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Transcending politics

| Monday, September 21, 2020

I have read a lot of spiritual and political reflection in the past few weeks as it regards being a Catholic citizen in 2020. Almost all were coming from a more liberal point of view. That, coupled with the deluge of vitriol directed at Lou Holtz, made me realize something.

One could argue that the extent to which Jesus was completely passed over by the religious establishment who were awaiting the messiah that Jesus fulfilled was their incapacity to believe the messiah was someone who would not affect non-political change. They could not fathom that the messiah was here not to free us from the Romans, tax collectors, or Trump or Biden, but from sin.

Christ’s message was not political.

It certainly informs our political beliefs and does not invalidate any Catholic from becoming a politician or otherwise engaging in politics. However, the entire message centered around an individual’s transformation, a giving of one’s heart over to God. This stands in stark contrast to those who conclude collective movements as the center of Christ’s teaching.

The level with which Jesus told us to effectuate change throughout society was individual, as that is the only thing that we can control. Repent and believe. The word used in the Bible — metanoia­ — means something akin to a turning of the heart toward God. Thanks (be) to God, nobody has sovereignty over my heart but myself; this metanoia is a choice that each of us must make individually. The answer to everything is to cultivate virtue, choose God and work with others to bring harmony into the world. This work takes a lifetime to begin.

It means to take responsibility for yourself and trying to clean yourself up. Read some of the Bible; repair relationships with others; become charitable with your money, time and patience; pray more and in different ways; explore aspects of the faith that are less natural to you. And gradually, over time, take incremental steps to larger sacrifices. Today I can’t pray a Rosary, but I can pray a Hail Mary. This week I can’t start a family, but I can go on a date.

This approach should be taken with the development of how to think about the world as well. My entire faith journey has pretty much been characterized by me holding assumptions about Church teachings formed from bad Catechesis that were then turned upside-down with actual research into what our Church doctrine is and means. Natural Law, St. Aquinas, confessions, Catholic Social Teaching — All of these things are available to us. Much of my own metanoia was delving into uncomfortable doctrine and always asking why.

Our beliefs should flow from God outward, not the other way around. Approaching issues with humility, utilizing our own research and reason and holding Christ at the center is the most appropriate way that we as Catholics can engage with civics.

We are first and foremost members of Christ’s body, a community of believers that sees everyone else in the world as children of God. Our citizenship is primarily in Heaven, not on this earth. We must remain fanatical in our love for Christ and others, regardless of personal cost, persecution, ridicule or sacrifice, even if it means a submission of the ego. Neither the Democratic party nor the Republican is oriented toward the worship of God as we know him. As such, any disorder that claims party or any other affiliation as more important than faith is anathema. Placing God at the center of our beliefs and reflecting on how radical our beliefs are must take precedent over becoming swept up in movements that prioritize things over God.

The alternative, to identify solely with a movement as a means of escaping your personal sacrifice; to view one’s self and others from the lens of inherited characteristics like race and gender as opposed to seeing people as children of God equal in divinity; to read into the Bible certain meaning that Church teaching has condemned for good reason; is a perversion. The same reasoning led slave owners to justify their actions with the Bible, a blatant disregard for the Imago Dei. This results from an unnatural prescribing to God our previously held ideas, like a creek that runs uphill.

For example, concluding after reading the Bible that Jesus might permit or even want you to be a Marxist is infantile. Some form of the usurpation of the family, individual and God for the all-powerful State has resulted in countless genocides in the 20th century. Socialism has been denounced by Popes in “Rerum Novarum” and “Quadragesimo Anno,” saying it “cannot be reconciled with … the Catholic Church.” The reasons are out there for all those who choose to use their own reason.

So yes, Jesus told us to feed the poor, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless. And yes, he called out those who were rich and attached to their possessions. However, this was not a political prescription, but a personal one. Any eisegesis of Scripture that leads to such a conclusion spits in the face of 2000 years of scholars who have devoted their entire lives to understanding what Jesus would (actually) do.

We must not betray our transcendent Lord for worldly aims. He told us the Kingdom of God is at hand and almost everybody who ever heard that, to this day, thought it meant something exterior. A new law. Another dictator toppled. Some movement, a protest. The March for Life. BLM. Biden. Trump.

When all it really means is to listen to that tiny noise of God knocking on the door to our hearts. This game will be won or lost within the confessional, not the voting booth.

Will Olafsson


Sept. 9

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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