Many people, including myself, have considered 2020 to be among the most troubling and frightful times in modern history. An unprecedented global health crisis has already taken the lives of almost a quarter of a million people in the United States alone, a renewed reckoning with the persistence of systemic racism across America, and a presidential election cycle that has further fractured our already polarized population.
Whether by divine providence or mere coincidence, the readings this Sunday resonate particularly well with this unfortunate but widespread sensibility of despair, anxiety, and fear.
These readings are snapshots of distressful times in salvation history: The first reading recounts the Babylonian captivity and the rule of a pagan monarch over the defeated people of Israel. The gospel tells of the final days of Jesus’ public ministry as those plotting to silence him ramp up their efforts to entrap him. The second reading is addressed to an early Christian community that is growing ever more anxious because Christ has yet to return as their family and friends begin dying a generation or so after the Resurrection of Jesus.
It can be tempting to view the Gospel passage through the lens of American political philosophy, and particularly with the U.S. Constitution’s principle of the separation of “church” and “state.” While there is a clear distinction between the roles of the State and the Church, there is no total separation. Both the State and religion, by playing their roles responsibly, help each other to conduct themselves for the greater good of the nation. So long as the government rules justly and for the common good of all, there should not be any major conflict between Church and state. On the contrary, there would be cooperation, mutual understanding and support for each other: Working together for the common good.
The State is called to govern fairly and for the good of the people. They are to ensure order, peace, harmony, equality, progress, prosperity, freedom of religion and worship. Their role is on the temporal, social and political affairs of the country. The laws of course must be just and fair and morally sound based on the principles of the dignity of the human life. As a member and citizen of the country, we are called to contribute to the country and its growth.
We all have dual citizenship. We are citizens on earth and also citizens in heaven. St Paul wrote, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.” Phil 3:20.
As good Christians, we must be model citizens and not break any moral or civil laws of the land. “Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.” 1 Pt 2:12.
But as good Christians, if civil laws are violating the moral laws as revealed by God, we should exercise conscientious dissent. This is because as St Peter said, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” Acts 5:29. We should not compromise our consciences. St Peter wrote, “Fear God. Honor the emperor.”1 Pt 2:17
We are to participate actively in the government’s running, electing the right people for the right jobs, and staying in touch with them for the right reason to impact positive changes in the community and the society. One of the most important things to call to mind while researching candidates is to understand that voting cannot be contrary to a well-formed conscience. The constant teaching of the Catholic Church with recent affirmation by Pope Francis and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is that abortion and euthanasia are the preeminent issues in forming an opinion on how to vote.
Hence the mission of the Church and Christians is to speak of God and bear witness to Him to the men and women of our time. Every one of us, by Baptism, is called to be a living presence in society, inspiring it with the Gospel and with the lifeblood of the Holy Spirit. It is a question of committing oneself with humility, and at the same time with courage, making one’s own contribution to building the civilization of love, where justice and fraternity reign.
May Mary our mother, help us all to flee from all hypocrisy and to be honest and constructive citizens. And may she sustain us disciples of Christ in the mission to bear witness that God is the center and the meaning of life.
I appreciate you taking the time to read this email and I hope that this helps you. It is through prayer and the active practice of our faith that we can change the world.