Paulist seminarian Tom Gibbons reflects on his formation experience and his life as a seminarian right now. Along the way, some questions will be will be answered, and a lot more will come up.
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Is America a Christian Nation?
You know, when I decided to become a priest, there was one big thing I was really struggling with… one thing that I was really going to miss. Because in my past life, there was something that I really liked to do… and when I looked at the job description of a priest, I realized that my days of doing this one thing were over.
Watching Meet The Press on Sunday mornings.
Seriously… there was nothing better than waking up late on a Sunday morning, grabbing a cup of coffee and a sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich from Dunkin Donuts, and sitting down to watch the weekly political boxing match. And of course, I was usually far from being a passive watcher of the program. I have been known to hold my fair share of political opinions from time to time (ahem)… and when someone on the screen would say something that I disagreed with, I would never hesitate to express those opinions to the television in a manner so that the people inside the television set could hear me. Probably in the same way most of the Texas fans in this room would scream at the television when Oklahoma scores a touchdown.
Most, if not all of us, have our political allegiances. Maybe we don’t all scream at television sets like I would do, but we all have them. And I would be willing to bet that some of our opinions, our party affiliations, our priorities differ wildly from the person sitting next to us. But if we are indeed coming from all of these different perspectives, the question could legitimately be asked, “What unites us as Catholics? Shouldn’t we all agree on how to address the issues of our day such as abortion, immigration, and poverty?”
To be sure, these issues are complicated. But it is actually a great testament to the diversity of our Catholic faith that we do come from different perspectives. Because it means that we Catholics can have legitimate discussions on such important issues as border security. We can have legitimate discussions on health care policy. How best to reduce abortions. We can agree and disagree on the role of government in our lives, the role of private industry in our lives, and how much we should be taxed.
The various opinions we hold do not make any one of us a better or a worse Catholic because we may favor one political party over another, because we may think a certain economic system works better, or because we either support (or don’t support) particular government policies. That is because in the final analysis all of these things are opinions—these ideologies—are nothing more than simple MEANS to a larger purpose.
But while we are allowed to disagree on the MEANS as Catholics, we must all be united in the END these ideologies point to. The END that we must all agree on as Catholics is the command we hear in the Gospel: “Love one another as I have loved you.” While we can legitimately disagree on the ways in which we can shape a world in which love of neighbor rules the day, we have the constant responsibility to challenge ourselves, our actions, and our opinions to make sure that our “means” are pointing to this larger “end.”
On Facebook the other day, I noticed that someone posed the question if America should be considered a Christian nation. I have to confess that I am uncomfortable with the way that question is phrased; I have too many Jewish, Buddhist, and agnostic friends who are as much a part of our country as anybody else. But I do believe that it is undeniable that Christianity has had—and will continue to have—an enormous influence over American life and we should be grateful for that. But because we have such enormous influence over our country as Christians, we need to take responsibility for how we direct that influence.
If we are going to start checking citizenship based on the color of ones skin, then we are not being influenced by Christianity. If we are going to welcome people solely based on the amount of money they have in their wallets, then we are not being influenced by Christianity. And if we are influenced by commentators who tell us to leave churches that express any sense of social concern because it conflicts with their own personal agenda, then we are most certainly NOT being influenced by Christianity.
Despite what some commentators say, we do not minimize Catholic Social Teaching just because it has the word “social” in it… Catholic Social Teaching IS Catholic Teaching. The command to “love one another as Jesus loves us” is the foundation of our Catholic Social Teaching. As Benedict 16 said in his latest encyclical Charity In Truth, “Love is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace.”
But it is hard… it’s hard because the issues of immigration, poverty, and abortion are complex. It’s hard because it may at times require personal sacrifice in order to love and support those who are falling victim to these issues. It’s hard because love is hard. If we need any reminder of that, all we need to do is look at today’s Gospel… because just before Jesus tells us to love one another, Judas walks out the door to betray him and have him killed.
But it is also telling this event is also happening at the end of the Last Supper…. Probably because on some level Jesus knew that we might need some extra help in order to live our lives more fully as Christians. Because we all need help in challenging ourselves to make sure that we are truly loving one another… both communally as well as individually.
So let’s all keep that in mind if we ever find ourselves questioning—like I sometimes would—whether to come to Church on Sunday morning or to stay in and watch Meet The Press. After all, we can’t download the Eucharist later in the day off of iTunes.
This post focuses on the Gospel reading that can be found here.