Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I hope everyone is enjoying their Columbus Day Weekend! Thinking about it, it’s almost surprising that our nation celebrates Christopher Columbus with a national holiday. With all the heroes we can claim as our own, we look to an Italian who sailed for Spain, but I guess we really recognize his courage and the fact that his voyage changed the world, with the Europeans arriving in the Western Hemisphere.
Of course many people today take exception with our celebrating him at all – seeing him as a symbol of cultural oppression – but that’s not an argument to have in a one page column. One thing I do struggle with though, is that many will condemn Catholics for bringing the faith, and tie our faith to the atrocities that occurred. The colonists were Catholic, so the faith is implicated in their actions.
And this is something that can be seen throughout history – the Inquisition, the Crusades – people argue that, because Catholics were involved, the Catholic faith supported any terrible deeds associated with such occurrences. What they fail to realize though, is that very often it is not the faith that leads to the problems, but those who use the faith to promote their own worldly causes. It was not the Church but the Spanish Crown that sought to consolidate power through the Inquisition. The Pope sought to protect Christians in the Middle East through the Crusades, while it was sinful men who committed the crimes.
So too when it comes to the missionaries in the New World; I will not defend the deeds of the soldiers, but the missionaries came with a simple belief – Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, and knowledge of him is the key to salvation and the creation of a loving and compassionate society. We often forget, but the New World in 1500 was still home to human sacrifice and other dark forms of spiritualism. At the dedication of a temple in 1487 the Aztecs sacrificed, some estimate, 80,000 people. How different from a Christian society, that at least in principle, and very often in action, teaches care for the sick, the infirm, the disabled – everyone – because each person is made in God’s image and redeemed by Christ.
We often hesitate to speak of converting others. Proselytism has become a dirty word. Live and let live is today’s motto. But if we truly believe that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, how can we not want to spread that Good News? How can we not admire the zeal of the missionaries, who came, endured great difficulties, and very often lost their lives, to help bring salvation and Christian love to a world that did not know them?
Particularly in our society, where we see a similar barbarism on the rise, should we not feel the same drive? As we reflect on the attacks on human life – the murder of the unborn, particularly the unborn with disabilities (countries like Iceland no longer have children with Down Syndrome, as nearly 100% are aborted), the abandonment of the elderly and their elimination in euthanasia, the blindness toward the poor, the immigrant, the marginalized – our hearts should burn within us. The evidence is ample: our society is no longer Christian, and that should trouble us.
We look then to those holy models like St. Isaac Jogues (whose feast day is October 19th), who was brutally beaten nearly to death, returned to France, and upon his recovery came back to preach the Gospel once again. Or we look to St. Junipero Serra, who founded the many missions in southern California. We see in them examples who did not use the faith for personal gain, but to save souls and care for those entrusted to them. May we too bring the faith to a world so much in need of it.
Yours in Christ,