Stand Up for God’s Empire

Pasture along the Shannon

We had a wonderful three weeks in Ireland. We visited places we had not seen on previous trips and attended bodhran (bow-ran) school on the lovely island of Inis Oirr. Three pubs, 90 Irish drummers and pleasant weather –what more can one ask for? I said trip but it was actually a pilgrimage—we visited holy places and sacred sites. I learned more about the beauties of Celtic Christianity, Celtic customs, feasts and practices. More of this at a later writing.

Today’s Gospel reading strikes me as being particularly appropriate at this juncture in time. I have started three files. Two files deal with national politics and one with local—immigration reform, health care reform, and the abolition of the death penalty. These are all about life.  Immigration reform is about justice and life and opportunity. Health care reform is about having life and having what we need to participate in life and in democratic government. Ending the death penalty is about life and forgiveness.

Enter today’s Gospel. When I worked for the company out of Cambridge, I used to look forward to going to Massachusetts and meeting with colleagues from around the country. I soon realized that there was another political world that was much different from the unabashedly conservative world in Georgia.

Today we live in the North Georgia Mountains. It is a conservative, predominantly Republican, political enclave. If I do not keep my mouth shut— and that is hard for me to do, I take a beating on the golf course. My views which I believe are informed by Gospel values are polls apart from most of the people I meet there. They are not mean or bad people for the most part. For the most part they go to church on Sunday; however, there seems to be a big disconnect between Gospel teaching and the way in which they approach political issues. I recently wrote a letter to the editor opposing torture. One person wrote in response that torture is about morality not about religion. Disconnect big time! Religion is about more than morality; however, it is also very much about morality and applying Gospel principles to life issues.

In my mountain enclave, a TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party is forming. Their immediate target is opposing Obama’s health care reform. The word “socialism” abounds on their placards. The refrain is, “I do not want to pay the taxes I am paying now let alone more taxes.” Undoubtedly, like my golfing buddies, these are churched people. Where are the principles so prominent in Catholic social teaching—solidarity and the common good? Unfortunately, these principles are foreign to many of my Catholic friends also.

Back to Matthew. I have always enjoyed Ched Myers’ commentary on Mark—Binding the Strong Man. Now I have found an equally valuable commentary on Matthew by Warren Carter—Matthew and the Margins.

Like the disciples who were sent into the empire to preach the Empire of God, we are sent as sheep. The Lamb imagery so associated with the apparition of Mary at Knock, Ireland in 1879 is present here. Jesus was the Lamb—the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. He was sent among the wolves of the empire—the power brokers who fleeced the sheep of Israel. (Couldn’t resist the pun!) Carter describes the wolves as “the sociopolitical and religious elite who oppress and harass the people.”

Jesus advises the disciples to be as “shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.” Serpents are known for their cunning and for their ability to get things done. Being simple like doves means maintaining a clear focus—keeping the eye on the prize. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us of this in Caritas in Veritate. Our political decisions must be based on the principles of God’s Empire—the Kin-dom of God.

Jesus comforts the disciples. He tells them not to worry about how people will react to their Gospel message—the Good News of God’s Empire.

Not to worry. We are being sent forth at this time. With the historic meeting of President Obama with Pope Benedict today, we are in kairos time, special salvific time. (BTW, I recently read that the Apostolic Nuncio has cautioned the conservative American bishops to cool it on their criticism of Obama.) We must bring our Christian principles of the dignity of each and every human person, love (caritas), truth (veritas), solidarity, and the common good to bear on political decisions.

To that end, I have taken action. I have sent this Letter to the Editor of our two local newspapers (with some slight apprehension). Be not afraid.

Dear Editor,

A lot of discussion has emerged over the issue of reforming health care. Much of the discussion I have read deals with complaints about big government and an unwillingness to pay more taxes. I believe that we need to step back from these issues and bring a faith perspective to the debate.

The sad fact is that 46 million Americans (approximately 1/8 citizens) do not have health care. Every citizen is the United States is a child of God and has infinite dignity. Every human person has the inalienable God-given right to food, clothing, shelter, education and health care. These are not things people must earn. People deserve these simply because they are human beings created in the image and likeness of the Creator who wants them to have life and everything they need (Jn 10:10).

Our system of government guarantees every citizen has the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” which cannot be attained when adequate health care is lacking. The faith imperative tells us that, rather than resist efforts to provide health care for every citizen, we must work together to find the best, most economical ways to provide it.

The Judeo Christian tradition teaches that we will be judged by the way we treat the least among us—the widows, the poor, the orphans, and the strangers. “Whatever you have done to these…” This is the imperative that must also drive health care reform.

As human beings we are all in solidarity with one another and we are called to serve the common good. What some would call socialism was actually love in action in the early Christian communities. We are called to be compassionate. Radical evil is the refusal to alleviate human suffering that we have the power to alleviate. Providing adequate health care is not a matter of having the ability to do so. It is a matter of having the will to do so.

Solidarity and the common good also tell us that is not all about us and the resources we can store in silos. Rather, it is about the common good—one nation under God. Those who have been blessed have an obligation to use their resources to alleviate human misery and suffering. Taxation is not so much about giving our money to others as it is our responsibility to put back or pay rent, so to speak, because the infrastructure has made it possible for us to gain all the resources we need and then more.

Bill Gates, Sr., who grew up in poverty, says it all, “And I remain dedicated to the belief that we all have a shared responsibility to one another and to the proposition that every child — regardless of the circumstances of birth — deserves the opportunity to lead a healthy, productive life.”

It is not about partisan politics. It is not about being oppositional. It is about dialogue and consensus and working together. It is about taking what we learn in church on Sunday and bringing it to bear on political challenges during the week.

Signed J. Patrick Mahon

Stand up for the Empire of God. Do something each day to remind people to apply Gospel values to current political issues—health care reform, immigration reform, capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia, torture, and war.

In case I am causing you undue stress, I have posted a picture of a pastoral scene from our first B & B in Bun Raity, Ireland. Enjoy!

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