September 21, 2012

Catholic Evangelization Outreach / Harry Plummer

Living out the faith in the public square requires fortitude

Harry PlummerWhen I was asked to write about witnessing to our Catholic faith in the public square for this column, the first thing that came into my mind was a story I heard years ago about a man faced with a dilemma involving a large wedge of gourmet cheese.

He was returning to the U.S. from Europe, and was told he could not bring it into the country. He was polite, but would not agree to give up the cheese.

Finally, after every appeal he made was rejected, the man removed himself from the line, sat down in a chair, unwrapped the cheese and began eating it, proudly announcing to those nearby, “I will too bring this cheese into the country!”

It’s a pretty entertaining story. But on a deeper level, it almost reads like a parable with respect to some of the challenges we are currently facing as Catholics trying to bring our faith into the public square.

The man represents each of us. The cheese represents our Catholic faith. And the customs agent represents those in our country who seek to delegitimize the Church’s participation in giving public witness concerning the issues which are determining the future of American society.

Our U.S. Catholic bishops have reminded us with increasing clarity and seriousness that religious liberty is not only about our ability to worship at church on Sunday or pray the rosary at home. It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans.

And make this contribution we must because the love of God urges us not only to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ into our hearts, but also into this world precisely because, as Jesus proclaimed, it is the liberating Gospel of life: “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10).

All this was made vividly clear by Pope Benedict XVI in his address to some American bishops last January when he said, “The Church in the United States is called, in season and out of season, to proclaim a Gospel which not only proposes unchanging moral truths, but proposes them precisely as the key to human happiness and social prospering” (cf. “Gaudium et Spes” #10).

The Holy Father noted that “to the extent that some current cultural trends contain elements that would curtail the proclamation of these truths, whether constricting it within the limits of a merely scientific rationality, or suppressing it in the name of political power or majority rule, they represent a threat not just to Christian faith, but also to humanity itself and to the deepest truth about our being and ultimate vocation, our relationship to God” (Ad limina address to bishops of the United States, Jan. 19, 2012).

Being faithful to this mission takes fortitude. As an exemplar to motivate myself in this regard, I have been calling to mind a rather unsettling contrast that St. Thomas More wrote about while in the Tower of London awaiting his martyrdom for giving public witness to our faith. He drew an analogy from the evening of Christ’s betrayal between the sleepy Apostles who didn’t follow through with their intentions and the wide awake Judas who did.

So as we prepare for the upcoming Year of Faith, let’s ask our Lord to give us fearless, faithful hearts—ready to give public witness to our Catholic faith as gladly as one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.

Or maybe even cheese.

(Harry Plummer is executive director of the archdiocese’s Secretariat for Catholic Education and Faith Formation.)

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