Here is a link to today’s readings.
The election is finally over! So many people have echoed this sentiment of relief recently. It was a bitter election after all, a divisive and vitriolic campaign. Even the aftermath isn’t pretty. Some people are scared about their safety and unsure of how welcome they are in America. Others are triumphant, feeling they have sent a message to Washington. Christians attending the same church are still angry with one another. There are feelings of betrayal, name calling, and gloating. In the course of all this, friendships have been strained and some have broken. Even families have been divided. The election is over, yes, but the pain continues.
Last week, I reminded all of us that Christ is King and that our hope must be in Him and not in any political party or candidate. Whether we won or lost, we must continue to do the work of the Gospel with the sure hope that God is sovereign and that God’s will, the Kingdom of God, cannot ultimately be frustrated.
Of course, there is a cozy kind of Catholicism that gets a bit too comfortable. It is emptied of the Cross, and therefore emptied of the real Christ. It prizes peace above all else, but not necessarily a peace that is built on justice. It is not true peace but only tranquility. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from Birmingham Jail in 1963, called it “order” and “a negative peace which is the absence of tension” as opposed to “a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” Catholics are baptized to share in the ministry of Christ as priest, prophet, and king. As prophets, we can’t settle for cozy Catholicism. Order and negative peace will never satisfy the demands of our faith. We must work for a more just society. In this election, Catholics could not be cozy with either candidate. They both raised serious moral concerns. Now, we have a victor, and we must work to mitigate the moral violations in his platform while encouraging the good that is there. Yet, doing so requires that we step out of what theologian Johann Baptist Metz calls “bourgeois Christianity,” and when we do so, we are in risky territory. We are on the way of the Cross. We may lose friends we thought were loyal and family members may turn against us for rocking the boat.
Have you experienced this? Has your conscience brought you into conflict with others with whom you were surprised to have a disagreement? Have you lost respect for someone you thought you knew well but whose own language/behavior this election revealed a different character? At first, this all feels terrible and terribly unchristian. In reality, it is a tension that our Christian faith anticipates when trying to operate in a broken and sinful world.
This week’s readings help us to put the heartache into a faith perspective. Jesus reminded His followers: “You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name….” I guess we can be grateful if all we are dealing with is being unfriended or attacked on social media. Jesus said it could be a lot worse! And if you are feeling bad about the division in the Church, you should!… but not so bad that you settle for “negative peace” and “order” instead of “positive peace which is the presence of justice.” Take comfort in Paul’s letters. Today’s second reading is a great example of the problems in the churches that Paul constantly had to address. Right from the beginning, there were tensions that were threatening Christian unity (even differences among the Apostles).
There is some solace in knowing that the Church has survived these tensions before. There is also comfort in remembering that our relationship with Christ, to which all other relationships must be ordered, may lead to tensions, even deadly violence in the worst cases. We have seen that too much around the globe lately. The comfort, in this case, comes in two forms. If you have a love for criminal justice, then perhaps the first reading is for you. “Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch, says the LORD of hosts.” Did that make you feel better? If you are more like me, you prefer to think not of vindication but of God’s ultimate triumph, expressed in the Psalm this way: “for he comes to rule the earth, He will rule the world with justice and the peoples with equity.” Even if family and friends turn against us, “not a hair on your head will be destroyed” and “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
Until that day, let’s turn to two saints for advice. Saint Augustine dealt with plenty of theological and political division and tension in the 4th-5th C. (and he didn’t always handle it well). A popular expression attributed to Augustine, and certainly approved by the Church, is this: “In essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.” Good advice also comes from the first American citizen saint, whose feast day would be today if it were not a Sunday, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. In fitting words for both the end of the election season and the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Mother Cabrini reminds us that prayer is the answer. “Prayer fills the world with mercy,” she said. That sounds like exactly what we need.