Catholics Praying for Religious Freedom is Backwards Thinking

| 12-17-AD2013 | [32]

David Gray - Religious Persecution2

I have never felt comfortable about praying for religious freedom. In fact, I have always felt downright uneasy about it in my spirit; as if I were not praying in a way that agreed with the Holy Spirit that lives within me. For this reason, I have to confess that I am not in solidarity with many Catholics, including Pope Francis and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in regards to praying for our delivery from religious persecution and for government established rights to practice our faith.

The Precepts of Discipleship

Being that Jesus said, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:10), does it then, therefore, follow that if we pray not to be persecuted that we are asking for the kingdom of heaven not to be ours?

Being that Jesus said, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt. 5:11), does it then, therefore, follow that if we pray to be excused from insults and persecution that we are asking not be rewarded in heaven?

One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from Tertullian in 197 C.E. Concerning a persecution yet unknown to modern Catholics in the United States, he wrote,

“Crucify us, torture us, condemn us, destroy us! Your wickedness is the proof of our innocence, for which reason does God suffer us to suffer this. When recently you condemned a Christian maiden to a panderer rather than to a panther, you realized and confessed openly that with us a stain on our purity is regarded as more dreadful than any punishment and worse than death. Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, accomplish anything: rather, it is an enticement to our religion. The more we are hewn down by you, the more numerous do we become. The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.”

If it is true what Tertullian wrote, does it then, therefore, follow that by us praying not to be persecuted for faith that we are positioning the Church in this country to not enjoy the bloody fruit of martyrdom, which is heroic growth?

The Lesson of Discipleship

Last summer a friend of mine asked me if I would be participating in my diocese’ events for the Fort Night for Religious Freedom, and I told her that I don’t pray for freedom for religious persecution. I said, ‘if I were to pray for something it would be for more religious persecution to come, because it is only when our faith gets tested, does our faith get real.’

The lesson of discipleship in Christ, the lesson of sacred Scripture, and the lesson of sacred Tradition is not that we should flee or that we should ask to be excused from persecution. It is not that we should bargain our way out carrying our Cross. It is not that we should look for the easier route to Mount Calvary. Everyone who has ever avoided persecution, avoided their cross, or looked for an easier route has also avoided spiritual growth. People as such are not those who Christ Jesus said were blessed and rewarded. People as such are not those who Tertullian said would experience growth in their Church.

Indeed, the quickest way for the Catholic Church in the United States to fade into irrelevance is to continue to ask not to be persecuted.  For to ask for such a thing is to be something other than like Christ Jesus. There is nothing interesting or special or apostolic about a Church that isn’t being persecuted. There is nothing challenging about living a society that doesn’t ask us to leave our conscience in the Church. Again, it is only when our faith gets tested that our faith gets real.  Therefore, if we are asking the government to excuse us from this beautiful test that God has allowed, then what our Church is saying is that she doesn’t want us to have real faith.

Catholics Praying for Religious Freedom is Backwards Thinking

Now, I’m not asking you to be like me and not pray for religious freedom. I’m not asking you to be like me and jump for joy when you hear about Christians being forced to choose between whom they will serve – God or state. No, all I am asking you is to want more for the Christian community than what Satan does. What the adversary knows is that when we are not persecuted we are just a lukewarm people; fading into dull happenstance of everyday pointlessness. In contrast, he knows that when we are persecuted, we are a blessed people on fire; fighting the good fight for righteousness sake. The former of these two people are dead ones he prefers most.

Religious persecution and attacks on conscience isn’t something for Christians to asked to be excused from. These are things that Christians should be excited about having the opportunity to experience through God’s grace!

There was a time when Christians prayed to be martyrs, but in this day in age they pray not to be. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt. 16:25).

© 2013 David L. Gray.  All rights reserved.

About the Author:

David L. Gray is a Catholic author, radio host, and founder of DavidLGray.INFO Inc., where he blogs at regularly; giving his fresh Catholic perspective on all things relevant and interesting. DavidLGray.INFO Inc. is a ministry that is consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. "My calling from God is to the John the Baptist Ministry; meaning that I’m here to live in truth, through word and action, and point people to Christ Jesus through the lenses of the Catholic Church." David is a part-time Disneyland dad and full-time father to three beautiful daughters, an ecstatic 2006 Catholic convert, an indifferent 1997 graduate of Central State University, a proud 2002 dropout of Antioch McGregor Graduate School, and a mild mannered graduate student at Franciscan University of Steubenville; working towards a Master of Arts Degree in Theology and Christian Ministry.
Filed in: Faith, Social
  • Jim Russell

    Hi, David–well, I see this differently and have to offer a comment or two. First, not being in “solidarity” with the Holy Father and successors to the Apostles on this issue should, in my view, give one pause to consider just why that is the case. Second, I think your claim that praying for religious freedom is backwards is itself backwards, for one particular reason: Catholics are called to pray for the alleviation of the suffering of others and to *work* toward that alleviation.
    Doing so does not negate the value of *redemptive* suffering such as the persecutions to which you refer. Nor does it eliminate the value of asking God for the *personal* opportunity to grow in faith through one’s own experience of persecution.
    But I think it crosses the line to avoid praying for religious freedom on behalf of *others*. The suffering and evil brought on by religious persecution is permitted by God but not willed by God. We can do both–we can pray for religious freedom to alleviate suffering *and* pray that all–including ourselves–grow stronger in faith when confronted by it.

    • David L. Gray

      There is a big distinction between praying for the graces and blessing that those being persecuted AND those who persecute need most (which I do every morning), versus praying for persecution to end. As for what a Catholic tenets of the faith that Catholics are required to assent to, this program of religious freedom isn’t one of them; therefore, it should not give one pause. :D

    • Jim Russell

      Well, if you want to cast this into the realm of what is “required,” I suppose you can set aside a lot of what popes and bishops have said.

      Then again, there’s what the Second Vatican Council said in its Declaration on Religious Freedom:

      ****2. This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

      The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself.(2) This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.****

      So it would seem to me that you need to include a declaration of an ecumenical council among the magisterial assertions that do not give you “pause”?
      I’d certainly encourage readers to read through the whole declaration before deciding *not* to pray for religious freedom….

    • David L. Gray

      Thanks Jim. This is a good discussion to have, but falls outside of scope of my article, and one I don’t currently have the time to go back and forth about.

    • Jim Russell

      That’s fine–I just hope that readers understand that when we pray for something that the Council Fathers say is our right stemming from our dignity as human persons, that we are not engaging in “backwards thinking.” I understand the transformative power of growing in virtue by fighting the good fight, but our task as Christians is to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven in the here and now (that *is* the fight, ultimately).
      And if we indeed pray “Thy Kingdom Come”, we are necessarily praying for an end to religious persecution…

    • David L. Gray

      That was probably one of the most pretentious things I have read all month. How dare you say that when we pray for God’s Kingdom to come that we are necessarily praying for an end to religious persecution. Are you God Jim? You have no idea what God’s will has decreed or allowed! NO! Your job is to cooperate with the grace of God! NOT DICTATE IT!

    • Jim Russell

      Well, David, sorry you seem upset about the point I’ve made. But I stand by it. Here is why: God made us for religious freedom (so say the Council Fathers). Therefore religious persecution is foreign to God’s will for us. Right?
      If we pray for His kingdom to come, we’re praying for an end to religious persecution, implicitly.
      If you disagree, please explain how I’ve misconstrued this.

    • David L. Gray

      No I’m not upset at the point you made. I’m upset about the pretentiousness of it.

      Every human person does have certain natural rights that come from God, as all rights do. One of those is freedom – including freedom of religion. That is a completely different point than the one that article is addressing. Persecutions are a given, and being that they are a given and that there is a blessing and reward attached to them, do we pray for them not to come or for the grace need for us to get through them? I don’t know how many words I need to use to explain that cooperating with the grace of God that facilitates the best outcome as a result of suffering is the better portion.

      As to your point about God’s Kingdom coming, you can stand by your point, but if you continue dictate to, rather than cooperate with God, and do not allow room for what He wants to happen in these situations, you will find yourself not position for your cup to runneth over.

      Even in this current affair of religious persecution in the USA. God’s grace is preparing tremendous fruit as a result of it. And for those who pray for God to end it, rather than pray for God to have victory through it are like people who would go to a movie and ask for a sedative right before climatic moment.

    • Jim Russell

      ****I don’t know how many words I need to use to explain that cooperating with the grace of God that facilitates the best outcome as a result of suffering is the better portion.****
      Consider, for example, the parable of the two sons in Luke 15. To the elder son, the father says clearly “everything I have is yours.” Is the suffering younger son’s portion “better” *because* he suffered or because he finally cooperated with God’s grace? If the elder son had truly cooperated with God’s grace, despite avoiding the trials of the younger, isn’t it still true that the father offers “everything” to the elder son?
      I think we’re close to agreement on this, but it seems deeply important to understand that God’s *response* to suffering is always good, always perfect, and thus suffering and persecution should be seen in this light. BUT, God’s grace is not “attached ” to suffering and persecution such that it is somehow “more” available in that context. God’s grace is available to us all, 24/7/365, in the midst of both joy and suffering. As you say, it’s all about *cooperating* with it.
      And in the immediate example of religious freedom, God’s grace is just as available to us in the “joy” of working for the right to religious liberty as it is in the “suffering” of enduring religious persecution, as I see it.
      Again, a both/and–both praying for an end to religious persecution *and* praying for the strength and grace that God gives us to endure religious persecution…

    • Greg

      I believe your point regarding ushering in the The Kingdom of Heaven is spot on, and not at all pretentious. It would seem counter intuitive to not pray for the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven on the premise that the Fallen World is better for toughening us up with suffering.

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  • shaunmc04 .

    I understand the overall sentiment you are discussing. We are pilgrims here on earth, for a period, and we will endure a world that rejects us. “Blessed are those”, but that doesn’t mean it is God’s favor to us to be persecuted. One’s persecution comes from the world, not from God.

    Indeed, if persecution is to diminish in any amount, conversions of conscience are occuring. Babies are persecuted in the womb for there mere existence, but I do not think they are blessed “by” that, but blessed “in” that. Likewise, we aren’t blessed “by” persecution, but are blessed “in” persecutions. It’s analogous to Pauls exhortation in Romans 5, that struggles bring graces, but we arent to desire struggles.

    Overall, I understand your sentiment, but I think you are mistaking the intent of praying for persecution to end. Not just our persecution, but all religious persecution.

    • David L. Gray

      I see you point, but as I said to Jim – there this a distinction between praying for the graces and blessings needed for the persecuted and those who persecute, versus praying for persecution to end.

      If we go through this life and keep asking God to take things away, we will fail to cooperate with the graces that He has provided so that the great good will be born out of great evil. As a weak people we tend to spend more time asking God to deliver FROM the test and trial, rather than ask him to deliver us THROUGH the test or trail. The richer path is THROUGH, not from.

    • shaunmc04 .

      Its like praying for poverty to end. We know it wont, but its the highest good we can think of, so we pray for it. Like we pray “bring all souls to heaven…” but we know that wont happen. We see it as the highest level of perfection, so we pray for it. Ending persecution might be something that ends a certain grace, but it is the ultimate level of perfection in its own – so we pray for it.

      I hope that makes sense. I know you are educated, so you should understand that Thomistic “levels of perfection” jargin. I think you should re-evaluate it in the light of what I have offered. :)

    • David L. Gray

      I can’t imagine why I would ever pray for poverty to end. I’ve experienced the peaks of a privileged life, as well as some of the lowest depths of suffering. Thank God those states were there for me to experience!!!! Again, I see where you are coming from. Perhaps your perspective is based upon your life experience as well – hopefully, so, in that regard, these various perspectives on the spiritual life are healthy and no need to amend if it doesn’t led to sin.

  • Jim Russell

    David–I finally realized that there was something about the pull quote above that raised red flags for me: “Indeed, the quickest way for the Catholic Church in the United States to fade into irrelevance is to continue to ask not to be persecuted. For to ask for such a thing is to be something other than like Christ Jesus.”
    But the truth is that Jesus Himself *did* pray, in Gethsemane, that, if it were possible, “let this cup pass” (or “take this cup away from me”). He actually really did pray to avoid “persecution.”
    Only after this did He effectively say “Your will be done” to God the Father.
    Praying not to be persecuted–while nonetheless accepting God’s will–seems *precisely* Christ-like to me.
    What is your take on this?

    • David L. Gray

      Various interpretations of that passage aside, I think you might have a stronger case if the Father actually did take the cup away. Also, you’d have a stronger case for using this if these religious freedom prayers were prefaced rightly with the words of Jesus, ‘Father, IF YOU ARE WILLING.’ Notice how Jesus makes room for the will of His Father, rather than dictate to it.

      As a demonstration of His humanity being like our own, this verse is a good example for those who might ask for their cross to be taken away. Even the Son of God asked and the Father saw that it was more beneficial for Him to go through the suffering, rather than avoid it. Which is my altogether my point; that we should do what Jesus did here and – sure – communicate to God our feelings, but rather than dictate our will, we should cooperate with His and always leave room for what He is efforting to do. In the instant case, it may very well the case that this persecution is what he wants us to work through, rather than avoid.

    • Jim Russell

      Religious freedom prayers are predicated upon the existence of a *right* arising from the dignity of the human person. So regardless of how the prayer is phrased, we already know that God “wills” that the human person enjoy that right.
      What we don’t know with the same certainty is what God will permit to happen to us and what God’s perfect response to religious persecution may be in our case.
      And, I’d be more apt to say that Jesus’ suffering was more “beneficial” for *us*, not Him.
      We’re probably more in agreement on this than it might appear, but I think we need to be careful not to make assertions that, when taken to their necessary conclusions, make it seem as though the Pope and bishops are being “something other than like Christ Jesus” when they encourage the faithful to pray for religious freedom…

  • dancingcrane

    “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”Matt26:39

    Was Jesus a backwards thinker? It’s not backwards to pray for the end of something bad. It is backwards, and indeed pagan, to think that praying for the end of something, will somehow force God to make sure it doesn’t happen.

    Don’t eliminate supplicatory and intercessory prayer altogether. Why even pray for God’s mercy, if only His wrath will make us stronger?

    If you want to repudiate your easy life because you think you’ll be lukewarm otherwise, then by God’s grace and with His blessing, do what you feel called to do. Many saints have, and we are all called to be saints. But to think that the Church will fall into irrelevance ‘because’ people pray for deliverance from the persecution and poverty that will come anyway, to whom God wills? Beware of pride. Are you glad that you “are not as other men”?

    The “Our Father” prays “give us this day our daily bread”, not “deprive us of our daily bread that we may be strengthened by being in want”. If God decides that “want” is what we need, rest assured He will give it to us.

    The attitude that will cause the Church to fade, is the same one that the Gospel of Mark was written for. There are people who believe that since “Christ did it for us”, they should by rights be exempt from persecution and poverty, and are unprepared and prone to fall, when it inevitably happens. But there is no reason to substitute ‘prosperity and good times’ nonsense with a ‘stronger than thou’ faith that finds prayers of deliverance somehow unworthy.

    • Greg

      Well-stated. Perhaps David, in an attempt to be counter intuitive in making a point, went too far and overlooked some common sense factors.

      Perhaps his prayer should have simply been stated, “Let us not grow fat, idle, and satisfied so that we take no action to protect our faith when persecution abounds. Let us not be idle when persecutors should be met at the door with a noisy greeting even though that might cause them to persecute us more.”

    • David L. Gray

      “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” – Matthew 16:25

    • Jim Russell

      One more point in hopes of helping distinguish categories a bit more clearly: I think part of my discomfort with your post is that these aspects of the individual call to discipleship don’t necessarily translate unedited into the realm of the “common good.” Religious liberty, arising from the dignity of the human person, immediately takes on significant importance relative to the “common good.”
      Thus to pray for the preservation and attainment of religious liberty in its context as an essential for the common good does *not* simultaneously undermine one’s own individual call to discipleship or even one’s desire to stand fast in the face of persecution. Prayer for the common good is not automatically also a prayer for personal “deliverance” from persecution, so to speak.
      Would you agree?

    • David L. Gray

      As you said before, I would be inclined to see the reality of an AND/BOTH, but I’m much more personally inclined to approach that I write about.

      How one approaches the spiritual life and discipleship, to which this issue address usually is a tribute to life experience, and those successes and failures merited therefore. The fruit of my life has always been gleaned from persevering through suffering. No fruit has been gleaned from asking to be taken out.

    • David L. Gray

      Dancingcrane if you read my replies to Deacon Jim, I’ve already responded to these points of yours. There is a clear distinction you are missing. Seems to be a strawman. But thank you for reading the article and dropping into the combox!

  • dancingcrane

    I did read your replies, and I don’t see any pretension in what Jim wrote. The distinction that I believe you are referring to, was not in your original article, but was something Jim had to encourage you to admit. That the point of any prayer, is to ultimately submit to God’s will in all things.

    You refuse to pray for certain things, and that’s certainly your right. But you then argue that those who would pray for such things, are not only being lukewarm, but against the will of God. What I can only assume that you meant, was your righteous dislike for a prayer that might go something like this: “Lord, I wish to be fat, happy, lazy, and look like a Christian without actually being one. So please do not inconvenience me with any difficulties. I want to be well-liked, well-fed, and have lots of goodies; and if you are good God, you’ll love me enough to do that. Amen.” I agree that, esp in the affluent West, many people’s prayers do reduce to something like that, spiritual cowards that we can often be. But you have to object to that specific perversion of prayer, not to all prayers of deliverance.

    I daresay you wouldn’t tell a Christian baker who just lost his business because of gay persecution, that he should also pray that his house be burned down and his family killed in order that he can demonstrate his spiritual strength. It would be admirable for him to pray for a new job and his family’s well-being during their time of trial. There is a difference between humbly welcoming and growing through persecution, and trying to out-masochist each other in order to prove to ourselves how holy we are. That way lies Pharisaism. And while I love much of what you write, I sometimes worry about a certain leaning in that direction. You’re in my prayers, always.

    Another example; the matter of praying for the coming of God’s kingdom. It seems to me self-evident, that once the Kingdom comes, there will be no persecution. Not that we dictate that condition to God; it’s simply by virtue of the fact that the righteous will be with God, and the unrighteous will be elsewhere of their own free will. There will be no one left among the righteous to do any persecuting.

    • David L. Gray

      It seems you are a master of the strawman dancingcrane. LOL

      I was patient with Jim because he stayed on task to attempt to reconcile his perspective with mine, but I don’t know where to start with you, nor do I have to time to.

      Thank you again for reading the article and commenting and I hope you continue to make room for non-heretical perspectives. :D

      Blessings and Shalom

  • Mary Ann

    I understand David’s point, and think it represents the ideal Christian disposition. Let’s face it, if the early Christians would have considered that being fed to the lions was beneath their human dignity, therefore not really God’s will for them, I wonder how unwavering their desire to die for their faith would have been.

    God never wills us to suffer, and He is never the cause of our suffering – man is. Although it is admirable that the Second Vatican Council stated in its Declaration on Religious Freedom that the dignity of the human person requires the respect of his religious beliefs and his freedom from religious persecution, when has the government ever completely agreed with or embraced any Catholic position? Governments are man-made constructs. Praying to God to increase our faith and resolve under persecution inflicted on us by these constructs is a more realistic prayer.

    If we are followers of Christ, how can we have any “right” NOT to have our faith tested? 1 Peter 1:7 states it perfectly: “…so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ…” How we deal with persecution is the visible witness we give the world to our faith. We shouldn’t ask God to take away that opportunity.

    • David L. Gray

      That’s it! Thank you Mary. That pretty much nails the spirit in which article was written!

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  • Barto

    David L. Gray had spoken the truth! But there are these “conservative” Catholics, who want the Church to be in a Pact of Iron with the billionaires and multi-milliionaires who run the USA, are committed to the rhetoric of Liberty, since that means unregulated capitalism and financial speculation. They whine on and on about “Religious Liberty” only as a means to serve the aim of their partners, the Godless Capitalists, to establish a global regime of unassailable economic liberty. The model they want for the USA is the situation of most of Latin America–a small rich, economic secure upper class that rules, and the great masses who live in constant economic desperation. “Religious liberty” is just a fig leaf for unrestricted economic liberty and unassailable private property rights. Many Catholics in the Catholic Church have zero interest in Heaven, God, Christ, Grace. They are in the Church only to fight and neutralize the Church’s Social Teachings about the Common Good, Solidarity, the Universal Destination of Goods, a Just Wage, and so on.. Sadly, some cardinals and bishops fall into this category. During the earlier Cold War, some genuine Godless Communists penetrated the Church with the aim of corrupting it. During the current Cold War (Godless Capitalists vs. God and His People), Godless Capitalists have penetrated the Church with the aim of corrupting it. Who are these infiltrators? Just look to Catholic leaders, both bishops and lay persons, who constantly harp about “Religious Liberty.”

    • David L. Gray

      Very interesting perspective Barto! Thank you!