An open letter to the people of “Courage”

George Weigel

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

There are many exemplars of the cardinal virtue of courage in the Catholic Church today: Catholics in Hong Kong who risk their lives and livelihoods in defense of religious liberty, free speech, and freedom of association; French Catholics who brave Islamist murderers to practice the faith; young men preparing for a priestly vocation that may land them in jail for “hate crimes” because they preach the Gospel; campus ministers who push back against political correctness in order to evangelize; parents who insist that Catholic schools be “Catholic” in more than name; teenagers who won’t be bullied into denying Christ by their peers. We are truly surrounded by a “great…cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1). 

And among them, there are no more courageous Catholics than you, the men and women of “Courage.” Against fierce cultural and social pressures, you strive – with the help of grace, your pastors, and each other – to live the Catholic ethic of human love even as you experience same-sex attractions. Your efforts at fidelity bespeak deep faith, a powerful hope, and authentic love.  

Living chastely – living what John Paul II called “the integrity of love” – is not easy for anyone in our licentious culture. For that culture perversely insists that acting out our desires, whatever they may be, is a mark of “authenticity,” while chastity is demeaned as repression or a dishonest betrayal of one’s self. You know that those are lies.  

You also know that lies like that come from the source the Lord called the “father of lies” (John 8:44). Against the grain of the times and the culture, you try to withstand the onslaught of the Evil One and to live the truth of human love amidst temptations. You are St. Paul’s “earthen vessels” (2. Cor. 4:7), and like all of us, you sometimes stumble on the journey to holiness. But unlike some others, you do not demand that truth bend to desire. With Flannery O’Connor, you know that “the truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally.” So you seek reconciliation and forgiveness and recommit yourselves to living the integrity of love. 

Just as importantly, you do not treat chastity as an ecclesiastical “policy issue” and you do not lobby within the Church for a change in “policy,” because you know that what is at stake here is truth: a truth that makes for happiness, genuine friendship, and, ultimately, beatitude. Working with the grace God makes available to you, you offer a crucial and often cruciform witness to the Church, especially to those who imagine that “their” truth is truer than Christ’s. 

Many of you were upset by what Pope Francis was reported to have said, in a documentary film, about civil unions for same-sex couples and related matters. As it’s now clear that the Pope’s comments were cut-and-pasted by an agenda-driven filmmaker, this episode was another reminder that media reports of Catholic matters should always be taken with a grain of salt; ditto for the hysteria that too often characterizes the Catholic blogosphere. But precisely because certain parties further confused things by spinning and politicizing what the Pope was said-to-have-said, it’s important to recall two Catholic realities. 

First, informal remarks by a pope to a filmmaker do not constitute an expression of the papal teaching office. Those who suggest otherwise are theologically ill-informed, politically motivated, or both. As I point out in The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission, the pope is not an oracle and every papal utterance is not magisterium. 

Second, nothing that Pope Francis was reported to have said changes the Catholic Church’s teaching on the ethics of human love, on what constitutes marriage, and on who may marry. That teaching cannot change, because it is rooted in divine revelation and attested by reason. It would have been helpful (and professionally competent) if the Vatican press office had clarified this point before the media herd of independent minds declared what the Pope was said-to-have-said to be a possible first step toward a Catholic affirmation of so-called “gay marriage.” It was no such thing, because such a thing is impossible. 

So, brave men and women of “Courage,” thank you for your witness. Please continue to take up the challenge that St. John Paul II issued on October 22, 1978: “Be not afraid! Open the doors to Christ!” Your courage should inspire every Catholic to a similar fidelity, and to the mutual, prayerful support that helps sustain the integrity of love.

Featured photo by Eddi Aguirre on Unsplash

COMING UP: Five tips for reading the Word of God

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Sunday, Jan. 24 marks “The Sunday of the Word of God,” instituted by Pope Francis last year and to be held every year on the third Sunday of Ordinary Time. This may strike us as odd, as we might think to ourselves, “but isn’t the Bible read at every Sunday Mass?” Certainly so. Not only that, but every daily celebration of the Mass proclaims the Word of God.

What’s different about “The Sunday of the Word of God,” however, is that it’s not just about hearing the Bible read on Sundays. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith notes, it “reminds us, pastors and faithful alike, of the importance and value of Sacred Scripture for the Christian life, as well as the relationship between the word of God and the liturgy: ‘As Christians, we are one people, making our pilgrim way through history, sustained by the Lord, present in our midst, who speaks to us and nourishes us. A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the Risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers. For this reason, we need to develop a closer relationship with Sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, inflicted as we are by so many forms of blindness.’” This gives us a wonderful opportunity to pause and reflect on the Sacred Scriptures. 

There are two means by which God Divinely reveals truths to us: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. As such, the Bible is not merely a human document, nor simply a collection of amazing stories that call us to do heroic things, or a collection of wise sayings. Rather, the Scriptures are “inspired.” St. Paul has a beautiful teaching about this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.” By “inspired” we mean that God is the principle author of the Bible.

Certainly there were different men who physically wrote the words on the papyrus. Yet these men were influenced by the grace of inspiration to write, not just their own words, but God’s. And so the Scriptures are a mysterious congruence of Divine and human authorship – the human writers capably made full use of language, literary forms, creativity, and writing style to communicate their message, yet they did so under the grace of Divine inspiration. This means that while they wrote in such a way that they had full freedom to write as they wanted, what they wrote was also, “to a tee,” exactly as God wanted written. God is the principle author of the Bible, the human author its secondary writer. Such inspiration is how, despite the various human authors, events, and historical and cultural contexts behind the 73 Biblical texts, we’re still left with only one story since they all have the same one primary author. 

Given that the Bible is the written word of God, I’d like to offer a few “tips” for reading the Bible, since it certainly cannot be read like any other text. 

1. Pray! We must pray before opening the Scriptures for enlightenment from God. We must pray after reading in thanksgiving to God. And we must pray throughout reading in order to encounter God in Scripture and apply it to our life. Of course, the tried and trusted practice of praying the Scriptures is Lectio DivinaThe Ladder of Monks by Guigo II is the ancient resource for Lectio Divina, while a helpful book to get you started is Dr. Tim Gray’s Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina

2. Remember that you are in no rush. The important point is encountering Christ in the Scriptures, not racing through them. Speed reading isn’t reading, after all, much less when applied to the Word of God. It’s not about getting through the Bible, but encountering Christ therein. That may be a few chapters at a time or may actually be only one verse that you pray with. Whatever the case, slow and steady wins the race, as Aesop reminds us. 

3. We have to read the Scriptures regularly, daily if possible. We read in Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Meditating day and night. A good way to start would be to read one Psalm a night as a part of your nightly prayer. Ever better would be praying that one Psalm with your spouse, if married. 

4. Do not worry about starting on page one and reading from cover to cover. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the text. We all know about Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, Moses and the Plagues. But how many understand animal sacrifices in the Book of Leviticus or its purity laws? It’s very easy, starting from page one and flipping straight through, to lose sight of the story of salvation history. Start from page one if you’d like, but don’t feel like you can’t start with whatever book (especially the Gospels) that you find yourself drawn to. 

5. Come take classes with the Denver Catholic Biblical School! In chapter eight of the Book of Acts, we read of an Ethiopian Eunuch reading from the Prophet Isaiah. When the Deacon Philip asks him if he understands what he’s reading, the Eunuch responds, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” This is what we at the Biblical School are here for – to guide you in your encounter with Christ in the Sacred Scriptures. We’re in the middle of our Scripture classes already for this year, but we always start new classes in the fall every September. And in the meantime, we have plenty of things still coming for this year – a class on Catholic Social Teaching that begins on Jan. 27 a lecture series for Lent that starts on March 1, a conference on the Sacred Heart being offered on May 15 and Aug. 28, and a six-week class on St. Joseph in the summer starting in July. We have something for everybody – just reach out to us!