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“Ask a Priest: How Can I Cope With an Anti-Catholic Onslaught?”
Q: I often find myself falling by the wayside because of the cultural Zeitgeist. I live in London, and the liberal and professional elite are very outspokenly atheist here. Believers are openly mocked in the comments sections of newspapers, and anti-Christian news items are given great prominence. The “real bones” of Jesus who was married and had a son; pedophile priests; sadistic Irish nuns; and supposedly neurotic, mentally feeble religious people — are in the news, day in, day out. Catholicism is often singled out for special attacks, and at work I often find myself defending Catholic positions on abortion or marriage to colleagues who think the positions are oppressive and unjust. Any tips for coping with this onslaught? I really am not strong enough or informed enough to withstand all this, and I often find myself giving up my attempts to pray sincerely, live a Christian life and bring up my sons as Catholics because it is all too difficult. I am tired of being made fun of, and I am more or less on my own (my husband has been an agnostic for some 15 years). I know this experience is common to many, and I just wondered what you tell people with similar issues. I don’t feel our local priest can help me, partly because he is very old (70s) and partly because the only time he sees parishioners is a couple of hours on a Saturday, which means I can’t ever go and speak to him without taking the children along too. -S.C.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: I am sorry to hear about the atmosphere in which you live. Certainly we are facing an age where attacks on Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, are becoming something of a national sport.
Our Lord himself warned his followers that discipleship would bring difficulties. “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Yet he also promised, “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
We could assume, then, that Jesus will give us the means we need to persevere in the faith. Perhaps a few steps would be helpful.
First, guard your own faith well. Make time for prayer every day. Frequent the sacraments as much as possible. Take advantage of online resources, such as the monthly retreats. Or look to make a live retreat occasionally, even if only a two- or three-day event. Also helpful for prayer is The Better Part, which is available in book, e-book or app.
Second, go deeper in your understanding of the faith. Here it would help to draw up a good list of reading. Father John Hardon’s The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan might be a good point of reference. You could also browse Catholic publishers such as Ignatius Press, Our Sunday Visitor, Ascension Press, Sophia Institute and TAN. A subscription to Magnificat might help you get more out of the liturgical cycle. And try to keep up with what the Pope is saying and doing (you might consider a subscription to Zenit.
Third, try to network with other faithful Catholics. Having even a small circle of Catholic friends can do wonders for morale. You won’t feel so alone in the world.
Fourth, and this is connected with the third suggestion above, look to do some kind of apostolate. Help out at a soup kitchen or pro-life agency. Or visit shut-ins. If there isn’t something available, think about starting something. Perhaps your pastor could give you an idea. The idea here is to reach out to people. Bring them the Gospel through your charity. It will give you something positive to focus on, and your example can help to strengthen others in the faith or attract others to the faith.
Fifth, be careful about the media you allow into your home. Secular media can wear you down if you let them. You might do well not to take them too seriously. Their perspective on things can ring a bit hollow at times. A case in point is the positive impact of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United Kingdom in 2010, despite the dire predictions of media naysayers.
Sixth, learn to see discouragement as something coming from the devil. Don’t give in to him! St. Paul’s words are worth recalling: “Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). The online retreat on “A Cure for Discouragement” might be particularly helpful.
I hope some of this helps. Count on being included in one of my Mass intentions.