Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
While on mission in quite possibly the most morally corrupt city in ancient Greece, Corinth, Paul receives encouragement from the Lord, “Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you.” Why does Paul need divine encouragement? After leaving Athens, the apostle takes the gospel to the Jews of Corinth. He was not well received, “When they opposed him and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, 'Your blood be on your heads! I am clear of responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.'” Thus, the need for the Lord's protection. What's intriguing about this promise of protection is the implicit connection the Lord makes between fear and silence. Fear compels silence. Fear makes silence in the face of injustice seem prudent, seem reasonable and even necessary. Paul is reviled for his preaching. And his opponents in Corinth use very means but murder to silence him. When the Lord commands, “Do not be afraid. . .do not be silent,” He is telling Paul that courage in the face of opposition means telling the Truth. When we tell the Truth, the Lord is with us. Now is the time to tell the truth of the Good News.
In response to recent attempts by the current federal administration to define religious liberty out of existence, the U.S. bishops issued a statement titled, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty. In this statement the bishops write, “We need. . .to speak frankly with each other when our freedoms are threatened. Now is such a time. . .be on guard, for religious liberty is under attack, both at home and abroad.” The bishops quote our Holy Father, Benedict XVI, for support: “. . .efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection. . .with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. . .[and] to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.” You know that the Church's defense of religious liberty has resulted in increased opposition, including public revilement from the media; belittling, defaming accusations from political and religious leaders and celebrities; traitorous behavior from a few of our fellow Catholics; and even vandalism against church property and violence against individuals. Those who oppose our right to preach and practice the Good News hope to intimidate us into silence. And if we allow fear to govern our hearts and minds, we will be silenced. However, if we tell the Truth, the Lord is with us.
How do we tell the Truth to a world rallied against the Truth? The first rule is absolute: we must never lie. Not in the service of a “greater good;” not to win a small victory or a large one; not even when lying would “save lives.” If we tell the Truth, the Lord is with us. The second rule: the world is our enemy, not those who serve the world. The men and women who serve the world—whether they do so out of ignorance or informed choice—are freely loved creatures of a loving God, and they will not be freed from the world by our hatred or scorn. They must see and hear from us the love that our Lord has for them. The third rule: we cannot be silent b/c silence means that we are afraid. How can we be afraid? If we walk with the Lord, seeking His righteousness, then we know that His victory is complete. The ruler of this world was defeated on Easter morning 2,000 years ago. Our Lord says to us, “I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” There is no politician, no media personality, or prison guard who can steal our joy when we tell the truth, and the Lord is with us.
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