Monday, 2 April 2007

A healthy bit of persecution?

The state that we live in is becoming more and more secularised, and it's open season for Catholics and the Church to be attacked in the media and by the government.

I have travelled a fair amount, and worked in China for a number of years. There was a time in my life when I was genuinely given a very hard time for believing in God and going to church. It wasn't in China, where the people I met were, on the whole, curious about religion and respectful of my beliefs. It was in France, where the majority of people would have ticked the "Roman Catholic" box on any form that asked them about their religion. In fact, many people would say to me, "Yes, but I'm Catholic too, and I don't insist on going to church."

I came to the conclusion that a little bit of challenge (persecution is probably too strong a word) is good for religious fervour. If you're baptised Catholic, you can go through life with your eyes shut, never even thinking about what it means to be a Catholic. At Catholic school, you assume everyone lives the same way you do - I still remember my amazement at the age of 11 when I discovered that the Sign of the Cross was a mark of Catholicism and not something that everyone did.

At first, I carried on going to church as a young adult because that's what I had always done, just like I carried on making my bed and eating my vegetables. I could equally well have decided, as a lot of young Catholics do, that I had better things to do with my Sunday mornings.

Then three things happened.

First, I went to university, where the first thing people would say on hearing that I was Catholic was along the lines of, "What a nutty religion - how do you justify the Catholic stance on contraception/abortion?" That was my first lesson in defending the teachings of the Church, and in order to defend them, I had to find out more about them for myself.

Then I went to France, where I was ridiculed for going to Mass every Sunday. Again, I was challenged to look at my life and decide whether I would go along with everyone else or make a stand and keep doing what I thought was right.

And then I went to China, where I really learnt about both tolerance and intolerance. I met people who had suffered genuine persecution for their beliefs, and who continued to demonstrate their commitment to God and to the Church. I met many people who had a strong faith and a devotion to the Church that permeated every area of their lives and often caused them to take decisions which led to real hardship.

I worked and shared a flat with an (English) atheist who had violently anti-religious views. She challenged my views, often in quite a hostile manner, and we had a number of heated discussions about religion in general and Catholicism in particular. One of my proudest boasts is that, several years later, when asking me to look after her daughter for the weekend, she said, "By the way, I don't mind if you take her to Mass on Sunday."

And my students would come to me and bring their friends to see me, to ask what Christianity was all about, what it was that I believed and why I believed it. And in order to answer their questions, again I had to figure out some answers for myself.

So, there were three challenges which I had to respond to - and with each of those challenges, my faith became stronger and more personal. Smaller challenges continue to arise daily, and remind me that Catholicism is not just about going to Mass on Sunday and saying a few prayers in private, but dictates the way I should live my life and the way I should interact with other people.

Perhaps the secularisation of society is a good thing for our souls. We're not all going to Hell in a handcart, but we are being challenged to take up the cross and stand up for what we believe in. And if we're true witnesses for the faith, maybe some more lost souls will find their way.


Seeker said...

A very interesting post!

I was wondering, as you have lived in China, whether you have heard of Brother Yun and the book 'The Heavenly Man'. Definitely worth reading!

I have met brother Yun and he is a very special person, for sure!

newhousenewjob said...

I haven't heard of him, but thanks for the recommendation - will look out for the book.