By Bishop Glen John Provost
I thought myself in two different worlds recently when after celebrating the feast of St. Teresa of Avila (October 15, 2016), I read the daily papers report of comments on Catholicism by certain individuals associated with a particular political campaign. The contrast could not have been greater. First, the world of St. Teresa.
St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) was a great reformer in the Catholic Church, so great in fact that she was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church along with St. Catherine of Siena, the first women to be so recognized. She was a reformer not because she lobbied against an all-male priesthood or because she wanted her sisters to be “empowered.” During St. Teresa’s lifetime, a woman sat on the throne of England (Mary Tudor 1516-1558), a woman governed France briefly as regent (Catherine de Medici 1519-1589), another was Queen of Scotland (Mary Queen of Scots 1542-1587), and women, sometimes called “mitered abbesses,” administered large and important abbeys across Europe. No, her reform was of a different sort. In her day, the religious order to which she belonged was in need of reform because the members had strayed from an evangelical lifestyle and a profound commitment to prayer. In effect, they had lost their zeal and had become interested in the pursuit of this world rather than the world to come. This reform, she thought, was God’s work, calling them to fulfill the Gospel mandates of our Lord. Her reforms only came with great effort and after great suffering and, yes, even persecution.
The heroic reform of St. Teresa reflects the teachings of the Gospels. Jesus warns His followers that in preaching His message they will be persecuted. They are not to worry, however, because “the Holy Spirit will teach [them] at that moment what [they] are to say” (Luke 12:12). St. Teresa understood this dynamic also. She knew that when one was committed to the truth of Jesus Christ, there was no compromise possible, but the spirit of the world enjoys immensely compromise and accommodation. However, this is not the Spirit to which our Lord refers. The Spirit to which He refers is the Divine Spirit to which His followers must be absolutely faithful. Otherwise, they risk being unforgiven (Luke 12:10). Why? Because the truth He is proclaiming is so essential as to be defining, and God thinks the truth is so important that He gives to His Church the Holy Spirit to insure its integrity and continuance. This was the world that St. Teresa sought.
I was reminded in what disdain the secular world holds the truths of the Christian faith this week when I read about the contents of leaked emails between some now associated with a particular political campaign. What I say here has nothing to do with politics or any endorsement, for the emails pre-dated the present election cycle, but rather has to do with the flagrant condescension which secularists demonstrate towards Christians in general and Catholics in particular. We were informed that these “secular progressives” were appalled at how many in the conservative moment had turned to Catholicism.
And what do “progressives” think causes this embrace of Catholicism? “They must be attracted,” wrote one, “to the systematic thought and the severely backwards gender relations” (Wall Street Journal, “Non-Catholics for Church ‘Reform’,” Friday, October 14, 2016). Another progressive activist wrote that there needed to be a Catholic “spring” to “demand the end of a middle ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic church” (ibidem).
We live in a world where if you preach the truth about marriage or the dignity of the human person, this is considered bigotry. The Church is viewed by some as a sort of “middle ages dictatorship.” Believers can close their eyes to the spirit of this secular world or try to reach some accommodation with it, but they do so at their own risk. This progressive secularism makes a pretense of tolerance which only masks its pursuit of power and ambition to neutralize any opposition and marginalize any voice contrary to its own. So what do we do, living in one world while seeking another?
We do what our Lord asked us to do. We hold fast to the truth and, yes, prepare to suffer the consequences. “When they take you before synagogues and before rulers and authorities, do not worry about how or what your defense will be or about what you are to say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say” (Luke 12:11-12). And let the famous admonition of St. Teresa be our final word: “Let nothing disturb you/ Nothing dismay you/ All things are passing/ God never changes.”