As I write this, we’re in the middle of Confirmation season, and while the schedule is demanding, it’s also interesting and enjoyable to travel around the Diocese to visit our parishes to confer the holy sacrament.
One of the practices that a few parishes still follow is to have the Confirmation candidates write letters to the bishops. Typically, the students will introduce themselves, tell us why they want to be confirmed and describe their preparation for the sacrament. Sometimes they write about their choice of sponsors and Confirmation name. And on occasion they’ll offer some personal comments as well.
For example, in one letter I received recently, a student wrote: “I am also an avid Jets fan and understand your struggles living in Patriots Nation being a Steelers fan.” His insight is accurate and his compassion appreciated. (Although as a Jets fan he needs a lot more compassion than I do!)
But, in reflecting on the young man’s comment, it struck me that it serves as an apt analogy of what it’s like being a faithful Catholic living in a very secular, post-Christian world today: we are few in number, our values are different, and we’re often met with ridicule and rejection.
Just about all of us grew up in an age when certain values were clear and some principles immutable. Hence, human beings were male or female; babies were precious; marriage was between a man and a woman; obscene language was relegated to the locker room; and it was normal to believe in God and go to church on Sunday.
Today in our culture it seems that everything is up for grabs. There are no unchanging truths, and what seemed good and normal just a few years ago is now deemed antiquated and incorrect, even bigoted and evil.
And so, for example, the quite obvious distinction between male and female has been obliterated and “transgendered” folks are popping up everywhere. Adults, teens and even little kids are placing themselves (or being placed by parents) along an amorphous, fluid gender spectrum, claiming an identity they were not born with. And the consequences for society are far more profound than the question of which bathroom to use. Pope Francis has said that we need to accept our bodies as they were created lest we think we have power over all creation. The Pope is right!
In the past babies were welcomed as a wonderful addition to the family, a true blessing from God. Now, all too often, children are viewed as an unplanned burden, an obstacle to personal freedom, a cost center to be calculated in the family budget. And worse, of course, is the widespread destruction of unborn children in the cruel and violent act of abortion, a grievous sin against God and a blight on our society.
There has been an aggressive and successful attempt to redefine the venerable institution of marriage too. No longer a creative, complementary union of man and woman designed to bring new life to the world, it has morphed into the legally sanctioned union of just about any two people who’ve come together for any number of reasons. The very clear intention of the Creator, confirmed unambiguously by Jesus, that marriage is a union of one man and one woman for very specific purposes has been deleted as easily as an errant sentence from a computer screen.
There was a time when vulgar and obscene language was never spoken in public, and certainly not in the presence of women and children. Now it seems that no post-game interview with an angry athlete, or Hollywood awards acceptance speech, or anti-Trump rally, or internet rant, is complete without the use of the so-called “f-bomb.” Children are learning it at home and using it in school. Or vice-versa. And, by the way, religious leaders aren’t spared the poison pen either. I recently received an angry Facebook post from a local community organizer that described me as a “_______ bishop, a geriatric pederast.” If one measure of our culture is the quality of our speech, we’re in a heap of trouble.
And finally, not too long ago, Sunday was widely observed as the Lord’s Day. Most people didn’t work, families spent time together at home, and the majority of Catholics went to church every Sunday. Now, just about every store is open, people work and shop, and Sunday school has been replaced by soccer games. Even in the most active of Catholic families, Sunday Mass is an option, a benevolent favor granted to God, not a serious spiritual obligation to be fulfilled.
How has the world changed so much, so quickly? How have we gotten to this point?
I apologize if this litany has become rather depressing, and maybe it’s just a sign that I’ve become a “geriatric pessimist.” Nonetheless, it really is the sad state of affairs in which we’re living today.
It’s true – as faithful, practicing Catholics, we’re like Steelers fans living in Patriots Nation, or Bradyland, as I call it. We shouldn’t get discouraged, though, or give up. We Christians have valuable contributions to make to our decadent society. The world needs us. We just have to follow the words of St. Paul and be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” (Phil 2:15)
But back to those Confirmation letters. Another young man wrote: “I like to play basketball and also enjoy it when the Patriots beat the Steelers – with a fully inflated ball.”