:26)
So, that world hates us is not necessarily due to the fact that we have done anything wrong. It is often a sign that we have done something precisely right for it is often our lot, as the Body of Christ, to be a “sign of contradiction.” That is to say that we must announce the Gospel to a world that is often and in increasing measure, stridently opposed to it. St. Paul admonished Timothy to preach the Gospel, whether in season or out of season (2 Tim 4:2). Increasingly now it is out of season and the world hates us for what we say. But we can do no other, for if we are faithful, we must speak.
Pope Paul VI said it so well in the very “out of season” encyclical Huamane Vitae:
It is to be anticipated that perhaps not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching. There is too much clamorous outcry against the voice of the Church, and this is intensified by modern means of communication. But it comes as no surprise to the Church that she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a “sign of contradiction.” She does not, because of this, evade the duty imposed on her of proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical. Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot be their arbiter—only their guardian and interpreter. It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful, since that, by its very nature, is always opposed to the true good of man. (H.V. # 18)
We in the Church must courageously accept our lot. Simeon spoke of it clearly in the beginning as he held the infant Christ (and thus the infant Church). And then, looking at Mary, who also represents the Church as mother and bride, he says. “A sword will pierce your heart too!” So the Church as Body of Christ and the Church as Bride and Mother cannot evade the fact that we will often be called to be a sign of contradiction. And we will often be required to suffer for our proclamation. The world will try and shame us, try to cause us to experience guilt through indignant outcries and labels such as: Rigid, backward, conservative, right wing, fundamentalist, homophobic, judgmental, intolerant, harsh, mean-spirited, hateful and so on. But do not be amazed and do not buy into the false guilt. Simply pray and accept the fact that the Church is a sign of contradiction and we must continue to address ourselves to the conscience of a world that seems bent on going morally insane. To this world our announcement of the Truthof Gospel must be courageous, clear, consistent, constant and quite often a sign of contradiction. This is our lot, we can do and be no other.