Over lunch this week with a long-time client, the blessing I said at the beginning of the meal sparked an interesting conversation. This human resources executive smiled as I made the sign of the cross at the end, and said, “Well, I don’t see this every day. I can’t remember the last time I said a blessing over a meal at a business lunch.”
Once again in my experience, the simple act of saying a blessing over a meal in public prompted a conversation about faith in the public square.
“Why do you think people, especially people of faith, avoid saying a blessing over their meals in public?” I asked. The HR professional looked at me for a while and said in a subdued voice, “I guess they don’t want to offend other people.”
How, I wondered, are we “offending” someone by being open in the practice of our Catholic faith, beliefs and values?
There is a secular tidal wave sweeping our country and much of the world. In the name of fairness, equality and political correctness we are being asked (and sometimes forced) to accept things which are absolutely contrary to our faith. Because we often “don’t want to offend others” by speaking out or acting on our convictions, we are living with the consequences. Political correctness is pervasive in business environments today and we have too few leaders willing to stand up for their convictions and do the right things regardless of the consequences.
Merry Christmas has been watered down to the meaningless “Happy Holidays” or offensive “Merry Xmas.”
Because many of us may be shying away from living out our faith in the public square, we run the risk of being “two-thirds” Catholics, who live out our faith at home and at Mass on Sunday but not in public. This split personality is toxic as we can’t possibly separate our spiritual beings from our physical selves.
Religious liberties are under siege and it will likely get worse unless we make a stand. Weakness and apathy in the face of an aggressor will only encourage worse behavior from the aggressor. Our silence in public may lead people to assume an implied acceptance on our part of things contrary to the teachings of our Church. Over time, this silence may even lead some of us down the path of defending and promoting the wrong positions on abortion, gay marriage and other issues where Church teaching is crystal clear.
I suggest that the reasons people gravitate to the “I don’t want to offend” position include fear of job loss, fear of being criticized or judged, fear of losing social status, poor understanding of the teachings of our Church or the belief that somebody else will stand up, since we are too busy to get involved. The consequences I have identified are a sliver of the many challenges we face because we don’t want to offend anyone and are a direct result of us not acting on our beliefs.
If even a modest percentage of the 60 million Catholics in our country openly embraced and acted on the principles of our faith, we would transform the entire world. Maybe the answer for many of us is to take small steps at first. A good place to start is wishing everyone a Blessed Advent and Merry Christmas. Pray over every meal and make the Sign of the Cross in public. Go to the voting booth and vote for candidates who support the teachings of the Church. Let’s reflect on our actions each day and ask ourselves if we can offer each of those actions up to God. Not everyone is called to heroic acts, so let’s start where we can, with what we have and grow from there.
The saddest and most glaring point about the “I don’t want to offend” mindset is that we rarely think about how we are offending Christ. We get bogged down in minor personal concerns and our own fears when we should be thinking about his sacrifice for us on the Cross. We should routinely fall to our knees in gratitude and recognize that nothing we will ever face can compare to what he did for us. We will be supported through our fears, difficulties and struggles if we will go to him in prayer and ask for help. His sacrifice then and his ongoing love and support now will always sustain us in difficult situations if we will only be humble, acknowledge him, embrace him and love him.
We can make a difference if we are unafraid to be authentic Catholics and care less about offending others and more about giving offense to Jesus. The choices we make are in our hands and the consequences of our actions will ripple across future generations. Let us choose wisely.
Randy Hain, Senior Editor and co-founder of The Integrated Catholic Life™, is the author of three books by Liguori Press: The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work, Along the Way: Lessons for an Authentic Journey of Faith and Something More: A Professional’s Pursuit of a Meaningful Life.