When visiting the site of one of my favorite organizations, Catholics Come Home, I saw an item about how Bill Maher recently made a mockery of one of their beautiful commercials and used it as a springboard for another of his typical excoriations of the Church–focused, as usual, on the clergy sex abuse scandal.
I know this isn’t new. Bill Maher and his fans might think it’s somehow new and daring and progressive to mock and excoriate the Catholic Church. They may think they are blazing some kind of new trail. The fact is they are just trudging along the same muddy path beaten out by nearly 2,000 years of predecessors. The tradition of mocking Christians has been around as long as Christianity itself. Maher et al. are just carrying on the ancient ways. There is nothing fresh and new about any of it.
I also know that our Lord promised outright that His followers would suffer. After all, He suffered for us, and no servant is greater than the Master. And I certainly count myself very fortunate if the worst thing I have to suffer are the verbal mosquito bites of people like Maher, when my Catholic brethren in some parts of the world are suffering blood-red martyrdom every day.
But still, the word martyr literally means “witness” and every one of us is called to be a witness. No matter how insignificant the sticks and stones of Maher may be to us personally, we don’t have the right to just look the other way. That’s one of the things he and those who watch and listen to him want us to do–either look the other way so that they may mock us as cowards who support their claims against us by our silence–or else react hysterically so that they can mock us as thin-skinned lunatics.
We must do neither. Rather, we, as witnesses of and for the Church, should stand quietly and still and stare them down firmly but peacefully. In doing so, we also stand together, with and for each other. If society sees us doing this, it may be edifying. Who knows? Stranger things have happened. I’ve heard it said that when the ancient Romans witnessed the Christian martyrs firmly but peacefully facing gruesome and violent deaths, many of them were converted. That story has been repeated in many times and places.
Whenever I am even tempted to react angrily to Bill Maher or anybody else, I think of people like St. Joan of Arc and St. Thomas More who lost their lives after being fiercely betrayed and perjured against. They had every right to be angry, didn’t they? But they weren’t. They quietly bore witness to the sin, cruelty, and corruption of the world around them, neither fighting nor fleeing. Once they were left with no choice other than either renouncing their faith or dying, they gracefully took the only right way out. In short, they followed Christ’s example extremely well.
Certainly, I don’t blame the good folks at Catholics Come Home for responding to Maher’s piece by setting straight some of his false claims. We all have the right and the responsibility to correct the ignorant and to maintain innocence and defend the truth of our own characters and beliefs. If somebody were to make inappropriate claims against me personally, I would definitely respond to that. Bearing false witness against another is a sin against one of the Ten Commandments, after all, and we don’t do anybody any favors by not calling them out on it.
But for most of us, we have plenty of freedom in choosing how we will react and not react when we encounter mockery, slander, unjust criticism, etc. I believe the best choice in most situations we face in this country is to just stand our ground. Which isn’t the same as letting somebody off the hook, mind you…
Regarding Bill Maher, if he really cared about the sexual abuse of children, he would abandon his myopic focus on the Church and talk about the areas in our society where such abuse is far more rampant and far more ignored than it is in the Catholic Church: public schools, other religious groups, and, sadly, families. He demands that the Church be responsible, but I don’t see him being any more responsible himself. As far as I can tell, sexual abuse is just a big Catholic-bashing joke to him.
And his viewers surely never get tired of it. It’s become one of those comedic trademarks that viewers find funny not because it’s something new and unexpected but because, to the contrary, it is something eagerly expected and anticipated. You know, like when Lucy Ricardo gets that conniving gleam in her eye, or Rose Nyland starts telling a St. Olaf story, or Hyacinth Bucket stumbles into the bushes when that dog barks at her. No matter how many times it happens, it still makes us laugh.
It’s a shame that “discussing” sexual abuse has become a comedic trademark for some people. How is that helping anything or anybody? It’s only progressing the already rapid coarsening and hard-heartedness of our society, where personal pleasure is considered more important than the common good. This society needs strong Catholic witnesses more than ever.
So, thank you, Bill Maher, for providing us ample opportunities to serve. And thank you, Catholics Come Home, for helping to increase our ranks.