In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage, there has been much introspection among the faithful about the way forward on marriage, religious liberty, and the role of faith in the public square. Perhaps because we’ve been fighting this battle in New York for so long, these are familiar discussions to us, and I’ve written about them before.
From what I’ve seen so far, there are many calls to civil disobedience, although very few people have actually engaged the question of how that will be done and how extensive it will have to be (which will be the subject of a future post here). Others have called for what some are terming a “Benedict Option”, modeled after the founder of the great monastic order, in which a groups of the faithful draw away from the general society in hopes of laying the seeds of reforming it. Others emphasize the inward path of conversion of our own hearts, so that in our private lives, we are good witnesses to our faith. Some have even advocated for shaking the dust of the world from our feet and leaving it on the path to its own destruction.
None of these is an adequate answer to the situation we find ourselves in. Surely, we need to come together with like-minded people, to strengthen our faith communities and provide mutual support. Our lives are always in need of conversion, and the best teachers of the truth are always those who witness to it in their everyday lives. We undoubtedly will have to resist unjust laws, and bear the consequences. All of that has merit, and each of us will have to find the path that the Holy Spirit is calling them to.
But in searching for our plan of action, we have to make sure that we don’t keep our focus only on ourselves. If we do that, we will lose sight of a crucial point. In the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-20), Our Lord gave the Church a very clear mission to the world:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.
The mission of the Church is never to pull away from humanity and turn inward, nor is it meant to be in a state of defensive warfare with the forces of power in the world. We are not meant to practice our faith only in our private lives, indifferent to the state of society. Pope Francis said it very well in The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium):
… no one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society. Who would claim to lock up in a church and silence the message of Saint Francis of Assisi or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta? They themselves would have found this unacceptable. An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters. If indeed “the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics”, the Church “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice”. All Christians, their pastors included, are called to show concern for the building of a better world. This is essential, for the Church’s social thought is primarily positive: it offers proposals, it works for change and in this sense it constantly points to the hope born of the loving heart of Jesus Christ. (183)
These are difficult times, similar to those experienced by the Church in many prior ages, and in many places in our own time. But we should always remember that the mission of the Church — and each one of us — is always to change the world, to transform it in light of the joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Our mission is outside.