The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

God and Politics

I'm tired. I'm tired of the arguments, tired of defending the truth to people who should know better. Sometimes I just want to crawl into my tent, close the flap, and get away from it all. 

For example, the other day after Mass, a parishioner approached and, I guess, challenged me. I don't know why he came to me, but for some reason I was his target of opportunity.

"Religion and politics don't mix," he told me. "The Church should stay away from politics, and politicians should stay clear of religion." 

He had thrown down the gauntlet and I should have addressed the many errors in his statement, but the thought of another long argument...as I said, I'm tired. My reply? "I'm sure many people agree with you, but I'm not one of them. Maybe we can talk about it later, when I have the time." With that I turned and entered the safety of the sacristy, my tent.

As I removed my vestments I couldn't help but recall the words of St. Paul, who seems to delight in reminding me of my weaknesses:
"Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer" [Rom 12:11-12].
In other words, "Keep going, pal. If you're not tired, you're probably not doing what you're called to do." And so I resolved to talk with that parishioner the next chance I get. 

Politics, of course, is just one of many human activities. It involves the how and why of governance, the practice of directing the affairs of human society, particularly public policy. 

Religion involves man's relationship with God, the Creator of all. And since that relationship must involve every aspect of human life, neither politics nor any other human activity can be divorced from religion. 
Some, of course, will wrongly argue that our Constitution's First Amendment is designed to do just that, to separate religion from politics. But that's not its intent. It merely tells citizens (and politicians) that the state may not favor one religious group over others by establishing a state religion. It also tells the state that it cannot prohibit its citizens from freely exercising their religious beliefs. Those who drafted our Constitution recognized the pervasive and beneficial role religion plays in regulating human activity, and sought to protect religion from those who would place unjust limitations on it.

Anyway, in the strange way my mind works, this got me thinking about World War One, and that brought to mind my Uncle Bill. He was my mother's half-brother -- I guess that makes him my half-uncle -- and was a Navy veteran of World War One. We will "celebrate" the 100th anniversary of that war's conclusion at 11 a.m. on November 11. The irony, of course, is that this "war to end all wars" and its aftermath brought us the even more devastating World War Two and all the other wars that followed. 

[By the way, if you're interested in a fascinating book about the end of World War One and the deadly and pointless fighting that continued right up to the final minute on that first Armistice Day, read Joseph Persico's fascinating book, Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour.]
I was just a teenager when Uncle Bill died, but I remember him talking about WWI and his pride in having served. On one of our visits I recall him saying something to the effect that, "But the politicians sure made a mess of things afterwards. Maybe if they'd been more Christian…" And with those words, Uncle Bill beautifully summed up the mess the politicians made of the 20th century.  

"...if they'd been more Christian…" We suffer today because human powers decided to remove God from the political decisions that formed our modern world. God's Word was ruled out 100 years ago at Versailles. Instead of forgiveness, the ruling word was "revenge." The victors sought retaliation and reparations at any cost, and the world paid a high price indeed. The desperation of the Central Powers also sent Lenin's train to Russia, an act that ultimately cost far more innocent lives than the war itself.
I am not a pacifist. I accept that nations have a right to defend themselves from those who would attack them. I am well aware that sometimes just action can include the waging of war in order to prevent even greater evil. But when men try to repair a broken world by forgetting God and following only man's faulty wisdom, more brokenness inevitably follows.

But how many politicians actually take the Sermon on the Mount seriously? How many of us...?

"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" [Mt 5:43-44]. 
I know of no nation that has integrated this mandate of Jesus into its foreign policy. Is that what Jesus wants? Can we 
love our enemies and still defend ourselves from them? Yes, I believe so. But loving them still places demands on us, the kind of demands ignored by the victors at Versailles. And note Jesus' other command: "...pray for those who persecute you." In other words, at some point we must bring God into the picture, for that's what prayer is intended to do.

We cannot expel God from politics, war, economics, or any other human activity. He simply won't let us, and will insert Himself as He wills. He is, after all, the Lord of History. But to include Him in all we do as a nation involves far more than an annual prayer breakfast at the Capitol or the occasional speech-ending "God Bless America."  No, it means struggling to be imitators of God, to live up to our creation in His image and likeness, to strive to do what is impossible for man.
"Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Jesus concludes His teaching on loving our enemies with a  command impossible to obey, at least on our own: 

"So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" [Mt 5:48].
To strive for this perfection that God desires of us means we must turn to Him in all things, and that even includes politics. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to vote for a politician who was striving for the perfection of our heavenly Father?

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