“I have loved justice and hated iniquity. Therefore, I die in exile.”
These were some of the last recorded words of Pope St. Gregory VII. He was one of the great reformer popes you stood up to the corruption that had infested the Church. The largest example of this at the time was the practice of lay investiture. This was where kings and lords of a country would choose the bishops rather than having them appointed by the pope. This practice led to a great deal of worldliness in the Church and coalescing of religious influence and political power. Gregory resolved to put an end to this ecclesial disease.
The most famous example of this was when he excommunicated King Henry IV or Germany for continuing the practice. This was a devastating blow for Henry, not only spiritually but politically as divine right was a major claim to kingship. So Henry went down to Gregory. There he knelt in the snow and fasted, begging Gregory to forgive him. The pope relented and reconciled the king back into the Church. Upon his return to Germany, Henry raised an army and invaded Rome with the intention to kill Gregory. The pope escaped, but Henry set up his own antipope and Gregory spent the remainder of his days in exile.
Why do I tell this story?
Because Gregory needs to be our model of courage in the modern world.
Gregory knew that if he wanted to do the will of God that the powerful of the world would hate him. The world we live in is horribly unjust. What little justice there is can only come from the goodness that God has placed in the hearts of men. But the glowing embers of that goodness need to be stoked with the fanning flames of courage.
In my last article I focused on how we need to have calm heads and compassionate hearts for our enemies. This is the teaching we received from the Lord. But Christ was uncompromising when it came to speaking out against the evils of the world.
This is a difficult concept for the modern mind to accept. The old saying was “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” But we’ve come to a place where if we hate the sin, we are accused of hating the sinner. In the name of a misguided compassion, there is tremendous pressure to not talk about the sin in the world for fear of alienating the sinner.
When was the last time you heard from the pulpit that if you get divorced and remarried without an annulment that you are living in adultery? What about a bold statement that your God-given sex and gender cannot be changed and is not a mistake. There is a fear by many that using such striking language that you turn away those who are living in this state and so keep them away from the mercy of God. I am not saying that these are not legitimate concerns. But we do no one favors by withholding from them the truth.
And the truth is something for which there should be no compromise. The price we pay for it is too dear.
Recently, New York state adopted one of the most horrendous abortion laws in our country. This was greeted with thunderous applause by the legislators and by the Catholic governor. I firmly believe that this monstrous measure would not have come to pass had our Bishops taken a firmer stance against “pro-choice” politicians.
Back in 1968, many Catholics publicly dissented from Pope Paul VI’s reaffirmation of the Church’s ban on artificial contraception. Instead of excommunicating them, they were allowed to remain in error. This led to one of the most destructive ideas in the Catholic Church to take hold: “I can disregard Church teaching and remain Catholic.”
Once you accept this idea, then all of the truths of the faith are up for grabs. Now we are at the point where Catholics can enthusiastically sign laws allowing for the murder of unborn babies and still boldly proclaim their Catholic identity. This leads to confusion among the people and destruction of the moral fabric of our world.
Gregory VII knew this. He knew that he had to draw a red line and hold to that line. He knew that this might cost him everything. But he also had enough faith to believe that even if the powers of the world defeated him in his own lifetime, that his example of justice would have a longer-lasting effect.
Even if our own Bishops refuse to speak up or even actively capitulate to the world, we must be strong. We don’t need to wait for marching orders from above. We must begin the work ourselves.
St. Francis of Assisi began his reforms seeing himself as a common man living out the Gospel. Dorothy Day saw the needs of the poor, so she rolled up her sleeves and began her ministry. Someone like Justin Fatica of Hard as Nails Ministry had a profound conversion experience from Fr. Larry Richards and so began to evangelize the truth to anyone who would listen.
Where do we start?
Do we donate our time to Pro-Life groups? What about our treasure?
Do we boldly stand up for the Church’s truths in our interactions with our family, friends, and co-workers. Prudent judgment must be used as to how best to do this. Sometimes gentle listening is primary. Other times bold argumentation is needed. But do people know that we are faithful sons and daughters of the Church.
And the more of us that live this example, the more people will be emboldened. Some will be emboldened to oppose us. Some will be emboldened to join us. Regardless, the battle lines will be drawn.
And we all must choose a side.
Copyright 2019, WL Grayson