By LAWRENCE P. GRAYSON
The Church experienced a rebuff recently in the culture war against religion. In spite of a letter from the U.S. Catholic bishops about dire effects of the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the Senate voted overwhelmingly on November 7 in favor of it. The act bans workplace discrimination based on a person’s self-proclaimed gender identity. The battle now moves to the House of Representatives.
This is the latest assault on religious liberty in America. Roe v. Wade, Obamacare, a growing number of states recognizing same-sex marriage, statutes legalizing physician-assisted suicide, and a host of other laws and regulations are creating a dark moral climate in the nation.
In just the past few months, Christian photographers in New Mexico were fined for declining to photograph a commitment ceremony between two lesbians; a Christian-owned bakery in Oregon was harassed out of business for not creating a wedding cake for a same-sex couple; as of January, bathrooms and locker rooms in California schools can be used by any student according to his or her self-proclaimed gender; and under the HHS health-care mandate companies soon will be heavily fined if they do not provide their employees with health insurance that covers contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.
At the time of our Lord’s birth, Rome sanctioned homosexuality, suicide, abortion, pornography, and other lustful perversions. Does the permissiveness of that ancient culture not appear familiar? Are we not recreating a pre-Christian pagan moral climate?
The movement toward an anti-Catholic, anti-Christian, secularist, anything-goes society has been underway for many decades. Like a viscous fluid running downhill, the movement to replace religious constraints on behavior with an unrestrained licentiousness has been slow, but steady. Each encroachment typically has been a small change from what was previously accepted, and thus has gained continued toleration. The cumulative effect, however, is staggering.
The current moral temper of the nation is far removed from that of the 1990s, further from that of the 1970s, and further still from that of the 1950s.
Christmas will soon be here. This marks the most-significant religious, historical, and cultural event in the Western world. It is the overt celebration of the Son of God coming into the world, assuming a human form, and leading a life that would make atonement for our sins. For many years, there has been an effort to secularize this religious remembrance — to ban Nativity scenes from city halls and shopping malls, to expunge Christmas programs and carols from school plays, to replace the greeting “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays,” in effect, to expel from public notice that same Christ Child who could find no place in the public inn.
This is occurring even though 95 percent of Americans say they celebrate Christmas, and 62 percent claim to attend religious services either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. It is probable that most of these people do not know or have forgotten the meaning of Christmas. It is more likely that they celebrate “Xmas,” a month-long frenzy of shopping, gift-giving, and partying.
We can no longer hide our religious beliefs and deemphasize their public expression. There can be no further accommodation without a total annihilation of Catholic identity, of its erasure from the memories of our young. There can be no further retreat without a total loss of religious freedom, of societal mores based on virtue and morality, and of a public recognition that we and this nation owe our existence to God.
In spite of the moral darkness of our time, there is hope. And that hope rests on our Lord. Things can change. Many good Catholics and other Christians still live in America. The answer is to begin a counter-movement — and it must start now.
A new liturgical year began with Advent on December 1. Since the fourth century, the Church has designated this as a period of preparation and expectant waiting for the coming of the Lord. It is a season of hope. St. Paul reminded the Ephesians that before their encounter with Christ, they were without hope. In spite of their gods, they were without God, in a dark world, facing a dismal future.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his encyclical Spe Salvi, points out that with the coming of Christ, Christians “have a future: It is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness….The dark door of time, the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.”
If people really understood and acted on the meaning of Advent, the world would be a different place. Advent originally was designated as a preparatory period of mortification and fasting. The rules for observance were later relaxed, but the season remains one of penitence.
Is it difficult to prepare ourselves spiritually for Christmas? Can we not do something each day to ready ourselves for the coming of Christ — say the rosary daily, spend an hour each week in eucharistic adoration, abstain from meat on Fridays, go to Confession, attend Mass more frequently, meditate on the liturgical readings through which the penitential spirit of the season is exemplified?
If we do, the results will be profound. As Pope Benedict reminded us, “we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present.” For our own sake, and the sake of the people we love, have hope and pray. When we do, the world will be a different place.
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(Lawrence P. Grayson is a visiting scholar in The School of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America.)