While interviewing Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, last week, CNN’s Chris Cuomo expressed concern that Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s faith appears “more central to her value system and her behavior and thoughts than it would be for just an ordinary Catholic.”
Cuomo went on to suggest in an interview with former 2020 Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg that people’s faith “doesn’t matter,” but their policy positions affected by it do. What on earth does this mean?
“It doesn’t matter if you have faith; it matters about your positions. Fine, you’re a Christian. I’m a Christian,” Cuomo said to Buttigieg, going on to smear the “devout organization” People of Praise. “This is more than just every Sunday. This is more than just a moral backstop in [Barrett’s] life. This is a fundamentalist approach to her faith.”
Although we shouldn’t take too seriously the theological musings of a person who saw nothing wrong with Don Lemon’s outrageous statement that Jesus Christ “was not perfect,” the CNN anchor’s observations here on the role of faith do warrant some reflection.
A True Christian Isn’t an Ordinary One
What does it mean to be an “ordinary” Catholic — or any “ordinary” Christian, for that matter? How is “faith” different from moral “positions”? Do we agree with Cuomo’s insinuation that Christian faith should be no more than a weekly Sunday commitment, if that, and then back to the “secular world” on Monday?
If so — and no one is immune from sliding into this trap — yes, we might fit with Cuomo’s ideas of “ordinary” Catholics. We’re also being lukewarm Christians, however, a category of believers for whom holy Scripture has some stern warnings.
Of course, what Cuomo really means by “ordinary” is palatable, acceptable, and tolerable. For Democrats and their left-wing stooges like him, Christians should be free to worship whatever sky-fairies they want, providing it’s a part-time commitment behind closed doors. This is the extent of religious freedom for the left.
Christians can identify as “people of faith” and no lips will be pursed, no eyebrows raised. They might even get a hypocritical pat on the head, along with Joe Biden, for their “deeply devout” faith. The left doesn’t care if the Biden campaign runs an ad featuring Pope Francis and a random assortment of smiling nuns preaching about Biden’s “moral conviction,” because “ordinary” Catholic Joe is on board with pro-abortion extremism and revoking the Trump administration’s exemption for religious groups such as the Little Sisters of the Poor.
If Christians cross the line and elevate their faith to a status greater than community service for some sort of nongovernmental organization, however, they’d better watch out. If they become Christian warriors, not merely social justice warriors, there will be tough questions.
If Christians dare to allow their moral “positions” to be informed by scripture, the lives of the saints, and church teaching, they will be labeled “fundamentalists.” These sorts of faithful, presumably extra-ordinary Christians will be hounded and persecuted because, like Barrett, their faith is central to their life. In Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s words, “The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s a concern.”
Of course, the real danger extraordinary Christians pose is their desire to serve in public life. Hence the shameful and undemocratic persecution of public officeholders such as Brian Buescher and Barrett on the grounds of their Catholic faith. Sens. Hirono and Kamala Harris targeted Buescher’s faith, with the Hawaiian Democrat going so far as to ask Buescher if he would “end his membership” with the Catholic fraternal organization the Knights of Columbus, which Hirono said takes “extreme positions.”
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., called this sort of “religious bigotry” an attack on Constitution-protected liberties, but it’s part of a widespread and disturbing trend. Recently Jack Denton, the elected president of the student senate of Florida State University, was removed after messages he wrote on a private chat with fellow members of the Catholic Student Association were made public. In these messages, Denton advised against supporting certain groups, including Black Lives Matter, on the grounds that they actively promote causes that contradict Catholic teaching.
After a three-day campaign to have him removed from office, it was the guillotine for Denton. Last week, a U.S. district judge ruled that Denton’s constitutional right to free speech had been violated but said that reinstating him would be against the “public interest.”
Christ Demands Devotion
Like Hawley, I don’t want to live in this kind of America. That said, the writings of both St. Peter and Paul reveal that the persecution of Christians would be a reality, not an oddity. They recognized what someone like Cuomo doesn’t begin to grasp. Just as the early Christians wouldn’t relativize their faith to appease pagan Romans, nor should today’s Christians compartmentalize their faith to make people like Harris, Feinstein, and Hirono feel more comfortable.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen explained that Catholics do not subscribe to a set of dogmas but to the person of Jesus Christ. Once people enter into a serious relationship with Him, they cannot put Him aside. As St. Peter asked our Lord, to whom would we go?
In Luke’s gospel, our Lord warns would-be disciples that they will have to give up everything they hold dear. Similarly, in Matthew’s gospel, when Peter rebukes Jesus, insisting that the Lord’s suffering and execution must not come to pass, Jesus accuses him of echoing Satan’s empty promises. Jesus requires that his followers take up their cross, deny themselves, and make him the focal point of their lives, even to the point of persecution.
To Be a True Christian Is to Face Persecution
An early church saint who exemplified this longing for union with Christ was St. Ignatius of Antioch, whose feast day is celebrated about this time, Oct. 17. A disciple of both John and Peter, Ignatius was the second bishop of Antioch, the early church community where believers were first called Christians.
When the Roman Emperor Trajan initiated a new wave of persecutions, the elderly Ignatius requested an audience with the emperor, offering himself as a ransom to protect his fledgling community. Before sentencing Ignatius to death by “wild beasts,” Trajan asked Ignatius why he referred to himself as “Theophorus.” Ignatius replied that the name meant someone who has Christ within him.
Trajan then asked if he, Ignatius, carried this crucified Christ within him. Ignatius replied, quoting 2 Corinthians, “Truly so; for it is written, ‘I will dwell in them, and walk among them.’” Once we choose, like Ignatius, to be an extraordinary Christian, not one of Cuomo’s “ordinary” ones, we will carry Christ within us. He will necessarily be central to our whole existence.
Christians like St. Ignatius were not persecuted simply because they were people of faith. Ancient Romans could freely believe in different sorts of deities and participate in all manner of rituals. Christians were different because their faith led them to put our heavenly King above earthly Caesar. Following Jesus, who was God incarnate, suffered for our sins, died, and rose again on the third day, meant accepting a way of life — or as Cuomo might say, moral “positions” — that was utterly at odds with, and therefore a threat to, the hedonism, violence, moral depravity, and materialism of Roman society.
The centrality of the Christian faith was precisely what made these believers so despised and what continues to make them persecuted in America today.