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I also understand the pope’s main point: you don’t lead people to Christ by starting with the code of Canon Law, or even the canons of natural law. The apostles on Pentecost did not rush into the marketplace to explain the indissolubility of sacramental marriage. They proclaimed the resurrection, and that is the key event which ought to motivate each of us.
That said, the news of the resurrection was not what converted the Roman world. First of all, the eyewitnesses were long-dead by Constantine’s day. And the notion of bodies rising from death was profoundly off-putting to Greeks and Romans who saw the spirit as higher and better than the flesh. What impressed the Romans was how the Christians lived, and their willingness to push back against the corruptions of a dying, death-dealing culture. Christians did not kill their unwanted infants—in fact, they went to the city gates and rescued the infants whom pagans had abandoned. Christians did not divorce, as Romans did; they were more likely to be chaste before marriage and faithful afterward—which led Roman aristocrats to seek out Christian wives. (Think of St. Augustine’s pagan father.) Christians might own slaves, but they did not think it acceptable to use them as sexual concubines or kill them for disobedience. In an increasingly totalitarian Roman state, Christians were even willing to say no to the emperor. These radical acts of resistance to the social and political culture, carried out at personal cost that sometimes included martyrdom, won over jaded residents of the crumbling empire. If anyone today is acting similarly, it is precisely those Catholics who fight the culture of death, who resist the expanding power of a secular government, who refuse the ethic of enlightened hedonism which crusades against cigarette smoking while permitting abortion. They are the pro-lifers, the home-schoolers, the large apostolic families, the members of traditional religious orders who embrace ascetic lives.