Q: I am very distraught at the state of politics in our country. As a Catholic, what should I do?
A: If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone! I refer not only to the many people in the United States who share your sentiments but also to people of faith around the world and countless Christians throughout history. Even Jesus suffered and died in an environment of religious suspicion and political malice.
Our politically polarized culture is an urgent reminder of our responsibility to let the light of Christ shine through us for the salvation of the world.
The first Christians were persecuted by both Jewish leaders and Roman authorities. Stephen, the first martyr, was stoned to death in Jerusalem for his testimony concerning Jesus Christ. Peter and Paul were executed as part the Emperor Nero’s first wave of persecutions of Christians which were followed by additional waves for the next 300 years.
In the midst of such a hostile environment, St. Paul instructed the faithful to pray for those in political authority so Christians could authentically live their faith in peace and freedom. (see 1 Timothy 2:1-2) Prayer, then, is the first response of Christians when facing any circumstance that seeks to obstruct, deter or oppose people from living their faith. In situations where authorities seek to compel Christians to act contrary to their faith, we should remember Peter’s words: “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
The early Christians persistently prayed and acted for the transformation of their world. Apologists like Paul, Justin Martyr and Tertullian proposed the Christian faith to secular authorities using the culturally familiar language of Greco-Roman philosophy and arguments from natural law and the common good. They advanced the Gospel through their efforts to turn the hearts and minds of civil leaders to embrace the truth of Christ’s message and to respect the rights of Christians.
The experience of the first disciples continues in our own time as Christians are persecuted (and martyred) in various parts of the world. Even the first Catholic immigrants to America experienced systematic religious and political persecution. When John Carroll became the first bishop in the United States, in 1789, there were fewer than 30 priests here. Knowing their need for God’s blessing and protection in the face of oppressive laws and social discrimination, Bishop Carroll asked Catholics to pray in accord with St. Paul’s instruction. His prayer is still appropriate for our time (see opposite page).
As we celebrate Independence Day, it would be good to offer Bishop Carroll’s prayer daily this month. We need prayer so that our most fundamental and necessary right of religious liberty will be protected.
The church in America recently completed Religious Freedom Week in which we called to mind the urgent need to pray, reflect and act to preserve freedom of religion in our country. This fundamental right is God-given, not state-given. It is the responsibility of all elected officials to safeguard this sacred freedom so that the church in our time may faithfully live in the peace and freedom for which the early Christians prayed.
As Catholic Christians, it is important for us to remember that we follow Jesus as our Lord and God. No elected official, no imperial decree, no legislative decision determines right or wrong. God alone is the source of truth, goodness and beauty. Rather than standing with any individual political party, we stand with Jesus. In our discipleship, we pray as St. Paul instructed. In our discernment, we reflect on current issues in light of the word of God given to us in Scripture and the teaching of the magisterium. In fulfillment of our missionary mandate, we act as witnesses of Jesus who advance the kingdom of God.
Like the first Christians, we can advance the kingdom of God today by advocacy rooted in prayer and guided by the magisterium. By our baptism we are called to be agents of change, and as citizens we have a duty to accomplish that change especially through our engagement in the public policy process. A natural way to do this is by registering to vote, studying the issues in the light of faith, and then voting in elections.
I encourage you to get involved with the Washington State Catholic Conference, the public policy agency for the bishops of Washington state, which advocates on behalf of all Catholics. Check out the website (WACatholics.org) and sign up to be part of this great advocacy network.
Prayer for our nation
By Bishop John Carroll
We pray thee, O almighty and eternal God, who through Jesus Christ hast revealed thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of thy mercy, that thy church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of thy name.
We pray thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, the pope, the vicar of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his church; our own bishop, all other bishops, prelates and pastors of the church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct thy people into the ways of salvation.
We pray thee, O God of might, wisdom and justice, through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted and judgment decreed, assist with thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the president of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness and be eminently useful to thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality.
Let the light of thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety and useful knowledge, and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.
We pray for his excellency, the governor of this state, for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.
We recommend likewise, to thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.
Finally, we pray to thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance. To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech thee, a place of refreshment, light and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Read the Spanish version of this column.
Northwest Catholic - July/August 2019