Over lunch this week with a long-time client, the blessing I said at the beginning of the meal was the catalyst for an interesting conversation (as it has been with so many others in the past). 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, the simple act of saying a blessing over a meal in public was prompting a conversation about faith in the public square and I must admit that I eagerly jumped right in!
“Why do you think people, especially people of faith, avoid saying a blessing over their meals in public?” I asked. “I value your opinion as an HR professional, but I also know from past conversations that you are a Christian. What do you think keeps people from expressing their faith in front of others?” She looked at me for a few minutes and said in a subdued voice, “I guess they don’t want to offend other people.”
I suspected this would be the answer, as I have observed countless people over the years who are extremely reluctant to be open about their faith. I have frequently written on this subject, but I want to narrowly focus on this idea that we are offending someone by being open in the practice of our Catholic faith, beliefs and values.
There is a secular tidal wave sweeping across our country and much of the world. In the name of fairness, equality and political correctness, we are 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 following 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”.
- Because many of us may be shying away from living out our faith in the public square, we run the risk of being “2/3rds Catholics” where we only live out our faith at home and at Mass on Sunday. This split personality is toxic as we can’t possibly separate our spiritual beings from our physical selves.
- Religious liberties are under siege. The attack on conscience protection clauses, the government forcing Catholic organizations to offer employees access to contraception and abortion, the attack on the Defense of Marriage Act… the list is endless.
- 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 to you 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 as 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 the U.S. 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. 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.
God created us for Heaven, not this place called earth. We are called to lead lives of holiness. We have the Church Christ founded to guide us. We can be courageous because He is always with us. If others are truly offended at the mention of Christ’s name or actions we take in His name, we should pray for them but not stop living out our faith. Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia said it best in his excellent book, Render Unto Caesar (page 197), “What needs to be done by Catholics today for their country? The answer is: Don’t lie. If we say we’re Catholic, we need to prove it. America’s public life needs people willing to stand alone, without apologies, for the truth of the Catholic faith and the common human values it defends. One person can make a difference – if that individual has a faith he or she is willing to suffer for.”
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 and the consequences of our actions are in our hands.
Randy Hain is the author of “The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work” which will be released by Liguori Publications on November 23rd. ”The Catholic Briefcase” is available for pre-order on Amazon.
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