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Ashamed of the Gospel?

Ashamed of the Gospel?

And where are we? Where are you and I? Are we afraid to be known as his disciples? Are we ashamed of the Gospel? Will we muster the strength, the courage, the faith to be like Mary the Mother of Jesus, and like John, the apostle whom Jesus loved, and stand faithfully at the foot of the cross? Or will we, like all the other disciples, flee in terror? Fearing to place in jeopardy the wealth we have piled up, the businesses we have built, the professional and social standing we have earned, the security and tranquility we enjoy, the opportunities for worldly advancement we cherish, the connections we have cultivated, the relationships we treasure? Will we silently acquiesce to the destruction of innocent human lives or the demolition of marriage? Will we seek to "fit in," to be accepted, to live comfortably in the new Babylon? If so, our silence will speak. Its words will be the words of Peter, warming himself by the fire: "Jesus the Nazorean? I tell you, I do not know the man."

Perhaps I should make explicit what you have no doubt perceived as implicit in my remarks. The saving message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ includes, integrally, the teachings of His church on the profound and inherent dignity of the human person and the nature of marriage as a conjugal bond — a one-flesh union. The question of faith and fidelity that is put to us today is not in the form it was put to Peter — "surely you are you this man's disciple." It is, rather, do you stand for the sanctity of human life and the dignity of marriage as the union of husband and wife? These teachings are not the whole Gospel — Christianity requires much more than their affirmation. But they are integral to the Gospel. They are not optional or dispensable. To be an authentic witness to the Gospel is to proclaim these truths among the rest. The Gospel is, as St. John Paul the Great said, a "Gospel of life." And it is a Gospel of family life, too. And it is these integral dimensions of the Gospel that powerful cultural forces and currents today demand that we deny or suppress.

These forces tell us that our defeat in the causes of marriage and human life are inevitable. They warn us that we are on the "wrong side of history." They insist that we will be judged by future generations the way we today judge those who championed racial injustice in the Jim Crow south. But history does not have sides. It is an impersonal and contingent sequence of events, events that are determined in decisive ways by human deliberation, judgment, choice, and action. The future of marriage and of countless human lives can and will be determined by our judgments and choices — our willingness or unwillingness to bear faithful witness, our acts of courage or cowardice. Nor is history, or future generations, a judge invested with god-like powers to decide, much less dictate, who was right and who was wrong.

The idea of a "judgment of history" is secularism's vain, meaningless, hopeless, and pathetic attempt to devise a substitute for what the great Abrahamic traditions of faith know is the final judgment of Almighty God. History is not God. God is God. History is not our judge. God is our judge.

One day we will give an account of all we have done and failed to do. Let no one suppose that we will make this accounting to some impersonal sequence of events possessing no more power to judge than a golden calf or a carved and painted totem pole. It is before God — the God of truth, the Lord of history — that we will stand. And as we tremble in His presence it will be no use for any of us to claim that we did everything in our power to put ourselves on "the right side of history."

One thing alone will matter: Was I a faithful witness to the Gospel? Did I do everything in my power to place myself on the side of truth? The One whose only begotten Son tells us that He, and He alone, is "the way, the truth, and the life" will want to know from each of us whether we sought the truth with a pure and sincere heart, whether we sought to live by the truth authentically and with integrity, and — let me say this with maximum clarity — whether we stood up for the truth, speaking it out loud and in public, bearing the costs of discipleship that are inevitably imposed on faithful witnesses to truth by cultures that turn away from God and his law. Or were we ashamed of the Gospel?

The Gospel is true. The whole Gospel is true. Its teachings about life and marriage are true — even its hardest sayings, such as Christ's clear teaching about the indissolubility of what God has united and about the adulterous nature of any sexual relation outside that bond. If we deny truths of the Gospel, we really are like Peter, avowing that "I do not know the man." If we go silent about them, we really are like the other apostles, fleeing in fear.

But when we proclaim the truths of the Gospel, we really do stand at the foot of the cross with Mary the Mother of Jesus and John the disciple whom Jesus loved. We show by our faithfulness that we are not ashamed of the Gospel. We prove that we are truly Jesus's disciples, willing to take up his cross and follow him — even to Calvary.

And we bear witness by our fidelity to the greatest truth of all, namely, that the story does not end at Golgotha. Evil and death do not triumph. Yes, it is Good Friday, but the one who became like us in all things but sin conquers death to redeem us from our transgressions and give us a full share in eternal life — the divine life of the most blessed Trinity. The cross cannot defeat him. The sepulcher cannot hold him. His heavenly Father will not abandon him. The psalm that begins in despair, Eloi, Eloi lama sabachtani, ends in hope and joy. Easter is coming. The crucified Christ will be raised from the dead. The chains of sin will be broken. "Oh death, where is thy victory? Oh death, where is thy sting?"

I grew up as a Catholic in a Protestant culture. The Protestants of my boyhood were what we today call Evangelicals. In those days, the religious differences between us seemed vast, though today the personal and spiritual bonds we have formed in bearing common witness to marriage and the sanctity of human life have relativized, though, of course, not eliminated, those differences.

We now know that Evangelical Protestants are truly our brothers and sisters in Christ — separated from us in certain ways, to be sure, but bound together with us nevertheless in spiritual fellowship. Growing up, I admired the strength of their faith, and their willingness openly to profess it. And I loved their hymns. One of the most familiar ones contains a vital message for us Catholics today. You will recognize the first verse:

On a hill faraway, stood an old rugged cross,
 The emblem of suffering and shame;
 I love that old cross, where the dearest and best,
 For a world of lost sinners was slain.

And the chorus goes:

I will cherish the old rugged cross,
 Till my trophies at last I lay down.
 I will cling to the old rugged cross,
 And exchange it someday for a crown.

Yes, there's the story. Christ must endure the sufferings of Good Friday to fulfill his salvific mission. But Easter is coming. And we, who cherish his cross, and are willing to bear his suffering and shame, will share in his glorious resurrection. We who cling to that old rugged cross will exchange it someday for a crown.

And then comes the next verse, and how perfectly it captures the attitude we must adopt, the stance we must take, the witness we must give, in these times of trial if we are to be true disciples of Jesus:

To the old rugged cross, I will ever be true,
 Its shame and reproach gladly bear,
 Till he calls me someday, to my home far away,
 Where forever his glory I'll share.

Yes.

And I'll cherish that old rugged cross,
 Till my trophies at last I lay down.
 I will cling to the old rugged cross,
 And exchange it someday for a crown.

Robert P. George, McCormick professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University and chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, delivers the "lay guest speaker" address at the 10th annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Washington, D.C., May 13, 2014. |

Yes, for us Catholics and all who seek to be faithful, it's Good Friday. We are no longer acceptable. We can no longer be comfortable. It is for us a time of trial, a time of testing by adversity.

But lest we fail the test, as perhaps many will do, let us remember that Easter is coming. Jesus will vanquish sin and death. We will experience fear, just as the apostles did. That is inevitable. Like Jesus himself in Gethsemane, we would prefer not to drink this cup. We would much rather be acceptable Christians, comfortable Catholics.

But our trust in him, our hope in his resurrection, our faith in the sovereignty of his heavenly Father can conquer fear. By the grace of Almighty God, Easter is indeed coming. Do not be ashamed of the Gospel. Never be ashamed of the Gospel.

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