One of the best movies of 2008 was "Doubt," featuring an Oscar worthy performance by Meryl Steep as Sister Aloysius. The movie deals with a small parish in Brooklyn, circa 1964. The world is beginning to change. Beloved John Kennedy lies cold in the grave. Turbulence in the streets, chaos across the waters, troubles in the homes.
In this shifting landscape, a voice of unwavering strength and witness still reigns. We encounter her in one of the opening scenes. We hear but do not see, as she approaches a 5th grader, defiantly misbehaving at daily Mass. She is silent, relentless and merciless...bringing down her righteous wrath upon those who would dare sleep or talk during the services. As a survivor of Catholic School in East St. Louis, watching that scene brought back cold chills. It still does.
Sister Aloysius, the Principal was in charge. She knew her role; you knew her role; the world knew her role, recognized and respected her authority. But times have so changed. The moral uniformity of the Mother church seems to have faded, replaced by the ambiguities of political correctness and the addiction to celebrity power.
I am no theologian; no philosopher, and as so many people - starting with my ever loving wife - can attest, I am most certainly not a Saint. Where then do I get the credentials to talk about "what it means to be Catholic." 60-plus years of membership and observation is the answer. Street cred to be sure, but that may well be enough.
To be Catholic means to recognize and practice sacred rituals observed with reverence throughout thousands of years; it means to be connected to St. Peter - holder of the Keys to the Kingdom - as the first Pope, founder of the Church of Rome. It means fish sandwiches during Lent and not taking your coat off during Mass, no matter the weather. But it is, or at least should be, so much more.
Unfortunately, the moral points may have been diluted in clarity and potency, victims of a confused clergy and an at times indifferent laity. The enemies of the Faith - and they most certainly do exist - have seized upon this cavity in Catholic solidarity and driven home a message that preys upon the confusion, the lack of one voice to argue that issues of religious liberty - that which should be protected by the American Holy Grail of the 1st Amendment - are in truth the misguided and biased teachings of old men, determined to force women into subservience.
The media circus surrounding the apt named Ms. Fluke is case in point.
Somehow, her desire to have the CATHOLIC law school she voluntarily attends provide her with birth control - the violence such actions do to established church doctrine notwithstanding - became a symbol of feminine repression, largely as a result of Rush Limbaugh's intemperate remarks. Lost in the shuffle is the assault on the Church. Lost is the attack on basic freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution. Lost in the shuffle is the moral high ground once occupied.
It is easy to see when and how this erosion took place. When the Notre Dame - America's premier Catholic university - invites Barrack Obama, the most unapologetic proponent of totally unfettered abortion rights to be a graduation day speaker, when the National Association of Catholic Hospitals places potential profit ahead of principals of faith and supports Obamacare - despite its now indisputable mandates for abortion inducements, sterilizations and euthanasia, when politicians decide they are Democrats first and Catholics second and refuse to support scaling back the HHS dictates requiring employer to provide services irrespective of their own religious objections, then the walls have been breached. The pagans are at the doorstep.
But all is not lost. Valiant warriors still fight the good fight.
Newly elevated Cardinal Timothy Dolan, speaking on behalf of the Conference of Bishops, recently took issue with the Obama administration's so-called "accommodations," correctly exposing the sham as no substantive change at all.
He went on to say, "There have been many threats to religious freedoms over the years, but those came from without. Sadly, these come from within. As our ancestors did with previous threats, we will tirelessly defend the enduring truth of religious freedom." With courage and vision like this, it is no stretch to see Cardinal Dolan some day as the first American born Pope.
Closer to home, our own Bishop Thomas Paprocki has fought against the oppression of the State of Illinois forcing Catholic Charities to violate elements of faith and accept the force feeding of same sex adoptions and foster families. The fight was waged as long as possible, but in the end, finances dictated settlement.
His selection I did not approve...and said so in print. I now see that a plan of apparent Divine inspiration brought him here...To be the right man for this time, for this place. I salute him, I appreciate him, I thank him for his efforts. While not successful, they were not in vain.
In the end, to be Catholic means in part to be in the secular world, but not necessarily part of it. It means that no matter any practical, monetary or temporary advantage a governmental action which is in opposition to established core beliefs cannot be supported or reconciled. It means that elected officials who support such obscenities must be defeated.
It takes the clarity to see the truth and the courage to act with conscience. Be not afraid.