In 1989, the late Fr. Mike Scanlan wrote a book entitled, The Truth About Trouble. It’s great book, and if you can find a copy, I’d highly recommend it. In one of the chapters of the book (“The Hedge is Down — the Stronghold Invaded”), Fr. Mike relates a story about their monastery in Steubenville, OH, and the difficulty they had with the lack of privacy in the yard. The area was inaccessible on three sides, but the fourth was wide open, and subsequently they would have wild dogs, young couples, and curious visitors wandering through the property. The problem resolved when the superior of the house ordered a hedge. The peace and quiet of the yard was preserved until the day came when a new superior ordered the unsightly hedge to come down. Within days, all the disturbing traffic was back.
Fr. Mike told the story to make a point. In the 1950’s and early 60’s, we still had a hedge that preserved public morality and protected Christians in the practice of their faith. It was his opinion, and I agree, that this hedge had come down. The years that followed had brought abortion, shameless greed, sexual immorality, tolerance of pornography, the breakdown of the family, and exploitation of the poor. Even worse, Christians who should know better — who should know the difference between right and wrong — were becoming confused. It’s now nearly thirty years later. Has the situation improved? Not only has it not improved, it’s gotten worse.
Not too long ago, we had legislation that would have taken away conscientious objection to participating in abortion, euthanasia, or any other procedure the government would have thought acceptable (Freedom of Choice Act). We’ve seen the ACA mandate for organizations to provide birth control, Catholic institutions (e.g. Catholic Charities) being forced to drop social services because they refuse to participate in immoral behavior, and the endorsement of gay unions as marriage and the subsequent persecution of people who stand up for sacramental marriage.
Today, no Christian who openly lives his or her faith is immune from attack. The thin veil of “tolerance” is disappearing. If you speak for the right to life of an unborn child, preserving life until natural death, etc. you’ll be called a person who hates . . . (fill in the blank), giving justification for others to issue threats, blast you with profanity, and even hurt you. In some countries, an accusation of blasphemy can result in imprisonment, loss of property, and even death.
So what are the followers of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, supposed to do? In some places, the persecution is so vicious that Christians cannot openly worship or speak of Christ. That’s not true in the USA, although the pressure is on to lock believers into their churches and deny them access to the public square.
I think the answer can be found in the Gospel for today from Matt. 5:13-16. Jesus told those listening to be the salt of the earth, a city on a hill, and the light of the world. This is not a call to passivity or to becoming secret-agent Christians. It means that when we’re slapped on one cheek, we offer the other. Where there is darkness, we will bring light. When no one wants to step up to help, we’ll be the one. And if we encounter someone who needs to hear about Jesus, we’ll tell them. Darkness will continue to crowd us and try to cover us, and we must courageously refuse to give in to deceit, division, or discouragement. Be light in the dark places! Our light must shine before others, that they may see our good deeds and glorify our heavenly Father.