“‘Do you want me to crucify your king?’ said Pilate. The Chief Priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar'”
This line from the Gospel of Saint John, at the beginning of the Passion account, illustrates the fatal flaw in the thinking of the religious leaders of the time. They had mistaken temporal power for the power of the Lord and given their allegiance accordingly. So blinded had they become by their own sense of self-righteousness, that they were intensely threatened by this Man who stood before them and whose death they now demanded. For them, the political realm had become all-consuming, such that they had forgotten who they were and what it is that they had been called to do.
This particular mistake is one which is being repeated today.
As Christians and as Catholics, it is absolutely imperative that we keep our eyes fixed very firmly upon the Lord. The moment we take our eyes off the Lord, problems will follow – initally in the spiritual realm, before spilling out into every other realm of our lives.
For some time I have been watching the state of the Catholic Church in the United States of America with a deepening sense of sadness. There, it seems to me, this problem is occurring today – and the recent events in Washington are symptomatic of it. These events did not take place spontanously and out of the blue – rather, they were the very predictable result of a process of replacement; religious Faith was initially tarnished by mixing it very explicitly with partisan politics, until the two were eventually seen as interchageable – which they most certainly are not. This led to intense division – and hatred – across the country. And at the root of this was the idolatry of many – within the Church as much as outside it. For such people, the Lord was replaced with political leaders who promised the world. A great many allowed themselves to be swayed and fooled and led astray by their blind devotion to an idol. All prudential judgement was lost, together with any sense of critical thinking.
I read a comment this morning from someone asking about the role of the Church in all of this. And the Church in America has played a pivotal role in everything that has taken place. A number of Cardinals, Priests, Bishops and lay people have succumbed to this error and – just like those Chief Priests – have proclaimed very loudly that “we have no king but Caesar”. Not at all surprisingly, the results are exactly the same now as then.
It is not enough for the Bishops of the Catholic Church in America to now proclaim their repugnance for the violence which they could be viewed as having played a part in fomenting by their words, actions and example, even if they did not directly intend this. And it is hypocritical to condemn the violence and death which has resulted, whilst ignoring the very real part they played in turning a partisan political ideology into a theological identification, presenting a particular political opinion as the badge of being Catholic.
Part of this stemmed from making the Catholic Faith a ‘one issue’ matter in the case of abortion, to the exclusion of every other equal issue. Abortion is a hellish evil, there is no doubt – but there are many other hellish evils also. And if our exclusive focus on one “pre-eminent” issue means our blindness toward others, then we have lost the way.
Unfortunately, this tilled the soil into which seeds of division were then planted; political figures made good capital of this division, drawing good people into the belief that a political ideology and religious belief were one and the same. It was then completely consequential that Church leaders would demand that “to be Catholic you must vote for this political party” – something the Catechism rejects very clearly and explcitly; the Church tells of our need to form our consciences based on an understanding of the facts and the issues, after which we must make prudential judgement according to our conscience. But it is our judgement to make and it cannot and must not be dictated in this erroneous way by the Bishops. That is not the way of the Church.
The process described above led to another consequence – a rejection of the lawful authority of the authentic Shepherd of the Church, the Holy Father. To read the words of Cardinals and Bishops and Priests openly criticising the Pope in public and enjoining the faithful to defy his teachings, especially in his ordinary magisterium, is an affront to the unity of the Church and the collegiality of those Cardinals, Bishops and Priests. To lead the faithful out of communion with the Church and the Holy Father is a grave thing to do; the Lord will one day ask for an account of such actions and there will be a cost to pay. Make no mistake – souls will be lost because of this. Be very clear on this one point – for a Catholic to be removed from their allegiance to the Holy Father and his teaching is a certain sign that we are on the wrong path. Nowhere in the history of the Church over the last two millenia has this been the right path to take. The only certain place to be is with the Church – and that means with the Holy Father. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. See that now, before it is too late.
At the present time, it is clear that this division and acrimony is far from over – I am certain there is much worse to come.
There is an entrenchment taking place, a stoking of division, such that any possibilty of real dialogue seems almost impossible. It may be that before any real recovery and healing are possible, this issue needs to descend further, to the lowest possible level. Recent events have shocked many across the world and within America itself; but not sufficiently to make us look very carefully at what the real problems are, so that true dialogue – which means listening as well as speaking – is empowered to find a way forward, however difficult and tenuous that might be to achieve.
I pray hard for the Catholic Church in America at this point in history. Right now, the future looks quite dark.
But there is hope – there is always hope.