Tuesday, 33rd Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

Imagine if the United States of America, with all its freedoms and rights, were not the United States of America, and on your way to school today, you were stopped along roadside by the secret police. They ask you for your name. You cooperate give it. Then they order you to put your hands on the hood of the squad car. They handcuff you and place you under arrest.

You ask them, “What’s going on? What have I done?” They reply, “You’re under arrest for the charge that you are a believing Catholic Christian.” You didn’t realize it, but the police have had you under intense surveillance for the past several weeks, wire-tapping your phone, monitoring your computer, searching your personal belongs, and watching all your movements and activities.

Imagine yourself in this situation. This is the question I pose to you: At your trial, when all of the evidence they have gathered is presented against you, will there be enough to convict you? Would there be sufficient evidence to find you guilty of being a believing Catholic Christian? What would they have on you?

Would they have testimony from informants that you observe every Friday as a day of penance, that you keep every Sunday as a special, day of rest, and faithfully go to Mass and frequent the sacrament of reconciliation? Could anyone testify against you that they heard you saying positive things about Jesus Christ, or that you spoke up for the Catholic faith when it was mocked or criticized in your presence? Could they put into evidence a rosary, or a Bible, or some other Catholic book, marked with fresh traces of DNA from your fingertips? Would they have hidden camera footage of you praying before meals at school or at restaurants? Would they have grainy night-vision footage of you praying before going to bed, or praying the first thing in the morning, making the tell-tale sign of the cross.

A few hours after your arrest you find yourself in a courtroom (because the “people’s” authoritarian government believes in speedy trials.) The intimidating judge looks down at you from the bench, “It says here that you were picked up on your way to the Columbus school. We have evidence of illegal Christian propaganda being taught there and we also have reliable reports that various Catholic rituals are done there, superstitions which are offensive to reason and the spirit of our times. Now I imagine that you went to that school because that’s where your parents sent you. And I’m sure that your parents would be shocked to discover that such repugnant activities as these are happening at your school.”

The judge continues, “The punishment for being found guilty of being a believing Catholic Christian is a grave one. But… if you were simply mixed-up in these activities, unthinkingly, by accident—if you were just doing them because that’s what everyone else around you was doing—well then that would be a different story. Spies and traders may come to our government rallies, but that doesn’t make them loyal citizens now does it? So just going through the motions doesn’t make you a believing Catholic at all, am I right?”

“So I can completely understand how this regretable misunderstanding has occurred. You didn’t really understand what you were doing did you? Now if you would simply formally renounce any and all belief in these silly superstitions, you may go on your way. Just sign your name here on this piece of paper testifying to that effect, and you’re free to go.”

What would you do? What do you wish you would have the courage to do? Would we have the courage to refuse to sign, just as Eleazar refused to eat? The eating of a little meat, like the movement of a pen, is a small act, but Eleazar refused and accepted an unjust death because to do otherwise would mean a rejection of the Lord, the one true God, the King of all other kings.

Now it is very unlikely that you or I will ever have to lay down our lives as red, or bloody martyrs for our faith in Christ. But, like Zacchaeus, there will be certainly times when we will have to go out on a limb for Christ. The crowd laughed to see the rich man Zacchaeus up in that tree, but what did Zacchaeus care about? His focus was totally fixed upon his connection with Jesus Christ.

Be like Eleazar, and don’t swallow whatever the world sets before you, because a lot of it is not good and can alienate you from God. Be like Zacchaeus, with the courage to go out on a limb regardless of what other people might think or say, for the sake of your relationship with Christ.

[The images for this post come from the movie Sophie Scholl–The Final Days. If you liked A Man for All Seasons, you’ll like this one too (but I’ll warn you up front that it ends the same way.)]

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