St. Patrick's Day and the Challenge of the New Evangelization

September 6, 2014

St. Patrick's Day is still a ways off, but of late the celebration of his feast day in New York City is drawing quite a bit of attention.  For those who do not know, a St. Patrick's Day parade has been held in New York City for more than 250 years.  However, since the late 1980's activists promoting same sex attraction as a legitimate life style began public demonstrations about the parade's refusal to allow them to march under their own banners (something that no group has been allowed).  Law suits followed which went all the way up to the Supreme Court.  The Court recognized the right of private organizations to refuse to seem to endorse messages at odds with their beliefs.  With legal avenues exhausted, the activists moved to the court of public opinion.

In the last couple of years the pressure from media and political figures, and the withdrawal of support from corporate sponsors has increased the pressure.  A few days ago the NYC St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee reversed its longstanding position with the apparent blessing of Archbishop Dolan, the Archbishop of New York.  The reaction to the Committee's reversal to the Archbishop's comments have been predictable and it has been strong, especially from Catholics who have supported the Parade Committee and the Archdiocese in the past.

This event, however difficult, might be seen as an opportunity to examine the challenges of the New Evangelization in a culture that is increasingly hostile to Christianity, and in particular, to Christian moral teaching.  This hostility is directed especially against the Catholic Church.  The anti-Catholic messaging has been particularly effective among a large segment of young people; even many pro-life Catholics under about 35 years of age are being drawn into it.  The result is closed minds and ears when it comes to Catholic evangelization.  The negative message which is proving so effective for the activists is that the Catholic Church peddles hate and so no one of good will can countenance Catholics who believe what the Church teaches.  The challenge, then, is how do we get such people to listen?

Of course, something must be done to blunt this predominant societal message that Catholic moral teaching equates to hate if the Church is to have the opportunity to evangelize effectively, the large segment of society that has bought into this caricature. In the case of same sex attraction, the situation is even more complex.  We all experience our sexual attraction as an integral aspect of our personal identity.  Post-pubescent men experience the affirmation of their masculinity in their attraction to women, and vice versa.  Those who suffer from the disorder of same sex attraction experience a contradiction between their sexual attraction and their sex.  Such an experience is disorienting and left untreated, becomes debilitating in terms of one's ability to integrate his personal identity.  

Without help, those with same sex attraction will attempt to integrate their sexual attraction into their personal identity in order to feel whole as a person.  This is encouraged by the loudest voices they hear in society.  Moreover, because this disorder prevents integration of one's personal identity, the majority of those suffering from the affliction have not matured emotionally.  Therefore, when they are told that same sex attraction is a disorder they hear it as an attack against them personally; they experience it as hate (very often this is also due to the self-hatred this damaging disorder tends to bring about) and so their response is understandably, an emotional reaction of hate toward the messengers.  The question then is how do Catholics reach those who suffer from same sex attraction along with those who want to support them, when they think they already have heard the message and rejected it as hate?  The answer is to be found in pre-evangelization (for an overview of pre-evangelization, see our tutorial article on the topic).  We must remove these new barriers by deconstructing the false notions.

Pope Francis and, perhaps in response to his lead, Cardinal Dolan are attempting to give lie to the hate narrative by publicly demonstrating their love and concern for those who suffer from same sex attraction.  They are in good company.   Jesus was condemned by the Pharisees for cavorting with sinners because, in the culture of the time, such acts implicitly endorsed such sinfulness.  The Law, as it was understood, demanded that faithful Jews were to separate from sinners.  Interestingly, Paul still admonishes Christians to separate from Christian brothers who obstinately remain in sin, though in this case it is intended specifically as a remedy for the brother so he might experience the consequences of his sin as a severance of his relationship with the Church and Jesus Christ.  Nevertheless, Jesus was quite clear.   He no doubt knew the danger of scandal He might cause.  However, we must not fear to demonstrate God's love and mercy for sinners who are in such desperate need of this message.

Critics of the Holy Father and Cardinal Dolan are quick to point out that the press and the activists are already using their words to undermine Church teaching and to cause confusion not only in society but also among many of the faithful.  They point out that the Church is to be a sign of contradiction.  They remind us that Jesus said that when we are true disciples of His, we will be hated and persecuted as was He.  They fear that the rather than being seen as witnesses to love, such actions will be taken as a capitulation to social pressure.  They say that such actions by those who are supposed to teach and defend the truth do not in the end, show God's mercy and love, which cannot be separated from truth, but, however unintentionally, scandalize (in the proper sense of the term meaning causing others to sin).  They argue that this provides fodder for the media and the activists to confuse poorly catechized Catholics (and other Christians) into thinking that the Church has changed her teachings.  They point out that those who have committed themselves to sinful actions are ever looking for even hints from others that can justify them in their sinfulness and so ease the interior conflict they experience.  Such actions, rather than attracting them to Jesus, will abet them in their chosen lifestyles.

So here is the conundrum which we face in evangelizing in this confused epoch.  How do we gain an open ear to proclaim the saving love of Jesus Christ in its full glory when we are maligned as "haters"?  The clear answer is that we must witness to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ, in truth.  We must not separate ourselves from the lost and confused, but go out among them, be with them and love them.  The next question is how do we keep this manifestation of love from scandalizing others.  Well, this calls for wisdom, for discernment through much prayer and fasting.  The prudential judgment of each faithful Catholic will no doubt differ in the manifold circumstances with which we find ourselves faced.  Clearly, the enemies of the truth will use any action (and no action) against us, those of faithful Catholics on both sides of this issue, and they will use it in such a way as to cause confusion and interior division.  This division must be avoided at all costs and whatever actions are taken, subsequent efforts must be undertaken to blunt the confusion and misinformation that will inevitably result.  However, in this as in all things, we must be respectful to and supportive of our pastors who have charge of over our souls, and in charity we must assume the best and continue to work together in order to proclaim the truth in love.

St. Patrick, pray for us.

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