Five hundred years ago, Catholic authorities were burning Anabaptist renegades at the stake. Today, descendants of both groups found themselves unlikely allies as they met at the Woodcrest Community in upstate New York to encourage one another along the lonely and increasingly reviled path of discipleship.
Following in the footsteps of his predecessor John Cardinal O’Connor, Timothy Dolan — the current Archbishop of New York — joined arms with elders Johann Christoph Arnold and Richard Scott of the Bruderhof in a call to unity and solidarity. Both churches are under attack for their defense of Christian marriage and family.
Arnold opened the meeting by presenting Dolan with a copy of his book Sex, God, and Marriage, an international bestseller which has been translated into dozens of languages and which, when first reviewed by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), was predicted to arouse hatred for its “moral conviction”. Arnold also outlined the long history of mutual endeavor and cooperation between his group and the Archdiocese of New York, which has not faded despite the onslaught of media attacks against Rome in the last year:
We thank God for the witness that you give, which reminds us of the words in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil things against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven. For in the same way did they persecute the prophets who went before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
He went on to note that the Catholic Church has been attacked and persecuted for its defense of marriage as a bond of lifelong faithfulness between one man and one woman, and that this relentless media barrage has but one aim, to silence the church:
Our modern civilization is heading for a disaster. Defending the family as God created it will save our civilization from total collapse. Like you, we will continue to follow the example of the early Christians, who refused to compromise in proclaiming the Gospel. Peter and John were ordered to stop preaching, but they answered, “Judge for yourself whether it is right to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)
Archbishop Dolan responded by reminding the crowd of Pope John Paul’s historic trip to Poland in 1979, a trip that Kissinger and Gorbachev alike later credited with planting the seeds of resistance that eventually toppled the Berlin Wall and the entire Eastern Bloc. Never once calling for political dissent, the Pope had instead called for solidarity – that is, unity of mind and purpose – against what seemed then an immovable foe: atheistic, totalitarian Marxism.
In the same way, Dolan said, we must now band together against the foes that would trample on everything holy – the forces of evil that aim to destroy marriage, family, and every underpinning of civilization as we know it:
My brothers and sisters, I praise God for the solidarity that I sense with you, for the solidarity that has been sealed between the Catholic family of New York and all of you. We need it more than ever, do we not? Because the forces against us, are they ever united! The forces against us, are they ever well-oiled! The forces against us, are they ever well-financed! The forces against us, do they ever come together! The forces against us, do they ever experience a solidarity!
We need each other more than ever, because discipleship tells us solidarity is necessary. Discipleship tells us that we will suffer on behalf of Jesus Christ and his gospel. When we suffer, when we are harassed, when we are ridiculed, when we are persecuted , it doesn’t mean we’re doing something wrong. It means we’re doing something right. We are on the right track, and the promise of Jesus rings in our ears that the world will hate you, but be not afraid because I have overcome the world.
When I was made a bishop, the archbishop of St. Louis put a cross around my neck and said, “Timothy, this cross will be over your heart. That’s on purpose, because the church is reminding you that if you are going to be a true apostle, the cross will dig into your heart."
The cross is in all of our hearts, and we boast in the cross. Let it come. Because the more Good Friday comes, the more Easter Sunday comes.
Jesus said, “Do not be afraid. I am with you all the days, even to the end of the world" (Matt. 28:20), and "not even the gates of hell will prevail against you” (Matt. 16:18). As a wise man said to me, "Jesus told us the gates of hell would not prevail against us. But he didn’t say they wouldn’t try!" And they are trying today, big time. And that’s why we need a common discipleship and solidarity, more than ever.
A beaming Dolan then joined the choir in singing Handel’s "Hallelujah" and "An Irish Blessing."