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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 Anyone who trusts the New Testament as a collection of historical documents believes that much.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.