This was initially submitted to my local diocesan paper as an OP-Ed. The paper published it as a short letter. Hence, I present the original here.
As the Holy Father concludes his visit to the United States, the Catholic Church seems to wear a more attractive face. Pope Francis’s popularity and the enormously positive media coverage seem almost overwhelming. Doubtless too, it comes as a welcome relief to Catholics tired of being attacked for their supposedly backward and narrow views on a range of issues from abortion to marriage and beyond. The Pope is popular, the Church is popular, and all seems well. We need no longer talk about unpopular, controversial issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. Instead, we can “reach out” to people, by talking about easier subjects. At least, so it seems.
Enjoying this period of popularity is perfectly understandable and probably even morally neutral. But a thing can be morally neutral and still lead one into danger. We may enjoy this period of popularity while it lasts, but herein lies the danger, that we might be tempted to try to make it last. We might be tempted to try to make this time of popularity last by trying to get along too well with the world or by not talking about “controversial” subjects. We might try to put aside Our Lord’s hard words: His talk about suffering, crosses, sin, and hell. We might focus on the Christ who said to help the poor and not to judge, but not the Christ who flipped tables, called his enemies “whitewashed tombs,” and told his closest follower, “get behind me Satan.”
This is the danger: that hoping to maintain present popularity, we may be tempted not to present the full truth of Christ. That we might be tempted to abandon it for mere popularity. And popularity is something no follower of Christ should expect. Our Lord never promised popularity, but a cross; and no one can follow Him and hope to escape it. The world says “blessed are the popular,” but Our Lord said, “blessed are you when they persecute you, revile you, and slander you because of me.” The world says, “woe to the unpopular,” but Our Lord says, “woe to you when men speak well of you.”
If we do not present the full truth of Christ to people, the hard as well as the easy, then we are not presenting the true Christ. If we are not presenting the true Christ, then we are presenting a false Christ. And to deprive people of the truth of Christ and hence of the true Christ is a betrayal of Christ, His gospel, and the poor themselves. Cardinal Sarah, an African Cardinal, and hence someone who knows something about poverty, has recently said that the worst form of discrimination against the poor is not to give them Christ.
Hence, failure to present the whole Gospel is a betrayal of the poor and the weak themselves. It is a betrayal of children— denied a father and a mother—who suffer most from the breakdown of marriage and the family. It is a betrayal of the unborn, the poorest of all, who have no one to defend them but us.
The world may hate us for that defense. But such is our duty, and Christ warned his followers that if the world hates them, know it hated Him first. In His life, same crowds that shouted “hosanna” on Sunday, shouted “crucify” the next Friday. He never sought to escape it. Neither can we.