This week, columnist Father Robert Barron writes about his experience last month celebrating Mass in Uganda on the occasion of the feast of St. Charles Lwanga and Uganda’s other martyrs. Because Charles and the other Catholic youths of the court would not accede to the sexual demands of King Mwanga II, the king had them executed, some by spear, others, like Charles, burned to death.
Father Barron reflects movingly on the logic of paradox that accompanies the supernatural. When Charles and the others were killed in 1886, it must have seemed that Catholicism was doomed in that part of the world. And yet, 125 years later on that same spot where he died, more than half a million African Catholics gathered to celebrate Mass together on his feast. But what struck me was the courage of these young, newly minted Catholics to stand up for their faith — even to the point of enduring slow, painful deaths.
This is a different time and place than 19th-century East Africa. No one is likely to stand before us with a spear and demand that we renounce our faith or die.
But we are called to show courage in the practice, propagation and defense of our faith.
Sometimes it’ll be obvious what form that takes. Like the Catholic professor of religion at the University of Illinois who said this month he had been fired for presenting the Church’s teaching on homosexuality — in a class on Catholicism and its teachings. He’s gone public with the story, and has gained the legal assistance of a group dedicated to defending religious freedom.
But there are other ways, too. I recently heard that officials in some U.S. dioceses are bracing for a second wave of lawsuits from victims who already reached settlements in the first wave by alleging fraud. This starts to look a lot like greed, and greed that ultimately will be punishing to Catholic parishes, schools and social services. And in fact, the complete dismemberment of the Catholic Church is the stated goal of members of at least some of the most prominent victims’ advocacy groups.
So why is it so difficult to stand up and say, “Hey, that’s enough”? Lack of courage.
Of course, a lot of the blame here goes to the priests who abused children and the bishops and Church bureaucrats who covered it up. It is hard to overstate the damage that has had to the Church’s moral authority and credibility among those in the pew, much less in civil society.
But we cannot wait for someone else to solve the problem. Baptism gives us the mandate to work for holiness not only in ourselves but in the Church and in the world.
When discouraged by our own failings or those of our contemporary Catholics, it helps to remember that inspiring people like St. Charles Lwanga are members of the Church, too.
Take courage, and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.