Recently, I was blessed to spend time in Alaska with all of my children and grandchildren together for the first time in nearly two years. It was a joyous reunion and well worth all the planning and logistical manipulations required to make it happen.
We began our time together with Mass followed by the baptism of my newest grandchild, Felicity Faustina. It was a beautifully poignant moment as we welcomed her into the Church in the presence of so many family members and friends. She wore the same baptismal gown that was worn both by her sister, just a few years ago, and by my daughter, a few decades ago. The priest added a little water from the Jordan River to the baptismal font in order to further emphasize the roots of this sacrament in Christ.
As I watched the ceremony unfold, I could not help but ponder how different my granddaughter’s life as a Catholic would be from both my own life as well as my children’s experiences. The words of the late Cardinal George came to me:
“I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”
I grew up as a Catholic in the Bible Belt of Oklahoma, which meant being viewed with suspicion by Protestant neighbors. They didn’t quite know what to make of our rituals and practices and were not really certain that we were Christian. But in day-to-day life there was very little impact. They went their way on Sunday morning and we went ours. Later we would all come together at the local restaurant for Sunday brunch. The only time I really felt any rejection because of my Catholicism was when I was dating a Protestant young man. His mother made it clear that having Catholic friends was fine but marrying a Catholic was highly undesirable.
For my own children, the challenge to our faith was not from Protestants but from other self-identified Catholics. Among Catholics, we seemed counter cultural because we went to Mass every Sunday, observed the Holy Days, prayed grace before meals, and strived to incorporat our faith into every aspect of our lives. In addition to teaching my children the faith my husband and I worked hard to imbue in them the strength to be different. It was not always easy. During out-of-town soccer tournaments we always made it to Mass, even if it meant waking up extra early, missing a Saturday night team dinner, or going to the Spanish language Mass. This was made even more awkward when over half of the team identified as Catholic, but my children were the only ones going to Mass.
While being faithfully Catholic may have created some social hurdles for my children, there was never a real threat to their lives or livelihood. I have no confidence that will be true for my grandchildren. The secular culture is aggressively narrowing the window of tolerance for the public exercise of faith. As we traveled about Alaska, the eleven of us would sit down to a meal in a restaurant and say grace before eating. We did it discreetly and I am sure most of the restaurant staff and other patrons were totally unaware of our actions. But will my grandchildren dare to do the same when they are adults? Will making the sign of the cross in public be viewed as hate speech?
It was not too long ago that it was inconceivable that wedding vendors would be punished for refusing to participate in the activity of a same-sex wedding or that a Catholic bishop would be publicly chastised for expecting teachers who work at a Catholic school to accurately reflect the tenets of Catholic faith and morals. Yet these are commonplace today. It used to be unthinkable that governments would insert themselves into the operation of religious institutions and demand that these institutions violate the precepts of their faith yet there are countless examples of such intrusions today. Catholic adoption agencies are closed down because they will not place children with homosexual couples. Catholic institutions are being forced to pay for contraception, sterilization, and abortion inducing drugs as part of the Affordable Care Act HHS mandate. Those who dare to speak out loud the Catholic teaching on sexuality are shouted down and labeled as bigots and haters.
I do not envy my grown children as they raise their own children to be faithful Catholics in this increasingly hostile culture. Their catechesis must include not only the beliefs of Catholicism but also the preparation to defend the faith in spite of the increasing social, professional and even physical sacrifices required. So is it worth this Herculean task before them to keep their children Catholic?
The answer is unquestionably yes. We were not created for this world but for an eternity in the presence of God. We have just completed our celebration of Easter and we know that Christ has paid the ultimate price to make our eternal salvation possible. So we faithfully take up the crosses of this world with the confidence that Heaven awaits us.
In spite of the current malevolent trajectory of our culture, I do not think the end of Catholicism is at hand. Truth is not decided by a majority vote. Those of us who work now to defend the faith, defend religious liberty, defend the dignity of marriage, and defend the sanctity of human life do so to profess the truth and to perhaps ease the road ahead for our children, our grandchildren and the generations beyond. Whether or not we are successful, the road of truth and faith is still a road worth traveling I am hopeful that through the Grace of God, His Church, and the Sacraments as well as the prayers and guidance of their parents, godparents, family and faithful friends, my grandchildren and their peers will be courageous and ready, as Cardinal George suggested, to pick up the shards of a ruined society and rebuild civilization.