Last year, there was a Freshman boy at my school, who was very timid about his Catholic Faith. He was a good kid and loved Jesus, but apparently not enough to share Him with other people. One day he was sitting at lunch when his friends started talking about abortion. The line was split between basically what we Catholics believe, and, well, the complete opposite. He sat there listening to the conversation, when someone finally asked him what he thought. He was startled and didn’t really want to answer. He said, “I don’t know”. His friend said, “You’ve been listening enough to know each side’s opinion. Who do you stand with?”
Well, I happen to know that boy very personally, because he’s me. This was at the start of my Freshman year of High School, when I barely knew anyone and was only worried about not being the punch line of someone’s next joke. Some of my friends from band had some friends who really hated Catholics. I was much more quiet about my faith then, and didn’t want to get shunned or abandoned, so I never said anything. The conversation I mentioned earlier happened in October, if my memory serves me well. In the two and a half months barely anyone knew I was Catholic, I got a lot of new friends. But my friendship with Jesus waned. Man cannot serve two masters. You have to understand what I was facing my Freshman year. That was the first time I had been in a non-Christian school environment, well, the second. In Preschool, I went to this Presbyterian place close to my house. In Elementary School, I shuffled between various Catholic Schools until I homeschooled for three years, and then went back to Catholic Schools. In 8th grade, i went to a public school for about a month, barely, before I went to another Catholic School (we just moved and had to take extra time). Then, finally, my Freshman year at a public High School was not only the first non-Christian environment I had been in, but the first somewhat anti-Catholic.
When that boy asked me who I stood with, I answered the Catholic side. From then on, I did my best to be a witness to the Faith. It’s not that I wasn’t capable of it earlier, I definitely was. I was just afraid. If you have ever read the amazing Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, you’ll remember the scene that they left out of the movie at the Barrow-Downs. All of the hobbits are trapped by an evil barrow-wight, and will soon all be killed. The others are unconscious, but Frodo sees a wight coming to kill them. He tells himself that if he just puts on the ring he can escape. There is nothing else he could do. But Tolkien tells us something important.
There is a seed of courage hidden (often deeply, it is true) in the heart of the fattest and most timid hobbit, waiting for some final and desperate danger to make it grow.
The same is true for us (we’re more hobbit-like than some would believe). For the rest of his journey, Frodo never lost that little seed of courage, even though sometimes he felt like it was gone. He failed at times, perhaps his courage took a big blow, but it was always only as small as he would let it be. The same thing I believe happened to me. I did my best to defend Catholic teaching, and sometimes, I’ll admit, did a pretty bad job. But I learned from my mistakes. Then, during the BOA Grand Nationals (kind of like a World Series for Marching Band), my band had nothing to do for a couple hours, so we sent to the mall. The mall has these big humongous windows, and I was sitting down eating rich in front of one. Through the window you could see a beautiful Catholic Cathedral towering above other buildings. Someone at my table said, “Man, I **bleep** hate those **bleep** Catholics. My old self wouldn’t have said anything, but this one did. I didn’t change his mind, probably not even a little, but he knew that those Catholics believe something important.
That kid isn’t an anomaly out of the kind and loving secular world, not at all. People are always going to try to bring down the church. Looking at the Catholic tag on the WordPress Reader, i can’t go five posts without getting some anti-Catholic garbage. The point is, that if you don’t stand up for the faith, it is so much easier to bring you down. It would be march harder for me to push you if you’re running at me rather than just standing there.
One of my favorite scenes from the bible is the martyrdom of Eleazar in 2 Maccabees 6:18-31. It’s long, but definitely worth reading.
Eleazar, one of the foremost scribes, a man advanced in age and of noble appearance, was being forced to open his mouth to eat pork. But preferring a glorious death to a life of defilement, he went forward of his own accord to the instrument of torture, spitting out the meat as they should do who have the courage to reject food unlawful to taste even for love of life. Those in charge of that unlawful sacrifice took the man aside, because of their long acquaintance with him, and privately urged him to bring his own provisions that he could legitimately eat, and only to pretend to eat the sacrificial meat prescribed by the king. Thus he would escape death, and be treated kindly because of his old friendship with them. But he made up his mind in a noble manner, worthy of his years, the dignity of his advanced age, the merited distinction of his gray hair, and of the admirable life he had lived from childhood. Above all loyal to the holy laws given by God, he swiftly declared, “Send me to Hades!” “At our age it would be unbecoming to make such a pretense; many of the young would think the ninety-year-old Eleazar had gone over to an alien religion. If I dissemble to gain a brief moment of life, they would be led astray by me, while I would bring defilement and dishonor on my old age. Even if, for the time being, I avoid human punishment, I shall never, whether alive or dead, escape the hand of the Almighty. Therefore, by bravely giving up life now, I will prove myself worthy of my old age, and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.” He spoke thus, and went immediately to the instrument of torture. Those who shortly before had been kindly disposed, now became hostile toward him because what he had said seemed to them utter madness. When he was about to die under the blows, he groaned, saying: “The Lord in his holy knowledge knows full well that, although I could have escaped death, I am not only enduring terrible pain in my body from this scourging, but also suffering it with joy in my soul because of my devotion to him.” This is how he died, leaving in his death a model of nobility and an unforgettable example of virtue not only for the young but for the whole nation.
He could’ve escaped death without eating the pork, but to do that would let the rest know that it would be ok to eat and sin. If one of my sibling sees me playing video games when I’m not supposed to, they’re going to think its okay. If a Freshman sees me at Marching Band messing up and not caring about it, they’re going to think it’s fine. If you have someone who looks up to you, and they don’t see you stand up for the faith, they’re not going to either. Lead by example, not only words.
Life is like a river. Ever moving and always changing. It’s much easier to go with the current, you barely have to do any work. That’s what most people do. But, the thing is, Heaven is on the other side. You have to go against the current to get there.
“The opposite for courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow.” -Jim Hightower
Ok, quick story. I love going to New Jersey. Half my extended family lives there, plus the ocean and like 10 awesome rivers. Usually we just crab and fish, but on one trip we decided to swim in the river. We made up a game to see who could get past the tree the quickest…going against the current. It was super hard (not to mention super fun). One time, my brother cheated and walked in the water to the other side. When I tried to swim to the finish line, I ended up going backwards.
You can tell where I’m going with all of this. I know its not fun, it’s not popular, and it definitely isn’t easy. But take a stand! If just one person stands up, he will inspire another, who in turn might inspire a few more. I said it once, but I’m gonna say it again. If you’ve got a blog, or social media, or even just an email for pete’s sake, write something like this, calling Catholics to make a stand. Tag it TheBeaconsAreLit. And encourage them to spread the word as well.
God Bless you guys.
In Christ, Catholic2theMax