Miss California and our guys

At first glance, or any subsequent look, no one would confuse Miss California, Carrie Prejean, with any of the 1,000 or more Catholic men from all corners of the diocese who will join Bishop Jenky this Saturday for the annual “A Call to Catholic Men of Faith.” And while a throng of Catholic men marching through downtown Peoria is a beautiful sight to behold, Main Street is not a runway, and none of the guys involved will be giving a thought to their hair or wardrobe. Trust me.

But as this year’s march approaches, I’m thinking Miss California and our guys have more in common than meets the eye.

As viewers of Monday’s Miss USA Pageant and subsequent talk shows are aware, Miss California was the first runner-up in this year’s contest. What made headlines the next day, however, was speculation that her answer to a judge’s question on same-sex marriage might have cost her the crown.

What did Prejean say that was so controversial?

“I believe a marriage should be between a man and a woman,” said the contestant, politely adding “no offense to anybody out there.” It was a simplified echo of a foundational, deeply developed position of the Catholic Church holding that marriage is a holy union between a man and a woman, but also teaching that homosexual persons deserve respect, justice and pastoral care.

The judge asking the question, celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, said afterward it was “the worst answer in pageant history.” Hilton, who is open about his homosexuality, no doubt gave Prejean low marks because of her response. Another judge who also favors gay marriage later counseled that it is best for a pageant contestant to give a neutral answer “if you want to win.”

Miss California’s reaction? “I’m not going to stand in the middle,” she said on the Today Show the next morning. Claiming she’d rather be “biblically correct” than politically correct, Prejean added that some things aren’t worth a compromise, “even if it’s for the crown of Miss USA.”

And that’s why Miss California and the guys responding to Bishop Jenky’s invitation on Saturday are really in step together, though only one is in high heels.

“A Call to Catholic Men of Faith” is a grassroots response to a 2003 homily in which Bishop Jenky urged Catholics to “rise up” and “deliberately stand with our God” in the face of a culture that often promotes “a moral code totally incompatible with the moral code of Christianity.” For the past five years, the men attending what has grown to be one of the diocese’s largest annual gatherings have been urged to be intentionally and publicly Catholic in what we say and do.

For most of us, those moments won’t come under spotlights with millions of people watching. But such tests do come. They may be when a late night comedian or a co-worker tells a joke that mocks the priesthood, or when a family member asks how the pope or the church could be so out of touch with reality, or when a college professor says all beliefs are pretty much the same. How we respond may not cost us a crown in this life, as it likely did Miss California, but there are usually judges present: our children or grandchildren, friends, neighbors, etc.

Do we defend our God and church? Or are we more worried about fitting in?

Carrie Prejean chose to voice her beliefs, not counting the cost. And while they may march down the middle of a few roads Saturday enroute to St. Mary’s Cathedral, the men taking part in “A Call to Catholic Men of Faith” on April 25 will stand squarely on the side of God and the church.

This year, in fact, the men will be accompanied by a most beautiful Lady — not Miss California or Miss USA, but the true and eternal Queen of Heaven and Earth. The event will honor the Blessed Mother in a special way as the diocese prepares for the Year of the Rosary. The weather looks to be perfect. Cleaning the garage or mowing the grass can wait, guys. See you at the Peoria riverfront at 9 a.m. on Saturday. — Thomas J. Dermody, editor-in-chief, The Catholic Post

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