You Do Not Belong to the World

“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.” 
 -John 15: 18-19
The last two days of the semester, I decided to discuss areas where the culture and the Church are at odds.  I knew this would result in a list of topics that often are discussed with passion and heat.  The areas where the Church has a politically incorrect stance that is unforgivable according to moderns.  Overall, the days went well, I believe.  My goal was not to incite riots, but to try to have them apply 12 years of Catholic education to what they will undoubtedly encounter in their secular lives.  
On the board they listed as many of the “controversies” they could think of and then we democratically narrowed them down to the top five.  The top five list varied greatly between the different class periods, but a recurring topic was gay marriage.  Then they brainstormed the common reasons our culture has for defending the stance it holds on these topics.  We narrowed this list of reasons down and I assigned one reason to each group, some reasons taken by a few groups.  In the groups they were supposed to come up with ideas for how the Church might respond to these specific reasons.  It wasn’t a matter of finding an encyclical or Catechism reference, but of applying what they’ve learned for years to specific questions and concerns.  I believe the idea is a great one (of course, I came up with it) but the method needs some creative tweaking.  
The different groups then tell the class how the Church might respond, we discuss a bit, and then move to the next topic.  It isn’t intended to be an exhaustive treatment of the topics, but rather, an opening to begin the discussion of applied theology.  Theology that leaves the written page and textbooks and enters authentically into the human experience.  I don’t believe it is a stretch to do so, but it requires practice.
In my last class period of the day, we only got to discuss one topic.  I knew it would be heated because after five months of classroom time, I’ve come to know some of the different personalities of my students.  I knew who would be upset and I wasn’t looking forward to being seen as a backward bigot.  But if I truly believe what the Church teaches, I must refrain from presenting it in an apologetic manner, unless we mean the art of apologetics.  The order was not kept but turned into a class discussion, one I fought to not have dissolve into chaos and arguments.  I was partly successful.  
I approach the topic of gay marriage with the mentality that I love the Church and I know the Church loves me.  That is not how the culture proceeds.  To me, it seems that the culture looks to hate what the Church teaches, and sometimes feels surprised if there is an area of agreement.  A few students were content to use phrases to challenge me and sit snugly surrounded by their group of like-minded friends.  I tried hard to choose my words carefully, hoping they would convey truth and love with gentleness.  
In the end, I’m not certain I changed any minds or influenced any of them.  There came a point with ten minutes left of class that I decided to salvage what I could in a speech I’ve given different years to my out-going seniors.  I asked them to consider the Church’s motivation, even if they disagreed with her teachings.  Is the Church really holding onto these beliefs because she wants to control people’s sex lives?  Is she doing this because she loves to be hated?  No.  I challenged them, in the midst of their disagreements to consider that perhaps the Church teaches what she does out of love and because she believes it is true.  If Jesus was not met with popularity and instant agreement on His teachings, it would make sense that the Church would face a similar fate.  
The room was quiet and attentive, even if some of them were perhaps raging inwardly, plotting how they would present my intolerance to their parents and friends.  Of course, I hope they don’t hate me, but that is out of my control.  In a conversation with another Theology teacher earlier today, we spoke about how it isn’t our responsibility that the students accept or live the Truth, but it is our responsibility to teach what the Church teaches.  I believe, that with great imperfection, stumbles, and ignorance, I have done that.  So I take comfort in knowing that my minimal discomfort today, a little drop in the oceans of pain others have experienced, is united to the sufferings Christ bore.  
“Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’  If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”  –John 15:20a

Forgive the rant.

Readers, few though you be, excuse the rant that is about to follow.  It will be brief, I promise. 

The other day my mother bought me a pack of gum (isn’t she sweet!) and I was quite glad.  Until I examined the package and I could hardly believe what was being sold, along with chewing gum.  Everything seems to be connected to sex.  But gum?  Yes, indeed.  What is perhaps worse than gum being used to also sell sex is that it isn’t even authentic sex, it is a counterfeit sexual lie. (Hats off to you, Dr. Asci, for that terminology!) 

“Practice safe breath.”  I looked at it again.  Yes, there was no way I reading too much into that line.  In fact, I would be fairly obtuse to not pick up on the blatant allusion.  Dentyne Ice–not very classy.  The most troubling aspect is that I don’t think it is considered to be that controversial.  Perhaps people would think it slightly bad taste to make gum about sex, but I am more concerned that “safe sex” would not be the most objectionable part.  Ready for a lovely night of fornication?  Well, let’s see: gum? Check. Condom?  Check.  Great, ready to go.  Only two prerequisites to a night of enjoyment.  Now everyone is happy.  Ughhh!  So many lies swirling around in our culture.  How can the innocent fight their way through the filth?  Oh, yes, the prayers of their brothers and sisters!  Wonderful idea, Lord.  So—here’s to praying for the conversion of our culture!

P.S. In case the one-line tag wasn’t convincing, Dentyne Ice has a commercial to back up and add to the tasteless advertising. 

Step 1: Watch. 
Step 2: Pray. 

February 20th is the feast of Bl. Jacinta and Francisco Marto, two of the visionaries at Fatima.  Bl. Jacinta and Francisco–intercede for our culture.  Help us to console the heart of Our Lord!


Rule #1: Be Controversial

Sometimes when I really think about the “controversial” issues of today, I am completely baffled by the fact that they are controversial.  Society has made these issues into emotional issues and situations that prevent one from really looking at the truth objectively.  I find it interesting that my high school students have been almost more instrumental in my grasping the extent of society’s depravity than the past eight years of college and high school.  My students are not depraved but they give me a window into the mind of society.  And I find it to be quite frightening.  I am realizing, as I told a friend a week ago, that I wasn’t the typical high schooler.  As I speak to my students I waver between feeling as though we are in the same generation and then thinking that we are in completely different generations.  But, to be honest, I often feel that I am in the wrong era altogether and that I would have fit rather nicely into the 1800s. 

My viewpoint into the culture made me slightly frantic this week.  If my students, who attend a Catholic high school in a rather conservative state with typically traditional values, seem this affected by the culture, I was quick to bemoan the fate of the entire world.  Especially after listening to their defense of their opinions, I was convinced that we, as a society, do not understand truth.  My students aren’t stupid and they don’t seem to hold beliefs that they think are radical.  There is also an interesting mixture within most of them, they don’t exactly buy the Church’s teaching on human sexuality (for example) but they appear open to know more about it.  This doesn’t mean they come off as accepting of it, rather they appear to be skeptical of anything the Church says that doesn’t mesh with society.  Yet many of them are hesitant to say they flat out disagree with the Church’s teaching.  These opinions provide an interesting blend of hope and despair for me.  I have come again and again to the realization that I do not know how to accurately convey my beliefs or the Church’s teaching to them.  I accept what the Church teaches but I cannot properly show them how this should impact their beliefs.  Multiple times this past week I have felt acutely the limitations of my abilities and knowledge.

What do you do with a society that makes truth seem bigoted and intolerant?  How do you present a truth that is immediately labeled as hate speech or offensive?  The truth is remarkably offensive.  Don’t believe me?  Take a quick look at the videos below. 

The original TV clip
His defense of “hate speech”
The Media Portrayal

Why does this continue to surprise me?  Perhaps because our culture is very good at pinning “radical” and “extreme” to things that are simply not in line with the secular media.  If you say things often enough and loud enough, people will begin to think that they are true.  So when you begin to speak the Truth, be it ever so softly and charitably, it comes off as cruel and unjust. 

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!  Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate.” –Mt. 23: 37-38

It lead me to wonder how one could possibly win.  Not because I am making the transformation of a culture into a competition, but because it seems that the odds are so against the truth.  Even the fact that when the Church teaches the truth it doesn’t make any head-way in many modern minds, points to a culture so “open-minded” that it is closed off to truth.  Modern progress seems to be running full speed away from everything good, true, and beautiful.  And the issues that seem to be the most fundamental–marriage, families, life, and the human person–are the most attacked now. 

“It is true that I am of an older fashion; much that I love has been destroyed or sent into exile.” -G.K. Chesterton

Perhaps I should have been more encouraging when one of my students asked what we should do when the whole of society seems to be opposed to what the Church is teaching.  I told him that we need to be prepared to be martyrs for the truth.  That we will be at least verbally mocked and crucified is seeming to be a closer and closer reality.  It is not something that will take place when I am old and gray but is gradually sweeping society right now.  The hope in this is that Our Lord knows all of this.  And the times of greatest persecution and evil are the very times when He raises up the greatest of saints.  They give hope and inspiration that standing with the truth is something that is only fully rewarded in Heaven.  As for now, we are the Church militant, battling anything contrary to that which is true.  Not just “true” by our standards, but is actually and objectively Truth.

“Strive even to death for truth and the Lord God will fight for you.” –Sirach 4:28

This causes me to think of the book of Daniel with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  Like them, we should refuse to serve the gods that society worships and refuse to conform our lives to the tune that is being played.  Instead, even in the midst of the flames of persecution we should bless the Lord.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures for ever.”