Persistence in What is Right

Thoughts on the Gospel
for the Twenty-ninth Sunday
in Ordinary Time

Proclaim the word; be persistent
whether it is convenient or inconvenient;
convince, reprimand, and encourage.

Timothy 4:2

For a long time the judge was unwilling,
but eventually he thought,
“While it is true that I neither fear God
nor respect any human being,
because this widow keeps bothering me
I shall deliver a just decision for her.”

Luke 18:4

Persistence in Doing What is Right:

In war when one has exhausted courage and resources, surrender is sometimes the wisest course. Live to fight another day. But in matters moral that form the soul surrender means a more certain death than the death one might endure in battle, a death of the soul that follows upon giving up. 

There is a reason why most Christians are or become lapsed, that is to say apostate; that whatever the requirements of the Christianity they promised to practice may have been, they no longer try to meet them. This is called apostasy, standing away from what was originally promised. For this there are various reasons. Th e practice of religion no longer satisfies. The morality my faith proposes is impossible to achieve and its iteration makes me not better but uncomfortably guilty. The gift of faith I once possessed has withered; I no longer believe. So I quit. Did those who suffered such losses, who become apostate, fight for their faith? Did they become more urgent and insistent in prayer and more punctilious at attending Mass or Church as they sensed their faith slipping away? Probably not. 

There is a heresy, a mistaken opinion, called Quietism. It ravaged the Church in France in the seventeenth century. Its essence is the conviction that if God wants one to do a certain thing or believe a certain truth, He will inspire that faith or that action in us. It is an endemic danger in a religion that rightly believes the human heart is infused with and moved by God’s grace. Recurrently there is the conviction that such grace is or ought to be irresistible. And from this error there may follow the psychological conclusion, often no more than half conscious, that unless such grace motivates, no action is required. In vulgar form it leads to the conclusion that if God wanted me to practice my religion, He would motivate me to do so. The failure of faith under the influence of Quietism is marked by passivity. 

After two thousand years there ae still words of Jesus that challenge the Quietest thesis. One is His saying that since the time of John, since John proclaimed Jesus the Messiah, the Kingdom of God is seized by violent men: “the violent bear it away” (Matthew 11:12). Better to translate: since John proclaimed Jesus, men of determination and force have stormed and won the Kingdom of heaven; the kingdom cannot be won by violence as usually understood; it must be won by determined, never-to-be-defeated force of soul, by a firm and inflexible intention and action. 

Of course Jesus’ teaching that truth must be defended would have been more immediately intelligible to the generation who lived during the first three Christian centuries, between Tiberius and Diocletian, when Christian profession might mean your life and when great doctors did not shy away from counseling a firmness that might lead to the arena. Then Christianity survived and flourished not through revolution, not by taunting the authorities, but by a quiet stubbornness that would not bend to cultural custom, by refusing to give up, by living a certain kind of life, by a determination to serve Christ that while it was a powerful witness was unintelligible to their pagan neighbors, when every cultural advantage urged compliance. 

From the days when Christ lived among us, the worldly advice to stubborn Christians has been: if you will not quit, at least change; if you will not abandon the pursuit of holiness, at least have the grace to admit you are wrong to ask so much of human nature. Now the Church is solicited to accede to the fashion of the world, to feminism and to the dictates of the sexual revolution, these two movements being inseparable. Their advocates have powerful arguments. There is always the equality argument, which sees any distinction of roles as discrimination. And of course pleasure, of whatever kind, however achieved, motivates. Under intense cultural pressure to conform to the ways of the world, to abandon the call to holiness, even to abandon the perfection that our Lord commanded (Matthew 5:48), the weakening of moral principle in the name of mercy is now a present danger. Mercy is the gratuitous forgiveness of God exercised toward the sinful repentant. Its object is a person in need of mercy. When mercy is conceived as softening or weakening of the requirements for holiness that the Church has maintained for two millennia based upon the sure words of Christ, the result is not mercy but confusion, the encouraging of ill-formed conscience and the toleration of sin, ultimately the loss of souls. 

At present the highest authority, apparently confused and acting under the desire to mirror the character of Christ by showing mercy, has, through the toleration and use of ambiguity, in the face of the Lord’s command that among His followers yes must be yes and no must be no, “anything more comes from evil” (Matthew 5:36), rendered uncertain moral truths unquestioned among Christians since the days of Peter and Paul. This ambiguity has let loose on the Christian world the belief that there is some circumstance, not many, perhaps, but few, in which one may share in the table of the Lord while having two wives or two husbands. This without regard to the words of Christ or the conviction that marriage was and is an indissoluble bond creating man and woman one flesh, an analogy to the love of Christ for the Church (Ephesians 5:29), beliefs so securely embedded in Christian life that it took two centuries for the Church to accept unequivocally the second marriages of widows or widowers. And one may remember that it was in defense of the indissolubility of marriage that Clement VII lost England in the sixteenth century.

The same authority has spoken sympathetically of the importance of welcoming sexually disoriented persons into the Church, and of the right of such persons to have a family, which means cohabitation organized around this same disorder, which must lead to sin. Such sympathy plays into the hands of the rainbow coalition that, as in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, is bent on the sexualization of children. One thing forgotten is the truth that the sin of Sodom, now ravaging western civilization as it ravaged Hellenistic culture in the world to which Christ came, is no ordinary sin, but rather attacks the very plan of God for the propagation of the human race. No ordinary sin, it is one of a short list of sins declared by the Church to deserve the vengeance of God, whose enthusiasts deserve punishment in eternal fire (Jude 1:7). This, like every other human folly, can be forgiven the repentant, even as persons of good will pray that those afflicted with such disorientations may be healed, comforted, and converted, but it cannot be accommodated or justified at any time in any way, and to do so in the name of mercy is a travesty reflecting not love for sinners but a sentimental desire never to challenge. 

Such essays in ambiguity and abandonment of principle are sad examples of a willingness to give up, to believe that psychology knows more about human nature than the Church, that certain flaws in personality define decisively, that happiness can be attained in violation of God’s law. Such advocates of surrender believe that Humanae vitae, which teaches that sexuality must be directed toward procreation—the only truth that can effectively confront the sexual revolution—, now largely abandoned in practice, should be abandoned in theory, repudiated as ill-founded and impossible. 

Persisting, not quitting, in the face of nearly unanimous cultural disapproval is very wearing. The unjust judge on the parable was finally harried into doing what was right. Contemporary Christianity is in danger of being harried into doing what is wrong. For this reason Paul counselled Timothy, “Be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage” And in Hebrews Paul advised, “strengthen limp hands and weak knees.” And not to be forgotten is Jesus’ teaching that he who relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so will be least in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 5:19). And more trenchantly, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). 

The Church cannot begin to heal the soul of the civilization that surrounds it by betraying its stubborn inheritance of the defense of marriage and of that purity of heart without which no one can hope to see God (Matthew 5:8).

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