- Stacey Sumereau
How to Hope Despite Our Anti-Catholic American Culture
I just chose to step out of fear and into the truth. It is a much better place here.
"The Earth is full of the goodness of the Lord"- today's responsorial psalm has been hard for me to believe lately. A quick glance at the headlines reveals depressing facts about American culture and politics. The other night I was researching cases in which religious liberty has been violated in dozens of court cases, and I truly believe that the liberty of people of faith is going to be severely damaged in years to come. One judge justified his decision to heavily fine people of faith with words to the effect of, "You can worship where you want, but your private worship cannot affect your public life." If our worship cannot affect our life, then what in the world is religion for??? Even worse, these cases are becoming more and more commonplace in the United States. Many of them receive no media attention. When they do, they are often mocked. I watched an SNL skit just two nights ago in which the performers made fun of the people in Indiana whose pizzeria was closed because they declined to serve at a gay wedding. Now I love having a good laugh, but some jokes just hit too close to home when the subject matter is treated so flippantly.
Fulton Sheen said, "There are not a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church; however, there are thousands who hate what they wrongly believe the Catholic Church to be." I was an actress in New York City for years, and I know firsthand that this is true! The way our culture is going, people of faith are met with more and more disapproval. People who are not believers feel safe bashing things they don't understand on social media, and lately it has all become too much for me. Don't even get me started on the conundrum of voting as a Catholic...
I felt like my brain was being smushed in in the overload of hatred. And I wanted to run and hide.
Today, the priest at my Church was gone for the day so he asked a parishioner to hold a communion service instead. When I entered, the lights were dimmed more than usual at mass time and the candles flickered in the half-dark. There were only about eight other parishioners besides me gathered for the service. I was suddenly whisked back to my tour of the Roman Catacombs last year. The quiet, the dark, the simple service, all seemed reminiscent of the cool and peaceful subterranean tunnels where persecuted Christians gathered in groups to strengthen themselves by receiving the Lord, and to encourage each other.
I began to remember my childhood dreams of becoming a martyr for the Church. Much has changed since then; that I am 28, a newlywed, and an expecting mother, all I want is to keep my family safe and for me and my husband to help our future children have prosperous and happy lives. But that may not be our path. I realized what I had been trying to escape from was the fear of people's disapproval. I was afraid of financial ruin, bad press, and being misunderstood both in my private life and in a public way.
I needed to stop running from the fear, hand everything over to God, and be at peace with whatever comes.
I believe that every Christian is going to face hard choices in the near future. I know that I am going to choose Christ and act on my conscience. But I was still so scared of the consequences. And then you know what? My good friend St. Paul's writings spoke to my heart in our quiet little communion service today: "I kneel before the Father, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge." These are the words of a man who died for his faith, encouraging others and reminding them of the immensity of God's love. I am not alone. God's power is beyond my comprehension, He has many faithful people who love Him, and if we are persecuted, so be it! God will provide for those who love Him!
I cannot solve the problems of my nation. I cannot bring all people to understanding and true tolerance for one another. I cannot always be a perfect example of the values that I hold dear. Heck, sometimes I can't even live in peace with my family! Mother Teresa was aware of the corruption of the government in Calcutta, yet she chose not to respond to the complaints one of her sisters made about it. Finally, when the sister pressed her about it, she answered that she saw the corruption, but chose instead to do what she could do for the good and not worry about the looming evil.
As I felt the anxiety wash out, I felt relief rush in to take its place. I know already that without God I am nothing. He taught me to rely on Him during my discernment of religious life, and problems come in only when I try to make life happen on my own steam. I can only do what I can do for the people around me. AND, there's a lot I can do. I work daily to bring dignity to the elderly through coordinating mission programs, and through planning and teaching educational programs that help caregivers become more compassionate and loving. I have a wonderful husband and family who love me and need me. I have a modest social media following through which I can choose to spread love and encouragement like St. Paul. All those things are not small. They are what God has set before me, and what He wants me to do. I have many reasons to be at peace.
It will be a mental fight to maintain this peace. I have decided to stop checking my Facebook newsfeed and to stop clicking around on the internet when I see random headlines about the election. These two things had become habits, so it really takes mental power to stop them! I had a big talk with my husband about everything, where we opened up honestly about our fears (I didn't know it, but he had them too.) I am going to surrender everything to God every day at mass, instead of using mass as a place to complain to Him about the things that I see wrong with the world and just keep asking Him to fix it. Maybe some of these things will help you keep your peace, dear reader.
If you have anxiety about the future of our nation, I understand. And I hope you will join me in stepping out of that fear and into the truth.