When Pope Benedict XVI first announced the Year of St. Paul, he said an astonishing thing. He exhorted all Christians to prepare for martyrdom — to be willing to die for the faith.
These weren’t extreme or idle words. In some parts of the world — the Middle East, Asia, some parts of Africa — martyrdom is not uncommon. In the West, we don’t expect to be called to martyrdom any time soon. But even here it is not unthinkable.
“Dear brothers and sisters, as in early times, today, too, Christ needs apostles ready to sacrifice themselves,” said Pope Benedict. “He needs witnesses and martyrs like St. Paul. Paul, a former violent persecutor of Christians, when he fell to the ground dazzled by the divine light on the road to Damascus, did not hesitate to change sides to the Crucified One, and followed him without second thoughts. He lived and worked for Christ; for him he suffered and died. How timely his example is today!”
The Internet is rife with crackpot conspiracy theories, exaggerated fears and crazy rumors. On one side, a set of ideologues will claim that their opponents are so bloodthirsty that they staged the terrorist attacks of 9/11 to justify wars. On the other side, a set of ideologues claim that there is an internationalist conspiracy to enslave millions of people in labor camps.
Those fears are unfounded and unhelpful.
But it would also be a mistake to ignore the real, serious signs of the times. Front-page stories in the Register have detailed some of them.
We think it highly unlikely that any of these will threaten Christians in America with the death penalty. But they could very well soon threaten all of us with a kind of martyrdom, a life profoundly at odds with the law.
The first has to do with a new morality that will not brook disagreement.
In this issue of the Register, we look at the case of Father Alphonse de Valk, a Toronto-based priest who is being investigated by the Canadian Human Rights Commission because he is the founding editor and publisher of a Catholic publication.
A homosexual activist complained to the commission that the publication was guilty of hate speech during Canada’s debate over same-sex “marriage.” The problem: The so-called “hate speech” included quotations from recent papal encyclicals and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
There is no such thing as moral neutrality. If homosexual “marriage” becomes the law of the land, it will necessarily put those who reject its legitimacy at odds with the law.
In an earlier column in the Register, Jennifer Roback Morse showed how this is already happening in the United States:
— The Archdiocese of Boston had to close down its adoption agency because it couldn’t in good conscience help same-sex couples adopt.
— A Methodist organization in New Jersey lost part of its tax-exempt status because it refused to allow two lesbian couples to use its facility for a civil-union ceremony.
— A wedding photographer in New Mexico faces a hearing with the state’s human rights Commission because she declined the business of a lesbian couple.
Thus, the rejection of traditional moral norms doesn’t represent a new freedom. It represents a new dictatorship. The new morality is profoundly anti-democratic. No one who favors homosexual “marriage” wants voters to be have a say in it, because whenever homosexual “marriage” is put to a vote, it is rejected. And once homosexual “marriage” is the law of the land, its supporters won’t be content with a live-and-let-live approach. All will have to submit.
California’s Supreme Court has foisted homosexual “marriage” on that state, directly against voters’ wishes. As the new morality is imposed on more and more people, more of us will be called upon to be living martyrs at least, suffering the consequences of disobedience to a law we consider unjust.
The new morality will bring many more moral doctrines that will be non-negotiable.
Also in this week’s issue of the Register, we look at the insistence by some that whether you are a man or a woman is entirely dependent on which “gender” you choose. A U.S. House committee began meeting recently to draft laws forcing employers to define a worker’s gender according to the worker’s whims.
National health-care insurance will bring its own pressures. Suddenly, lives will be as valuable as the federal government decides. If national health care passes, our tax money will pay for abortions and our hospitals will refuse to treat people too old or too sick to be deemed worth the cost.
Modern martyrdom most often has come at the hands of atheists who started out by proposing something noble — a just, fair and tolerant new world — and ended with horrors far greater than the worst crusader or inquisitor ever imagined.
The new boom of atheistic literature isn’t troubling. Quite the contrary. Just as Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great means we now have Father Thomas Williams’ Greater Than You Think, the vigorous academic challenges of atheists strengthen the Church.
But we should never let the world forget that what atheists propose is nothing new, and it has a record of horror.
Communists in the 20th century killed more people than the Church was ever even accused of killing. Killed were some 65 million (and counting) in China; 20 million in the Soviet Union, 2 million (and counting) in North Korea, 2 million in Cambodia, 1.7 million in Africa, 1.5 million in Afghanistan, 1 million in Vietnam, 1 million in communist Eastern Europe and 150,000 in Latin America.
Will American Catholics soon be killed in droves as these were? We doubt it. Then why raise the specter of martyrdom at all?
It’s worth raising for the same reason Pope Benedict raises it: It puts our whole Christian life in perspective. We aren’t living for this world only, but for the next. And as the world becomes increasingly antagonistic to us and our beliefs, and as the sacrificial demands of our way of life grow, it’s good to remember that what we’re asked to give isn’t all that much.
So many have been asked to give all.