Saturday, November 7, 2020

Faithfulness to All of God’s Commands

Barring some irrefutable evidence (none has been presented yet) that invalidates a portion of ballots in a way that changes the Electoral Vote count, we need to face the reality of a new President… a President who is on record as saying he will institute things at odds with the Catholic faith that he professes to follow. So, it is understandable that some Catholic voters will be dismayed or angry at the results. Of course, when any government tries to make an unjust law, we have the obligation to oppose it.

But the obligations of Catholics do not stop with opposing unjust laws. We are called to act rightly, even when those who hate us treat us wrongly. And that calling means we may not hate or do evil to anyone.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? (Matthew 5:43-47)

That is the kind of command that does not permit evasion or exceptions. Whatever you think of the President-Elect, we are commanded to love him even should he make himself our enemy by his actions. And even if he does govern unjustly, we are forbidden to behave in certain ways. As St. Peter teaches:

For whenever anyone bears the pain of unjust suffering because of consciousness of God, that is a grace. But what credit is there if you are patient when beaten for doing wrong? But if you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.  (1 Peter 2:19-21)

I think we need to keep this in mind. Barring a miraculous change of heart, we can expect Biden to do certain things contrary to the teachings of the Church as he promised to do. But we do not have the right to disobey Christ just because Biden refuses to follow the Church Christ established. Nor do we have the right to disobey Christ just because the “other side” refused to act in this way towards his predecessor.

Tragically, many seem to think that this obligation means we must stay silent and not oppose evil. So, we can expect a litany of charges against Biden and what he supports along with accusations that we are either ignorant of or supporting evil policies. But that is not true. We are aware. Christians were not ignorant or silent in the face of the persecutions in the Roman Empire either. But they still insisted on recognizing that the persecutors were human beings and needing salvation. As St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy:

First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

In following his lead, we are not only asking for deliverance from being harmed by them, but we are also seeking the ultimate good for them. 

And that brings us to our own obligation. We are called to take part in the Great Commission (see Matthew 28:19-20). That is achieved in part by our words, and in part by the witness we provide in our actions. Do we show that we practice what we preach to them? People are good in spotting hypocrisy on the other side, but not so good spotting it on their own side. So, even if those who oppose us should live in a reprehensible way and not notice it, they will notice if we fail in our calling to live according to what Jesus taught.

There is an old quote, apocryphally attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, that goes Preach the Gospel Always. If Necessary, Use Words.  What it means is, we should be living in a way that shows we believe what we claim. The Christian life was one of the greatest witnesses to the pagans. Tertullian observed (Apology, Chapter 39.7):

The practice of such a special love brands us in the eyes of some. ‘See,’ they say, ‘how they love one another’; (for they hate one another), ‘and how ready they are to die for each other.’ (They themselves would be more ready to kill each other.)

So, let us consider that. If we believe that the incoming government and the people within it are championing it are doing and risking their souls, what is going to be a response more likely to let them respond to the grace God offers: An opposition that treats them like a brother, or an opposition that treats them like the scum of the Earth§?

You might say that the stakes are too high, and these are unrealistic ideals. But countless Christians who were martyred chose to witness love, not hatred to their persecutors. What Christ commands is not unreasonable. So, if we are inclined to balk, we must ask whether it is a case where we just do not want to follow it when it threatens our comfort.

We are the ones who witness Christianity to the world. We should ask ourselves how that witness looks to the outside world, and whether we will be called to give an accounting of ourselves.


(†) Some seem to be in denial, expecting that the rumors of voter fraud will be proven true.

(‡) It does not seem to have been known in this form before the 1990s.

(§) If someone chooses the latter as a correct answer, might I suggest a remedial course in Catholic teaching?

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