A frightening chat with a French colleague. We last met, very agreeably, in 2010 during the Pope’s visit to Britain which he was covering for a French Catholic newspaper. Late at night, after that glorious vigil in Hyde Park, we gathered at the house of friends, over glasses of wine and bowls of soup and slices of buttered toast, with lots of talk and a sense of rejoicing as the Papal visit was going so well and writing a memorable chapter in British history.
Today, still much talk and still a rejoicing in our shared faith and all that it means…but a gloomy sense of foreboding. Back in 2010, we knew full well that things were getting bad for Christians generally – that was why it was so good and necessary that the Pope’s visit lifted all our hearts and encouraged us – and now, two years on, things are measurably worse. Jean was in London to report on anti-Christian discrimination in Britain (problems over wearing a cross at work, nurses told they must take part in abortions, and the whole same-sex “marriage” horror, and so on). I had no good news to tell him, and he had none to tell me.
In France, as in Britain, the drive for same-sex “marriage” is going fiercely forward. Evangelicals and Catholics are united in opposition but face lethargy, confusion (“Surely if two people love each other, it doesn’t matter what sex they are…” etc), ignorance (“I can’t see there’ll be any problems!”) and prejudice. People who, ten years ago, would not have accepted that marriage could mean anything other than the union of a man and a woman now feel obliged to say that they think same-sex unions are really quite normal and right. It is harder and harder to achieve an open discussion as many people feel intimidated: a teacher, a social worker, a public official, can face sudden unemployment and possibly social disgrace for saying something deemed to be unacceptable and incorrect on this issue.
The conversation turned, as it so often does these days, to the future persecution of the Church. Nothing meriting the word “persecution” at the moment, we agreed, but young Catholics in their twenties assume it will arrive in their lifetime. It’s as if the New Movements and things like World Youth Day are boosting and helping them, urging them to get trained and ready and spiritually alert for tough times to come.
It will not be fun for any of us – those who talk eagerly about “a bit of suffering doing us good” or imagine fighting gloriously for noble traditions under a splendid banner may well be the first to succumb to pressure to abandon the Church…tough times call for real faith and love, and not for grand-standing. The need is for a real knowledge of the Faith, a sincere and deep prayer-life, courage, and unity.
As I rummaged to get a book from my bag my rosary fell out, and Jean laughingly produced his. We swapped stories about seeing people saying the Rosary on the bus or train – you suddenly catch a glimpse of some one quietly at prayer, and there is a moment of solidarity and joy. It happens, too, when you see some one – and this is not unusual on a commuter-train in London – quietly reading a Bible, or one of those Bible-passage-for-each-day booklets that Evangelicals use.
Across Europe, the tide of militant secularism is rising, and we will have to be strong to withstand it. But the Church will be there when the waters surge and swirl and people get caught up in them, and lives are wrecked and misery caused. The Church will be the place of hope, the voice of sanity, the bashed and battered but surviving raft of safety. People are going to be – as Pope Benedict has noted – terribly, terribly lonely. In a culture without strong families, with transient relationships that end up going nowhere, in consumerism almost sickening in its intensity, there will be a deadly sense of hopelessness. Without drama, without great announcements, without armies and flags and trumpets, the Christian presence and message of love will be the thing that saves…and whether that presence will be there depends on our courage and faith every day.