All four gospels record the ‘cleansing of the temple,’ when Our Lord expelled from the temple in Jerusalem people who had turned it into a place of commerce (Matt. 21:12-13; Mk. 11:15-17; Lk. 19:45-46; Jn. 2:13-16). Beyond the specifics of that incident, there is a broader equivalent. Recognition of that equivalent does not distort its comparatively narrow root.
The money-changers and the sellers of pigeons and livestock were using the temple for purposes which were illegitimate in such a place. In so far as they did so, they had no right to be there. As members of the public they were entitled to enter the temple, but were abusing their freedom to do so. They were distracting and detracting from the religious purpose which was the proper purpose of the temple. Put more broadly still, but no less truly, they were abusing their power.
Is this too general an introduction to engage your interest? Are you about to ‘switch off’ and look for something more interesting or stimulating? Wait a moment. Perhaps the next sentence will seem so odd that your curiosity will be aroused.
The outcome of the May 2015 Irish referendum on same-sex ‘marriage’ is a reversed modern equivalent of Our Lord’s cleansing of the temple. The law (in this example, the Republic of Ireland’s law, but the same can be said about other law embodying Christian principle) represents the temple; in other words, just as the proper function of the temple was to foster and sustain observance of religious duties, a proper function of law is to embody Christian principle and thereby foster virtue (see St. Thomas Aquinas’s “Summa Theologica,” Vol. 28, Qu. 96, 2:2; Thomas Gilby, O.P., Blackfriars, 1966, page 125). The use of the law for the contrary purpose is an abuse of power, because Christian principle should be paramount and “there is no human activity which can be withdrawn from God’s dominion” (“Lumen Gentium,” paragraph 36). The 21st-century ‘temple’ of the law is in various ways occupied by counterparts of the people whom Our Lord expelled from where they should not have been operating.
Whereas He expelled them, their modern counterparts are repeatedly succeeding in expelling Him in the sense of overthrowing basic Christian morals, both in principle and in practice. Voting in favour of putting same-sex relationships on a legal par with genuine marriage is a serious abuse of power, but has been done by legislators in a still-comparatively-few countries, including Britain (in which most likely readers of this reside). According to journalists, the Republic of Ireland is the first country in which the subject has been put directly to public vote. The winners will present this as another validation of the result. A fraction more than 62 per cent (1.2 million) of participants voted in favour. Years ago, a similar number of Scots opposed the Scottish Executive’s wish to remove the (‘section 28’) legal ban on the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities. The Scottish Parliament ignored this opposition, and removed the ban. Democracy is not necessarily government by the people, and not always an unlimited benefit.
Enthusiasts for caricaturing a Sacrament have had great success by invoking the word ‘equality.’ It has been such an asset to them because many people have lost (if they ever had) a correct moral ‘compass’ and are unable to deal with ‘new interpretations’ of familiar words. Consequently, morals become equated with changeable individual opinions of what liberty means, or should mean.
The alleged equality and liberty are, however, illusions. When incompatible ideas confront each other, and a decision between them has to be made, one of them is awarded supremacy. Supposedly-permissive laws thereby become coercive. ‘You must not impose your views on people who disagree with them’ becomes ‘We will impose on you a duty to submit to what other people want.’ Theoretically, that can, of course, ‘work either way,’ but the dilemma (if such it can be called) proves that someone’s views have to be imposed. The interpretations of words and the decisions taken indicate the priorities which are prevalent, and there is now a clear line of cases in which people who have refused to obey legally-supported defiance of Christian principle have suffered for it. Courts enforce secularism. Plenty of examples are obtainable from, for example, The Christian Institute and from Christian Concern.
It should not be surprising if such people and their supporters regard this as persecution. There arises a question of their response. Should they fight back in so far as possibilities to do so exist, or merely wait for time to heal their wound, or accept it calmly and without a sense of grievance, or even regard it as a ‘blessing in disguise’?
Persecution of Christians is a multi-form and multi-national phenomenon. In the ‘advanced’ countries of ‘the West,’ it is mild by comparison with the situations elsewhere such as in parts of Africa and the Middle East. For instance, according to a May 2015 report from Aid To The Church In Need (www.acnuk.org.), in just one diocese in Northern Nigeria the attacks on Christians by “Boko Haram, the Islamist terror group” have had the following results:
5,000 killed; 100,000 (including 26 of the 46 priests in the diocese) displaced; 350 churches and presbyteries destroyed, in many cases more than once; 4 out of 5 convents deserted; 22 out of 40 parish centres and chaplaincies deserted; and 32 out of 40 primary schools deserted (for more details, www.acnuk/nigeria).
Should such circumstances be regarded as thoroughly bad, or as proof of need for practical action to nullify the power of the attackers, or as spiritually-advantageous for the victims?
Our Lord said that people who are persecuted because of Him should “rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven” (Matt. 5:11-12). Even if ‘part’ of them rejoices because of that, another ‘part’ could justifiably be alarmed by the terrible spiritual plight of their persecutors and the possibly-dire consequences of it. That should not be matter of indifference (“pray for those who persecute you” – Matt. 5:44; Lk. 6:28; “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” – Lk. 23:34).
A priest of that Nigerian diocese said that “our faith has been purified through persecution.” The diocesan bishop said that “we must love our enemies and those who persecute us.” It is true that persecution can intensify the faith and fidelity of the persecuted. That has been recorded by histories of penal times in England (with effects somewhat like those in Northern Nigeria now). It is true also, because Our Lord said it (Matt. 5:43-44; Lk. 6:27-29, & 35), that we must love our enemies and persecutors. That cannot mean making it easy for them to do as they wish. In this particular context, it cannot mean that we should stand aside and allow them to remove all legal and cultural affirmations of Christian doctrine and morality with statements disguised as ‘equality’ rooted in worship of man-centred ‘choice’ rather than the true God.
Catholic social teaching calls explicitly for the exact opposite of such surrender, but that teaching tends noticeably to be voiced (if at all) only in forms which avoid challenging assertively-dominant contra-Catholic attitudes. Probably to by-pass the fact that the Church is ‘on the ropes’ and ‘on the run’ from rampant secularism, we are encouraged to present a cheerful and ‘easy-going’ image, attracting people by an ‘always-look-on-the-bright-side’ demeanour and highlighting the ‘positive’ and ‘hopeful’ aspects in any or all situations.
The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” (paragraph 312) acknowledges, indirectly, the existence of this strategy by commenting on the worst situation of all – Our Lord’s suffering and execution: “In time we can discover that God in his almighty providence can bring a good from the consequences of an evil, even a moral evil, caused by his creatures… From the greatest moral evil ever committed – the rejection and murder of God’s only Son, caused by the sins of all men – God, by his grace that ‘abounded all the more’, brought the greatest of goods: the glorification of Christ and our redemption. But for all that, evil never becomes a good.”
That should be kept in mind by all who, applying loyally the magisterial teachings of the Catholic Church, recognise evil but who, dallying with temptation to ‘rationalise’ it or to take refuge in a cultivated ‘positive’ outlook, are susceptible to suggestions that we should not be over-concerned by it. Whatever ‘positive’ factors can be salvaged from the ruins of the “Catholic theocracy” which was Ireland, they should neither compensate for the successes of the demolition-squads nor erode the counter-revolutionary activity of (seemingly-few-and-sluggish) religious re-builders.