….I borrowed this article’s title, “On the Power of the Powerless,” from one of the great essays of the last century. Václav Havel, the playwright and political dissident, wrote “The Power of the Powerless” in 1978 at the height of communist repression in his native Czechoslovakia. The content is brilliant, but Havel’s main point is very simple: Even in a world of persecution and state control, the individual is never really powerless. He or she always has the power to say no, to refuse to believe lies, and to search out other people who share a love for truth and are willing to suffer for it.

Havel was never religious. But his friend and fellow Czech dissident, Václav Benda, was. And Benda’s the man whose example I want us to remember in the coming weeks and months. Especially in yet another election year.

A husband and father of six, Benda — when he was pressed in the 1970s to join the Communist Party for professional reasons — declined. It killed his career. He was hounded out of academia. He was forced from one menial job after another. He was harassed for his peaceful resistance activities, which were technically legal under Czechoslovak law. He was arrested and jailed for four years. But none of it deterred him. He and his family had a profound Catholic faith, and they lived it intensely. At Easter in 1985, in the midst of all his political problems and government bullying, Benda wrote an extraordinary defense of Catholic teaching on divorce, contraception, and abortion (collected here) — this, despite knowing that part of the Czech Church was collaborating with the regime, and some of her leaders were both corrupt and cowards.

Through it all, he never lost his gratitude for the beauty of his family and the gift of his faith. Nor did he lack a sense of humor about his own sufferings. At the height of his government troubles, he wrote that “I consider it extremely unreasonable, once you’ve shown some eccentric willingness to throw yourself to the lions, to complain that their teeth are not very clean.”

All of this man’s energy, creativity, and courage flowed out of one source: his identity and fidelity as a believing Catholic layman—the vocation which began at his baptism and shaped his whole life. Which is why, even in his prison cell, Václav Benda was a free man; free in a way his persecutors could never be.

For us American Catholics, the truths of our faith have been easy to learn, easy to affirm, and too often easy to forget, for the last six decades. The Church in our country has enjoyed a fairly free and comfortable life for a long time. And a great deal of good has been done. It’s still being done by good people in every American diocese and parish. We should be grateful and proud for all that God has made possible, and our place in helping to achieve it. But if the hatred unleashed by the 2022 Supreme Court decision that struck down Roe v. Wade teaches us anything, it’s that our comfortable times — the go along and get along times — are over. What we need now is to think and act accordingly. We need to recover the spine and the missionary nature of our baptism….

From Archbishop Charles Chaput on What We Need Now