Friday, February 3, 2012

Bible and Myth: the Atheist Narrative Our Children Must Endure

Homily on the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B, 2012

This week, the Holy Father addressed some of the bishops of the United States who were in Rome for their ad limina visit, a visit that each bishop makes to Rome every 5 years to discuss with the pope the state of the church in their diocese.  Over the course of this year, which the pope has declared the year of faith, Pope Benedict is focusing on the Church’s efforts to hand on the faith.  The particular reflections that he offered to our bishops were centered the theme of evangelization and resonate with the readings today, which speak to the urgency and critical nature of our work to teach and hand on the faith. You can find the full text of his address to the bishops in the bulletin this week.

“It is imperative,” he said to our bishops, “that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life.”

Now, some might say that there have always been those who are opposed to the Church – look at the anti-Catholic attitude in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries.  And that is true.  However, after a rather brief period of social acceptance in the American main stream, in recent years there has been an increasingly concerted effort by some to undermine the role of the Church in society.  In the last 10 years, these efforts have become more focused on the young, on our children.  And it is not overstating the case to say that the threat is grave. 

It is imperative, to use the pope’s words, that we do not underestimate what is happening.
I have been working with the youth a lot over the last year or two.  It is not an overstatement to say that the youth culture today is blatantly hostile to religious practice. 

In one of the high schools of our parish, the world religions class is called “Bible and Myth.” 
In another high school in our parish, one of our children has to listen as the teacher, chair of the department, goes on tirades about how ridiculous Christian belief is, and about how horrendous the Church has been over the centuries, while classmates snicker and laugh over the absurdity of religious belief. 
In another of our high schools, at a so called ‘voluntary’ assembly, hundreds of students listened and applauded as Christians were ridiculed, as they were blamed for every sort of social evil and conflict.  They wanted to walk out but feared social reprisal. 
In yet another of our high schools, after winter break students will be putting Pope Urban II on trial for the crusades. 

4 different high schools.  There aren’t that many around here. 
I do not believe that I am overstating the case to say that you should assume that if you have a child in high school they will have a class, and perhaps a number of classes, in which their faith is openly ridiculed.

Now in theory, there is nothing inherently wrong with a secular school, so long as the school is secular.  Teachers should not be espousing religious beliefs in the classroom.  And that goes two ways – atheists should not be espousing religious beliefs in the classroom either.  Faith should not be ridiculed in the classroom.  Period.  And if it is, parents and grandparents have a moral obligation to say something.  I know there is fear of reprisal from the teacher in many cases, and I know that the last thing that you want is to get a reputation for being some kind of shrill religious nut.  I think that many of our children don’t tell us about what is happening precisely because they don’t want us to make a scene and embarrass them.

And you know, sometimes we may decide that it is not wise to directly confront a teacher – but that cannot be the end of it.  We must then be directly discussing what is happening in the class with our child, making sure that the subtle but powerful agenda that they are hearing day in and day out is countered by the truth.  We cannot simply allow our children to be indoctrinated out the doors of the church right under our noses.  Our children need to hear the truth – they need to be educated Catholics - if their understanding of faith is akin to other forms of mythology, they will reject it as they grow older, just like they leave behind Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.  If all they hear about is the crusades and the inquisition and abuses of papal power, they will reject the Church as an obstacle.  The 5th most watched you tube video this month, at 15 million views, is a diatribe against religion titled “Why I love Jesus but hate religion.”  What age group do you think is most influenced by this narrative, this story that is being told?  It is our children.  We have the duty to answer in a calm, clear, and coherent way – we must speak to our children, our grandchildren, giving them a compelling reason for our faith in Christ and his Church. 

In his address to the bishops this week, pope Benedict spoke of the great “need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society….”

It is so encouraging to me to see parishioners engaging in the life of our parish and seeking to learn more about their faith.  Many of you have participated in the weekly adult Bible study groups over the last year.  This coming week is Catholic school’s week.  Many make great sacrifices to send you children to our Catholic school so that they can receive a strong foundation in faith that will help them to navigate the challenges of high school.  The new religious education program this year involves the whole family and requires greater sacrifice and time commitment.  So many of you have responded with such enthusiasm and a willingness to give of your time and be inconvenienced so that we can provide the children of the parish with a more robust program.  This summer we will have week-long programs for all age groups in the parish: vacation bible school for grade-school children, a summer summit for the junior high youth, and summer conclave for high school youth.  I want to encourage you who are young to be involved in these opportunities to deepen your faith, and to dedicate yourselves to regularly attending youth ministry meetings so that you can continue to grow in your knowledge of Christ.

I will close with the concluding words of the Holy Father to our bishops:
“No one who looks at these issues realistically can ignore the genuine difficulties which the Church encounters at the present moment. Yet in faith we can take heart from the growing awareness of the need to preserve a civil order clearly rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, as well as from the promise offered by a new generation of Catholics whose experience and convictions will have a decisive role in renewing the Church’s presence and witness in American society. The hope which these "signs of the times" give us is itself a reason to renew our efforts to mobilize the intellectual and moral resources of the entire Catholic community in the service of the evangelization of American culture and the building of the civilization of love.”

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