From the point of view of sheer public relations, taking on the Little Sisters — of all the charitable foot-soldiers in the world — should have been the political equivalent of slapping babies.” Mary Eberstadt, author of the forthcoming book It’s Dangerous to Believe, was speaking last week at the Catholic University of America’s business school at a conference on human ecology co-sponsored by the Napa Institute.
Instead, the Little Sisters, an order of religious women, find themselves headed to the Supreme Court this week, fighting an Obamacare mandate that coercively clashes with their consciences — that is, their religious liberty. From the very beginning it was a perplexing situation. Perplexing unless you understand that today’s pervasive hostility to lived religious faith in the public square is itself something of a religion. Secular liberals know what they believe and make sure it is lived. Where they have the power, they even mandate their sexual-revolutionary values, as we’ve seen with the issue that brings the Little Sisters to court. But what about Christians? Why haven’t we been marching in the streets for those brave sisters? Could it be that too many of us haven’t been living what we believe?
For one thing, as Hanna put it, Christians today, here in the United States, are probably not in the best position to lecture anyone. We are not always the best witnesses to what we claim to believe. And so, whether we are talking about the Affordable Care Act’s abortion-drug and contraception mandate — the issue that sent the Little Sisters to the courts — or about marriage or immigration, the general public may just have tuned us out. That has nothing to do with the blessed sisters, who are living radically, but it sadly has a lot to do with the rest of us who go about our days and don’t show our neighbors the gratuitous generosity and mercy that Gospel living demands. There’s a lack of credibility, Hanna states — first and foremost, he adds, in himself. And he knows he’s not alone.
As this group of women knew danger was heightening, they wrote to fellow sisters throughout the world: “We have surrendered ourselves into the hands of God, entrusting all to Him. As St. Paul writes, ‘In life and in death, we belong to the Lord.’”
When the ISIS terrorists entered the home where the missionaries cared for elderly and disabled people, they heard the laywomen working there beg, “Don’t kill the sisters! Don’t kill the sisters!” But that’s exactly what the terrorists were there to do. And the cries may have only strengthened their resolve.
They caught Sister Judith and Sister Reginette first, tied them up, shot them in the head, and then smashed their heads. Then they did the same to Sister Anselm and Sister Marguerite.
This testimony comes from Sister Sally, the fifth of the sisters in the house, whom ISIS looked for but never found.
That she is alive appear to be a miracle. If you don’t believe in them, consider this: She walked into the refrigerator room and stood there, behind the door. The terrorists walked in multiple times, clearly looking for the fifth sister they knew was supposed to be there. But they never saw her. Many believe this to be a miracle. As their fellow Missionary of Charity who took Sister Sally’s testimony observed: “God wanted a witness. . . . God wants us to know.”
These women are what you have to call credible witnesses, ready to die for their faith. The last things on earth they would think to do are deny their Lord and abandon the vulnerable.
But what about those who aren’t at serious risk of being murdered by ISIS? The challenges to their faith would seem to be much less grave, and yet those challenges are serious indeed, as they are questions of authenticity.
As Hanna put it: “I’m not sure right now we have the credibility to lecture society. But we can have credibility if we decide to be witnesses.”
How do we decide to be witnesses? By living virtuously. By living less transactionally and more sacrificially. By wanting others to prosper and helping them to do so. By finding that walking away while someone is bleeding would be unthinkable.
We also do so by having a frank discussion with those here at home who are hostile to Christianity. Unlike desperate pleas in Yemen, here we can have an actual conversation. In her book, Eberstadt explains the secular Left as a rival faith to Christianity, one espoused by both reasonable and unreasonable people. We can work out some living space with the reasonable ones, in the tradition of our pluralistic society.
But to do so we have to be seen as truly believing in something, like the Obama administration, which, truly believing in its secular creed, has forced the Little Sisters of the Poor to go all the way to the Supreme Court.
A true brother of the Missionaries of Charity, Father Douglas al-Bazi, a Chaldean Catholic priest in Iraq, was in the U.S. recently, begging us to join the rest of the world in calling what ISIS is doing to his people genocide. When he gives his testimony about his own capture and torture, he assures us of two things: first, in the same circumstances, you would have the same faith he did; and, second, there is no reason to feel guilty about your freedom — protect it and speak out for others.
The courage of these sisters and of Father al-Bazi makes us better. And by how we live our daily lives, we, in turn, can make the world better.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of NRO. She is co-author of the updated How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice. This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.