Summary: God does not call us to take political power, but to witness to the Gospel of truth, goodness and beauty, and to keep together our worship, law and ethics.
27th Sunday in Course
October 2, 2010
Sacred Liturgy Series
Last Sunday, a number of evangelical pastors mounted the pulpit and endorsed candidates running in the current elections. By doing so, they thumbed their noses at the Internal Revenue Service’s rulings against 501-c-3 organizations’ direct endorsement of politicians, and incurred the prospect of losing their tax-exempt status under the law. I am not going to follow suit–don’t worry, vicar/pastor–but not because we have anything to fear from Caesar or his tax collectors. There is something wrong with putting our trust in any prince, or even any mere human institution. I am a citizen of Texas, and of the United States, but before all that I am a Catholic, a citizen with St. Paul of heaven. And that has everything to do with everything, politics included. Today, however, I am going to tie together our obligations as citizens with what happens when we worship together.
Habbakuk rightly tells us that the just person lives by faith. And Jesus goes on to say that if we have faith only as large as the smallest of seeds, we could move immovable objects. That is, we could do any good thing. So why not organize as a Catholic Christian political party, enlist allies of good will among the evangelical and Jewish communities, recruit candidates and, in the words of one commentator, “take back our country”? Then–so the argument goes--we could by sheer political will and electoral power reverse the slow or fast erosion of American ethics and values and stop the abortions, the wholesale sterilizations, the government corruption and activist agenda and. . .and. . .
And then what? Impose the same kind of tyranny that, in Roe v Wade, Justice White characterized as “an exercise of raw judicial power,” but in the legislative and executive branches? We would be making the same mistake European Catholics made after World War II when they set up numerous Christian Democratic parties. The idea they had–good on paper–was to use these political organizations to inculturate papal teachings in the public square. But politics is a game of compromise, power, and–let’s face it–original-sin based corruption. Now, sixty years later, Europe is further along on the path of self-annihilation than the U.S. is. Not one country has a replacement fertility rate, the European Union has explicitly rejected its own Christian heritage, and the long-term expectation is that all of Europe will be majority Muslim before our grandchildren reach retirement. Islam, you see, respects its own heritage and encourages people to have children.
So, if the path of political organization and sheer power is not the right way, and if, as we should, we reject the idea of continuing to act like dumb sheep in thrall to two political parties whose interests frequently run counter to the Gospel of Life, what do we do? We would do well to return to the sources of our inspiration, the Holy Gospels, the Tradition of the Church, the Catechism, the papal writings. And as our guide, I recommend the early chapters of Pope Benedict’s book, The Spirit of the Liturgy.
The Hebrew people are the type of the pilgrim Church on earth. They were liberated from Egypt, but not for political reasons. God was not establishing a political entity, but a chosen people. The land of Palestine was the wrong place to build a political entity. It was the natural invasion route between Europe, Asia and Africa, so its days of political independence were few. It was, however, a natural forge and anvil to build up the interior spirit of a chosen people. The Israelites, however, continually rebelled, chased after foreign gods, burnt their children in sacrifice to idols, and made fruitless political alliances. That’s why God drove them from their land, not once but multiple times. Political independence without absolute devotion to God’s covenant is slavery, not liberty.
When God made His covenant with Israel, He established three interwoven aspects. The first and foremost is right worship. We are made to praise God–but in His way, not ours. We find here, in the Mass, the summit of our right relationship with God and with each other. But cult is not enough. Cult, “seen in its true breadth and depth, goes beyond the action of the liturgy. Man becomes glory for God, puts God. . .into the light. . .when he lives by looking toward God.” We do that by right living and right laws. “It is also true that law and ethics do not hold together when they are not anchored in the liturgical center and [are not] inspired by it.” That’s why certain self-styled Catholic legislators seem so confused. They claim to be “devoted Catholics” and then ram laws through Congress that pay for the destruction of preborn children and the disabled, and the further erosion of the family. They have divorced law from ethics, and both from worship.