Gulag Dispatch #5: Evangelization and Freedom of Speech/Religion

Jesus of Nazareth worked miracles, and He rose from the dead. A large number of eye witnesses documented these facts.

El Greco Christ blessing croppedThat said, the Christian faith involves something beyond these remarkable facts. The Lord did not teach His disciples, “I am a miracle-worker who will rise from the dead.” He taught them: I and the Father are one.

In other words, the Lord Jesus did not merely do extraordinary deeds to make His disciples gape with wonder. He proposed to them: Believe. Believe the unseen divine truth. Believe in the tri-unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

A Christian does not simply believe that Jesus rose from the dead. Anyone who trusts the New Testament as a collection of historical documents believes that much. Christians believe that Jesus rising from the dead affects us.

We believe that God has united Himself with us, in Christ. Yes we accept the Apostles’ accounts of what they saw and heard, but more than that: We believe what the Apostles themselves believed.

The Apostles believed what they believed because Jesus proposed it to them, for them to accept or reject. And they accepted it. Of course, He poured out the Holy Spirit, to enable them to believe the Christian mystery. But that doesn’t make their act of faith any less human. The Holy Spirit empowers the innermost soul of a human being to believe in Christ, the only-begotten Son of the eternal Father.

The Sanhedrin condemned Jesus of Nazareth for blasphemy, because He proposed the Christian faith to those who heard Him preach. The same tribunal accused the Apostles of the same crime, for doing the same thing–speaking freely about the Christ. This is one of the main story lines of the New Testament.

Those original preachers–the Christ Himself, and His Apostles–they all knew: A Christian becomes a Christian by believing. Believing in the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. The Church preaches that Gospel, so that mankind might believe it.

No one can physically force another human being to think anything in particular. A human being comes to think something new only through persuasion–communication, argumentation, question and answer. It’s all a matter of free speech and free assent.

Vatican II stallsThe Fathers of the Second Vatican Council put it like this:

The search for truth must be carried out in a manner that is appropriate to the dignity of the human person. That is, by free inquiry, with the help of teaching and instruction, communication, and dialogue. It is by these means that people share with each other the truth they have discovered, in such a way that they help one another in the search for truth. Moreover, it is by personal assent that they must adhere to the truth they have discovered.

Jesus taught the truth. He is the eternal Word of the eternal Father. The Sanhedrin sought to silence the proclamation.

The evangelists of the New Testament–Christ and His Apostles–none of them ever did anything to try to force anyone to think a particular way. Because you cannot force someone to assent to the mystery of faith.

Now, maybe you might ask, dear reader: Why not? Shouldn’t evangelists use force? Since only faith in Christ will save a soul? If we love our neighbor, and want him or her to get to heaven–doesn’t that dictate that we use force, if necessary? So that the dear neighbor will believe the saving truth, and get to heaven?

Obviously not. Because we all know: It doesn’t work that way. You cannot “force feed” someone the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Believing in Christ involves the co-operation of the most-intimate interior of a human soul. Only the soul itself can believe. No one else can enter that inner sanctuary and make anything happen there. The “place” where someone believes: it’s inaccessible to anyone other than that person. That’s what makes conscience conscience, and a human being a human being.

…The first time Bishop Knestout and I met to discuss this blog, I said:

Can we look at it this way? If what I have written is out in left field, if it is clearly wrong and scandalous, then let people disregard me as a crank. If I’m a crank with no one paying attention, you’ve got no problem.

But if I am working something out for myself which others find helpful, because what I’m going through, others are also–then I think I am not scandalizing them, but helping them to keep the faith.

Now, of course: ‘free speech’ must have its appropriate time and place. People don’t come to Mass to hear about Theodore McCarrick ad nauseum. So, in my second letter to the bishop, trying to help him understand my point-of-view, I tried to point this out:

I have never dedicated a Sunday homily solely to the sex-abuse scandal. During the summer of 2018, I spoke about it at some length in the course of two homilies. During the entire calendar year 2019, I only mentioned the scandal at Sunday Mass twice.

When the world learned some of the truth about Theodore McCarrick–as you know, the prelate who ordained me–I used my blog as a forum for my own reflections. I knew I could not get through the crisis without expressing myself in some appropriate forum. These particular blog posts were never liturgical homilies. Anyone who read any of this material understood this, and read those posts by his or her own free choice, outside of church.

…Another priest of this diocese has a Twitter. The tweeting priest I have in mind tweets many things with which I could never agree. He tweets things that offend me.

tweetyNever occurred to me to think: ‘Dude needs to stop tweeting! For the sake of Christian unity!’

To the contrary, I love this brother. I believe myself in full communion and peace with him. I just don’t pay any attention to his tweets.

He never insisted that I pay attention. Just like I never insisted that anyone read this blog.

…The truth convinces people in such a way that souls find peace. And only the convincing truth can give a soul peace.

That is the fundamental principle upon which the evangelical mission of the Church rests. The mission has rested on that principle from the very beginning.

Christianity. Free speech. Freedom of religion. These are inseparable realities. They are linked together at their innermost core.

12 thoughts on “Gulag Dispatch #5: Evangelization and Freedom of Speech/Religion

  1. If …. your brother priest is tweeting things that are offensu to you… because they are sinful…. then shouldnt you actually say something? I mean if its not a sin… and wont lead people to sin…thats something else… but if its offensive as a sin… and nothing is said… then doesnt that fall into a sin of omission…. doesnt it also fall into the instruct the ignorant? Just a thought… i know your all for freedom of speech… and I get that… but sometimes… jyst because you can doesnt mean you should.

  2. Because people don’t ignore the cranks. They embrace them. They loudly proclaim they are the authentic Catholics and everyone else is not really Catholic. They divide the Church. Your bishop knows that. He told you what to do. You disobeyed. And now want to complain. If you want free speech, don’t be a priest. It doesn’t preclude you from being Christian or Catholic. But, if you want to be a priest, you must obey.

  3. Because people don’t dismiss the cranks. They embrace them. They are hearing what they want to hear instead of God’s Truth and proclaim themselves the true, authentic Catholics and dismiss everyone else as Catholic in Name Only. Your bishop knows this. He told you what to do. You disobeyed. That’s why you are out and, frankly, that is the right decision. You have shown no ability to understand this and seem hopelessly incapable of following your vow of obedience. If you want to be a priest, obey. If you want free speech, resign. The choice is yours and you are making it.

  4. Oh, and let me add how incredibly wimpy it is to ban people from making comments you don’t like. I guess you only like free speech when it applies to you.

  5. You never know how to stay out of trouble Father Mark, and I have the feeling as in all issues that have gotten this far in painful dispute both sides will someday regret certain steps take and not taken. I have never thought the Pope needs to resign, but I have seen your raw need for closure and pray always for your healing. If I have brought you comfort and calmed even an ounce of pain, then I have done my part. I cannot feel as a commenting observer I had any true influence in this drama. I only know my conviction that unless this path changes course, there will be regret. Forgiveness, mercy and justice are not opposites but irrevocable parts of Our Simplistic Lord.

  6. I’m sorry, Sloan. I disagree. Father Mark has the same rights as everyone else as far as free speech is concerned. Every single citizen of the United States is afforded that right in our Constitution. If you or I read or hear something we don’t like, we have the God-given right to stop reading or listening to it. It’s a choice that is very seldom taken in today’s world of social media overload.
    I’m certainly no lawyer or expert on the Constitution, but my feeling is Bishop Knestout is trying to censor Father Mark’s First Amendment rights.
    If I slander my employer, I certainly expect to receive backlash for it, up to and including termination. However, Father did not slander his employer. He is simply asking for some answers. I’d like some answers, too. I think it’s a disgrace to keep glossing over this scandal and hoping it goes away.
    No hard feelings, Sloan. Just stating my opinion, same as everyone else.

  7. I don’t think Fr. Mark said what another priest tweeted was a sin, only that he [Fr. Mark] didn’t agree with him.
    People read, think about what they read, and then make a decision on whether or not they accept or reject what was written. Or perhaps they don’t decide either way…they think about it and decide where they personally stand on a matter. There is such a thing as “middle of the road” in some (but not all) matters. If someone found everything Fr. Mark wrote to be “wrong” or “offensive” then I would think that person would simply stop reading the blog…unless of course someone was deliberately and purposefully looking for a reason to criticize Fr. Mark.

  8. Hi Bev,

    No, free speech does not extend to the workplace. You could be fired for telling the truth about a product if your boss told you not to. In fact, in Virginia, you can be fired without reason or notice.

    Hi Judy,

    I am lovingly pointing out the error of Fr. Mark’s way. The nuts have a bad habit of taking what they read and then demanding everyone act according to their ways of seeing things. Fr. Mark has to see the other side of the issue and realize that some of his allies in this are destroying the Church and he is playing into their hands quite nicely. I hope that Fr. Mark makes a sincere apology to his bishop and begins to obey and that is my purpose in confronting him.

  9. Bishop Olivier, former auxiliary bishop of Archdiocese of Washington, gave a homily on the true meaning of obedience or what it means to obey anyone, especially someone in a position of authority.
    He said in his homily that obedience at its core means to listen for the truth and then to employ faith and reason to be one’s guide in responding to a given situation. In other words pray for God’s will and discern what the truth is an act on it. Thomas Acquinas writes extensively about this.
    Raw and mindless obedience is what the Nazi’s promoted and demanded. So does the godlessness of communism. This is totally contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. May all who profess to be Christians follow the authentic teachings of Christ. And may Bishop Olivier rest in peace.
    With gratitude for the wisdom of this bishop,

  10. Sloan,
    I am one of Fr. White’s allies and I’m darn proud of it! I’m ‘not destroying the church quite the contrary. I want what is good and right for ALL of God’s people!! The victims deserve as much.
    He’s not playing into my hands at all. I chose to stand behind his actions and his voicing of the atrocities of the church!! I find your comments to be quite outrageous. If you think this boils down to obeying the bishop you really don’t see what is going on here at all.


  11. And if I might add, more people should have stood up to this long before Fr. White has!! Maybe none of this would have happened! Denying it happened, keeping it all secret, THOSE ARE THE REASONS the church is in the predicament it is in today. NOT because of Fr. White speaking out against it.

    Every Catholic should be standing with Fr. White. And frankly, I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t. It’s illogical.


  12. It would be best if you could permanently disable all comments on all of your posts. His Holiness Pope Gregory XVI infallibly taught the following in paragraph 15 of Mirari Vos: “We must include that harmful and never sufficiently denounced freedom to publish any writings whatever and disseminate them to the people, which some dare to demand and promote with so great a clamor. We are horrified to see what monstrous doctrines and prodigious errors are disseminated far and wide…. We are in tears at the abuse which proceeds from them over the face of the earth. Some are so carried away that they contentiously assert that the flock of errors arising from them is sufficiently compensated by the publication of some book which defends religion and truth. Every law condemns deliberately doing evil simply because there is some hope that good may result. Is there any sane man who would say poison ought to be distributed, sold publicly, stored, and even drunk because some antidote is available and those who use it may be snatched from death again and again?”

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