There are many pretty terms I don’t like: you call cowardice “prudence.” Your “prudence” gives an opportunity to those enemies of God, without any ideas in their head, to pass themselves off as scholars, and so reach positions that they never should attain.
– St. Josemaria Escriva
St. Josemaria’s condemnation of the re-definition of “cowardice” as “prudence” is stark, and should serve as an unsettling rebuke to those sounding the horns of retreat in a modern culture which seems lost to secularism. A refusal to confront modern secularism, relativism, and socialism for fear that such confrontation does more harm than good to the Catholic cause is properly known as “cowardice.” The Catholic Gentleman must reject the temptation to hide his beliefs under the cloak of prudence when the root causes of his silence, a want to be liked and respected by his secular peers, are selfish.
A refusal to confront error only accelerates its growth. An extremely prominent professor at Boston College once claimed during a lecture that Catholics “cannot condemn rape in all cultures,” because that would be imposing our sense of morality on people who have not assented to it. Relativism taken to its logical extreme, acknowledged by this professor in a stunning display of intellectual honesty, was never confronted by the “intellectual” clerics at the college and so this professor advanced to become one of the most powerful faculty members at the university.
Obvious questions were never asked: Why should rape be condoned because the actor wants to sin? Isn’t rape, by its very nature, imposing the will of one party over another, something relativism professes to avoid? If rape cannot be condemned in all cultures can murder, again where one party consents and the other does not, be condemned? Without any ideas in her head this professor was allowed to pass herself off as a scholar and reached a position within a Catholic university she never should have attained. Her advancement occurred because of the silence of those who should have known that her views were deeply flawed.
Cleverness is a temptation which is particularly attractive to those in academia, including college students. The temptation to be “clever” is the temptation to contort reason and logic to reconcile Catholic and secular beliefs in an effort to retain Catholic identity while appearing enlightened to modernists. While I was in college the prime example of this was the minimization of the moral implications of homosexual actions. The argument would go something like this: “Homosexual actions are sins which are no different from common sins such as lying or skipping class. By speaking out against homosexuality the Church creates a distinction between two equally harmful sins, a distinction which is homophobic.”
This argument allowed students to claim continuity with Catholic tradition, even to the point that they were able to take on leadership positions in orthodox clubs on campus, while receiving the congratulations of academic professors who broke with Catholic tradition in the 1960s. The approval of these professors and the distinction of being seen as an “enlightened Catholic” was the price given for betraying one’s beliefs.
Having courage and prudence does not mean that the Catholic Gentleman must publicly confront socially acceptable sin at every opportunity. Christian charity dictates confrontation through kindness, and not abrasiveness, when possible. Christian charity also dictates that the Catholic Gentleman show love by revealing the truth and enabling those around him to see through modernism. This sometimes requires confrontation.
Prudence dictates the manner of confrontation. The Catholic Gentleman becomes prepared for possible confrontation on social teachings when he closely studies Church teachings, engages with Catholic peers in discussions about them, and practices his arguments to make sure his points are rational and cognizant. He strives to keep an even temperament when discussing issues which frequently provoke rage and anger. As a fellow attorney once told me “stupid for Jesus is still stupid.” Prudence can be the practice of being smart for Jesus.
Have courage. Do not hide behind false prudence. Be a man.