A Catholic Response
The Covington Catholic High School Students’ fiasco raises some serious question for the Catholic Community.
Let us look at the situation. A group of Catholic students found themselves in the middle of a media storm after a kind of a stand-off between a native American former marine and one of their own. Apparently, there was some kind of stare down contest that some transformed into a bashing of sorts.
This led to enemies of the Catholic Church, of Donald Trump and of all things Christian to do everything from troll the students to call for their deaths.
Some in the Catholic community chose sides and embraced either the violent rhetoric against the students or stood up and defended them.
Clearly, the situation entered a dangerous stage, but I am going to encourage all Catholics to look at a bigger picture.
How does a small country take over a large country? The smaller military force does not have what it takes to take over the larger force, so how can it succeed? It is rather simple actually, just get the people of the larger country against each other.
We reached a stage in this country where that is happening exactly, and when a group of students get caught in the middle of this media storm, we entered a new stage.
What is the Catholic role in the midst of this? Now I am not talking what should the USCCB do and I am not saying what should the bishops do, they are busy doing other things. I am writing to the average Catholic and saying what should you do? I also write this especially to the Covington Catholic community.
What is our mission as Catholics? If you say, go to Heaven, I will give you a B. Yes, that is part of it, but that is not the full mission. Jesus put it this way, we are the salt of the Earth and the Light of the World. You and I have a mission to live the Gospel that all may be saved. Let no one be mistaken, our mission is the salvation of souls, all souls, not just our own.
St. Alphonsus Liguori preached that priests who work to save only their own souls will be condemned, because we must bear fruit more than others, except bishops. However, that does not mean that the laity do not have a call to bear fruit too.
This is the point of holiness. We must not just do good things, or be good people. We must live in a way that each and every action of our lives glorifies God and leads others to do the same. This is the mission of every Catholic and it begins at Baptism. Our mission is not to become class valedictorians, it is not to become rich and famous or CEO’s or whatever. Our mission is to save souls. Now, that does not mean that we cannot do those other things, but our prime mission is to live in such a way that God is glorified and souls are saved.
How do we live that mission. First, we cannot do this on our own, so any thought that we can just do this will get us nowhere. We must be people of prayer and I am not just referring to saying the Our Father once a day and Mass on Sundays. I am talking about people who live prayer.
Pope St. John Paul II wrote—to Americans no less:
Prayer, both personal and liturgical, is the duty of every Christian. “Jesus Christ, the Good News of the Father, warns us that without him we can do nothing (cf. Jn 15:5). He himself, in the decisive moments of his life, before doing something, used to withdraw to an isolated place to give himself to prayer and contemplation, and he asked the Apostles to do the same” . . . In this sense, contemplation is not a privilege reserved to the few; on the contrary, in parishes, in communities and movements there is a need to foster a spirituality clearly oriented to contemplation of the fundamental truths of faith: the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation of the Word, the Redemption of humanity, and the other great saving works of God
—Pope St. John Paul II, Ecclesia [Church] in America
The words the great Pope spoke to Americans is that we must be deeply connected in prayer to Christ and we as Catholics must foster a sense of contemplation within ourselves.
Contemplative prayer is a deep form of prayer that is difficult to define, to put it simply—it is a transformative way of praying that leads us to encounter Christ daily, which is what we are supposed to do, in order that we may be busy doing his work of saving souls. Thomas Merton described it as the highest expression of human intellectual and spiritual life.
It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a very realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible transcendent and instantly abundant source. Contemplation is above all awareness of the reality of that source. It knows the source obscurely inexplicably but with the certitude that goes beyond reason and beyond simple faith.
Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, “Chapter 1: What Is Contemplation?”; Gethsemani, KY; Copyright 1961 by Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc.; Kindle version, Merton, Thomas; Kidd, Sue Monk copyright 2007,)
The fruit of it can be found in St. Paul’s admonition to dedicate ourselves to thankfulness. St. Alphonsus Liguori shows the example of many saints, who through the transformation of contemplation, learned to be thankful in all things for all they experienced, from the warmth of the sun to the beauty of flowers. They just would stop for a second and thank God for this generous gift that was given to them despite their sinfulness. They also learned to be thankful when all things went wrong as well. He calls us to learn to do the same thing. (cf Phil. 4:4)
However, this prayer also leads us to see our enemies differently as well. For it calls us to pray even for our enemies.
St. Paul in Romans 12 commands us not to curse our enemies, but to bless them. If there is any vengeance to be done, it is God’s role not ours. We must pray for them. In fact, a common admonition to Christians is that the sign of the Christian is that he or she prays for his enemies.
St. Maximus the Confessor warned that if we are being vilified, then not only must we pray for the vilifier, but we must trust in the Lord to correct any slander this vilifier spoke against us. He also warned that if we hate the vilifier, which is the instinctive thing to do, then we broke the commandment to love.
This is how Catholics have a calling to live and one of the people who demonstrated this was not even Catholic. He was Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King. The story goes that he was beaten by a police officer when he was arrested in Alabama. When he entered his cell, he got down on his knees and prayed for the officer that beat him.
This is the call that each and every one of us has at this time. Living in a time when many in our country are taking sides on every issue and threatening violence against those on the other side, we as Catholics must be different. We must be people of prayer, contemplation and love, living in such a way that God is glorified and souls are saved.
It does not matter how well we write, tweet or speak or whether we are right or wrong in our arguments for or against these students, if we are not first concerned with glorifying God and saving souls in all that we do. Therefore, everything written or spoken about an issue must have this mission in mind.
To the Covington Catholic students, please consider the following. Pray a rosary (individually or as a group) for those who uttered a violent or hateful word against you. Maybe even as a school engage in a mass for the Lord’s protection, his grace to help you love even those who threaten violence against you and to pray for your enemies.
To the Native American Community, I learned of the power of Peace Making Circles many years ago, a process that has its roots in Native American culture. May I propose that you may bring that process to this situation and teach the students that powerful tool of reconciliation and peace.
To other Catholics, before you take sides in any argument and before you write anything, think it through. Will your words glorify God, will your words save souls? Remember, the words of the Venerable Fulton Sheen: “Win an argument, lose a soul.”
By László Mednyánszky , Own work Photo by Szilas at the exhibition in the Gallery of Judit Virág, Budapest, Public Domain,