CHRIST IS RISEN!
Last Easter the pestilence of COVID-19 prevented us from worshiping together in church. This year, although still in time of COVID, we have been able to come together in church for the liturgies of Holy Week and Easter.
In this we are among the lucky, advantaged Christians in the world right now who can come into their churches for worship in community. Many of our fellow Christians throughout the world cannot. All over, the public authorities have forbidden it. We in Massachusetts right now are as on an island of quasi-normality by comparison.
Just before Easter this year the Commission of the [Catholic] Bishops' Conference of the European Union issued a statement of carefully worded protest against the excessive restriction of religious freedom by European governments during this time of a prolonged pandemic. They said:
It is important not to send out a message that Christians, or more generally, believers are being persecuted inside the [European Union]. However, not overdramatizing does not mean ignoring these disturbing trends. There is a lack of understanding and, in some cases, a lack of interest as to what religion is, and what it means for millions of people in the EU … Freedom of religion can be limited under certain conditions, and this is allowed by international human rights standards. As a Church, however, we have to be firm on how, when, and up to which point we are ready to accept limitations on church life.
The Commission also cited Pope Francis in his warning against viewing "the spiritual and moral dimension of the human person [as] less important than physical health," and seeing religious freedom as just "a corollary of freedom of assembly."
I think that this is an important push-back on the part of the Chief Pastors of the Church in Europe, in what was once the citadel of Christendom. The spiritual and moral dimension of the human person is being treated as less important than physical health. And there is a lack of understanding, and even a lack of interest, as to what religion is and what it means for religious people.
In a corollary to this the Gallup poll reported this past Holy Week that less than 50% of the American population self-reports affiliation with any religion, the lowest since the Gallup poll began in 1937. (In that year, the figure was 73%.) General disaffiliation is the trend. The pandemic has merely laid it bare.
We might say then that as Catholics in the world today we find ourselves in a middle-state between an actual persecution and a true "peace-of-the-church". (In a true “peace-of-the church” the Church would be seen in society as a beacon of light and a force for social good.) This middle-state has at least two implications for us.
One, we have to build up our own personal Catholic faith-life from within, without any meaningful external supports from society. If we ourselves are not invested in living the Catholic faith-life from within, each and every day, then we are simply not going to be able to withstand the unrelenting outside pressure to just "give it up".
Two, just because there is no real acknowledged "social space" for the Church (as the readiness of public authorities to reduce and diminish religious freedom in disproportionate ways during the pandemic has shown) does not mean that we, as Catholics, do not have very real obligations to the larger world in terms of social duty and social charity. We do. It does not help our cause if we were to give just occasion for others to say: "Look at those Catholics. They go on and on about their absolute personal right to religious freedom but they clearly don't care about the rights of others!"
Remember: Christ’s promise of blessing for those who are reviled and persecuted for His sake applies only if the detraction is a falsehood: "Blessed are ye when they shall revile you and persecute you and speak all that is evil against you, UNTRULY, for My sake. Be glad and rejoice for your reward is very great in heaven." (Matthew 5:11-12a)
We need to conscientiously live our faith from within, from the depths of our soul, and we need to practice conscientiously social duty and social charity, according to the circumstances at hand. These two things.
For the Christian believer, Easter Sunday is a day of unmitigated joy. In the midst of our brief life-spans, in a world whose frame is itself ever passing away, we have everything. Let us truly rejoice and praise God!
Indeed He is Risen! Alleluia!
Mary Immaculate of Lourdes, Newton/Needham, Massachusetts
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