March 25, 2010
By AL Kresta
A Big Political Moment in History
After being introduced, President Obama steps towards VP emcee Joe Biden who, not realizing that the microphone was still hot, whispers to President Obama, “This is a big F***g deal!.
It is. Mark Steyn, writing before the health care vote, lets us know just how big and what’s at stake in the age of Obamacare.
“Sometimes you do live to see it. In my book America Alone, I point out that, to a five-year-old boy waving his flag as Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee procession marched down the Mall in 1897, it would have been inconceivable that by the time of his 80th birthday the greatest empire the world had ever known would have shriveled to an economically moribund strike-bound socialist slough of despond, one in which (stop me if this sounds familiar) the government ran the hospitals, the automobile industry, and much of the housing stock, and, partly as a consequence thereof, had permanent high unemployment and confiscatory tax rates that drove its best talents to seek refuge abroad.”
Are We in Decline?
I generally resist narratives of decline and fall since in my reading of history most every generation seems to believe that Christ is returning and that the younger generation is less disciplined, more rebellious, less committed to maintaining society’s tradition than they, the elders, are. BUT, in fact, empires do fall, cultures devolve, civilizations ebb and flow so somewhere along the way some generation gets what’s wrong, right!
As a Catholic, a believer in the Resurrection, I also know I’m called to fidelity not to engineer outcomes. As some writer on the spiritual life said: “If I’m called to be an arborist and knew Christ was returning tomorrow, I’d still plant a tree today.” We may have just witnessed the single greatest increase in access to abortion since 1973. I don’t and can’t know for awhile. History will tell its tale. What I do know is that my work, in season and out of season, in good times and in bad, is to stay focused on Christ and his Church turning neither to the right or the left. How well any of us do this is for God to decide but that we should do it and encourage and exhort each other to so do is undeniable.
A Bigger Liturgical Moment in Our History
Here’s the good news: Holy Week is about to begin and our focus on the Passion and redemptive suffering is not for nothing. Climb the peak of the liturgical year and be glad for from that vantage point, Good Friday means Easter Sunday is certain to come.
We know there will continue to be a lot of discussion over what this political moment means in the long run for Americans and their relationship to their government. Catholics are especially endowed by historical altar/throne or church/world or Christ/Caesar debates to make vital contributions to these discussions as long as we don’t fold or opt out of the game. So let’s not miss our liturgical moment with all the grace we need for the long haul. The VP was right: the health care bill is a big deal but the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ is the axis around which the world revolves. Fr. Donald Keefe writes of “The Eucharistic Order of History” not the American or Chinese or Italian order of history. As St. Paul urges: “Put your thoughts on things above.”
The Eucharist, the Kingdom and the Politics of Healthcare
During the present age, it is in the Eucharist that we taste the Powers of the Age to come and experience Christ’s Kingdom most tangibly.
The Russian Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann wrote beautifully: “For the early Fathers:
• ‘Eucharist’ (thanksgiving) was the key word giving unity and meaning to all the ‘elements’ of the liturgy.
• Eucharist (thanksgiving) is the state of perfect man.
• Eucharist is the life of paradise.
• Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God’s creation, redemption and gift of heaven.
“But this perfect man who stands before God is Christ. In Him alone all that God has given man was fulfilled and brought back to heaven. He alone is the perfect Eucharistic Being. He is the Eucharist of the world. In and through the Eucharist the whole creation becomes what it always was to be and yet failed to be. …
“The Eucharist of Christ and Christ the Eucharist is the ‘breakthrough’ that brings us to the table in the Kingdom, raises us to heaven, and makes us partakers of the divine food. For Eucharist––thanksgiving and praise––is the very form and content of the new life that God granted us when in Christ He reconciled us with Himself. The reconciliation, the forgiveness, the power of life––all this has its purpose and fulfillment in this new state of being, this new style of life which is Eucharist, the only real life of creation with God and in God, the only true relationship between God and the world” (For the Life of the World).
Those Catholics who understand that to be a good American citizen is to first be a faithful citizen of the Kingdom of God will remember in the words of the prophet Isaiah that, ultimately, “the government shall be upon Christ’s shoulders.” We shouldn’t let Sunday, March 21’s, shameful disregard for the unborn as an excuse to abandon faithful citizenship. We should see it as one more open door to bear witness to the priorities of the Kingdom of God. Despair, hysteria, blameshifting, demonizing are rarely helpful in such a witness and often lead to sins of calumny, detraction, and gossip.
With this confidence of Christ’s Lordship, we can avoid the political chest-beating or agonized hand wringing that so many seem to be wallowing in right now. “Know the truth and the truth will set you free”, Jesus said and one of those truths is not to trust in human princes. Politics is never the ultimate issue. The existence and providence of God and the promise of Christ’s second coming always insures that politics will remain a secondary issue. The reason really is simple: His kingdom is not of this world and we are told to seek that kingdom above all else. This relativizes all human political commitments and participation.
In A Man For All Seasons, Thomas More makes my point: After Richard Rich betrays him for a promise of political advancement. More turns to him with a touch of ironic disbelief: “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world… but for Wales?” When you betray your principles in pursuit of political victory, you squander your birthright and get shortchanged in the end anyway. For Catholics this is summed up by St. Paul’s maxim: “Never do evil in the interest of good.” Sometimes it simply translates: “The end doesn’t justify the means.” The state can never be ultimate because it doesn’t live forever; the person is immortal and therefore any trade of personhood for collective security may well be a devil’s bargain, a form of idolatry rather than a striving for justice, an acceptance of the temporal as ultimate and the eternal as privately engaging but socially irrelevant.
Building or Witnessing to the Kingdom?
So much mischief is done under the label of “Building the Kingdom.” Good people have used it but it is misleading and confuses job descriptions. God builds his Kingdom, we bear witness, by our actions, to the fulfillment of his coming kingdom. We should have neither an over-inflated sense of ourselves as crusaders or over-persecuted sense of ourselves as resistors.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#676) condemns any attempt to conflate current political structures, governments, movements with the Kingdom of God.
So much of the language popular with early twentieth century Protestant liberals and many post-Vatican II Catholic activists about “building the kingdom” misleads us into thinking that somehow the Kingdom of God comes on the back of elections, votes, laws and social structures rather than in the works of the Holy Spirit commonly called the ‘corporal works of mercy’.
The Kingdom is always about people being treasured as God created them to be: His image. To treat people well is to honor God’s image. To treat persons shabbily in the womb or in political infighting is to engage in Satan’s strategy of belittling the human person. This is what makes the abortion debate critical at many levels. When people are trashed we are witnessing a cheapening of God, their Creator and Sustainer. By demeaning the value of the human person Satan’s intention is extinguish our confidence in the Divine person. This doesn’t mean politics is nothing; it does mean that the way we conduct ourselves in doing politics means everything. What are we willing to do to gain the whole world or Wales or Christ’s Kingdom?
Al Kresta is President and CEO of Ave Maria Communications.
His afternoon radio program is heard on over 200 stations as well as Sirius satellite radio.