We want a Church that will move the world, not a Church that will move with the world
In one of the episodes of Netflix’s The Flash (warning: spoilers ahead), there occurs a need for meta-human prisoners to be transported to a more secure location. Not being able to secure the support of the local police force, Flash turns to Captain Cold, a bad guy with a freeze gun. Captain Cold promises Flash that he will help with the transportation on the condition that Flash will erase all mention of Captain Cold from police records, giving him a squeaky-clean slate. The honest superhero agrees. Of course, the entire time, the viewer is screaming, “Don’t be stupid! You can’t trust him.”
Lo and behold, at the end of the episode, Captain Cold betrays Flash and all the bad guys that took an entire season to arrest are released to wreak havoc once again. Flash learns the lesson that the bad guys operate under a completely different set of rules, and honesty does not make the cut. Compromise means smiling and waving until the goal is achieved.
When Pope Francis kissed the feet of Muslim immigrants a few years ago during Holy Thursday, a picture of ISIS leaders sneering with glee popped into my head. Where the Holy Father thought about Christ’s humility and charity, and about becoming the last and the least to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, those who take the Quran seriously all around the world saw the leader of a deviant religion bowing before a slave of Allah.
Islam is a religion forged in the heat and barrenness of the desert. Muhammed was orphaned at an early age, then lost his grandfather who raised him as a merchant. Being in the business of trade meant that one always had to fight either against nature or against men who wanted to steal from the caravan. Muhammed, like many before and after him, craved wealth and power. He had the hardness of a desert merchant who was willing to shed blood to make his dreams come true. Humility and selflessness were weaknesses to be abhorred. Allah’s followers ought to be proud and victorious conquerors. Allah’s followers do not apologize. Allah’s followers do not kneel before the infidel.
That is why it is shocking for Muslims to hear a Western government apologize for a wrongdoing (say slavery or genocide), and then make amends. It is unthinkable for the Turkish government to acknowledge the Armenian genocide, because that would mean fragility and compromise. The desert is merciless; it will pounce on the weak and crush the fallen. When a Muslim leader sees an infidel on his knees, he is not filled with compassion or a desire to dialogue; he is filled with disgust at the weakness of his opponent and with satisfaction that yet another knee bends before Allah.
The source might be different, but the sentiments are similar when it comes to atheistic communism. One needs only to spend 10 minutes on the internet to learn about the atrocities committed by the Chinese government since the revolution of 1949. One by one, every religion felt the sting of communist oppression. Christianity has been driven underground while churches are demolished, and faithful bishops and priests are imprisoned.
The communist government may not believe in an afterlife, but they have a heaven of their own to achieve, not after death, but before — the perfect communist utopia where property and wealth are abolished, where any form of religion is a thing of distant past. For this future to become reality, some must be sacrificed for the greater good of the many. Would it matter if a few million people died as long as perfection is attained for billions in the future? Would it matter if a cardinal from Rome is shown a wonderful time and lied to as long as the stubborn bishops and cardinals were silenced, their chairs filled with friends of the party?
Secularism also demands that the Catholic Church should move with the times. To accommodate the Protestant spouses of Catholics, a bishop says that under certain circumstances those who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church can receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord. Secular culture asks the Church to bless same-sex unions, bless contraception and bless those who do not believe in the Real Presence. Even though the Catholic Church does not force anyone to convert or stay in communion, she is told to sway with the wind of change. The Church has been giving into the demands of the modern times last five decades. One hardly hears about hell, abortion or same-sex attraction from the pulpit, lest someone is alienated or offended. The fallacy that the more we lower our standards, the easier it would be for people to reach it, has left us with a Church that is tired and bare.
Instead of the solid rock that casts a mighty shade, the Church is asked to become the shifting shadow, moving here and there as time goes by. All three demand the Catholic Church compromise, but none is willing to make any concessions. Each play with different rules that are subject to change any moment. Dialogue with Muslims has made many a Catholic an expert in avoiding —instead of proclaiming— touchy topics like the Incarnation and Blessed Trinity, while all ties are severed if someone slights Muhammed. Islam does not compromise.
The Chinese government demands that they should be able to appoint bishops. The shepherds of the faithful, they say, should be taking orders from those who believe religion is the opiate of the masses. There has been no show of goodwill, as decades of persecution, forced abortions and imprisonment of the faithful unfolded while the world watched. Atheism does not compromise.
Now that the altar rails are gone, walls are white-washed, the music became ear-cringing and the Holy Eucharist is available to all regardless of their state of grace and belief, are we at a better place? Now that we have moved with the times, has the Catholic Church grown to provide a better alternative for the decaying culture of death? Alas, secularism does not compromise.
There is an understandable desire to trust, but Christ warned us about the coming separation: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” This world does not desire a lord who came down to our level so that we can be raised up to the divine. Neither Islam, nor atheism, nor secularism perceive the humility of Incarnation as strength. “He who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” Christ’s words and ways are foolishness to deaf ears and hardened hearts. When we compromise over and over again with the illusion that those with veiled eyes will finally see the truth, all we accomplish is our own separation from the Cross.
Flash learns the lesson that he cannot compromise his own integrity by giving into the demands of Captain Cold with the hope that the bad guy will see the light. As the story unfolds, their paths cross often. Flash still pursues the flicker of goodness he saw in Captain Cold, but never again he never capitulates his own beliefs. I do not want to spoil the ending, but the seeming impenetrable evil of the man with a freeze gun eventually yields.
There is still hope, for we are not allowed to despair. As long as the Church that was built on the Rock does not lose its saltiness and continues to be, at times, the only light, the wind can still change its direction. It is more charitable to stand up to the bully than becoming friends with him with the aim of changing his heart. Let’s once again turn to St. Francis and his encounter with the Egyptian sultan. The saint risked his life going into the sultan’s tent so that he could preach the Gospel of Christ and save the sultan’s soul. He shared the truths of the faith without dilution, without compromise and without apology. His aim was not interreligious dialogue or mutual enrichment, but conversion of hearts. As Islam, atheism and secularism press from all sides, the faithful would do well to remember St. Francis’ boldness.
As Chesterton said, "We do not want, as the newspapers say, a Church that will move with the world. We want a Church that will move the world."