In View

The Words Not Spoken

The Democratic Party, in its desire to retain an uncompromising pro-abortion stance during the convention, refused to permit a public podium to the governor of Pennsylvania, Robert P. Casey, who is a pro-life Catholic. Casey’s prepared statement is an indictment of a major political party’s refusal to take seriously the concerns of many of its own constituents, who may have to look elsewhere in November. Herewith some highlights from Casey’s statement:

The national Democratic Party has embraced abortion on demand. I believe this position is wrong in principle and out of the mainstream of our party’s historic commitment to protecting the powerless.

And I also believe this position is politically self-defeating, because it excludes not only pro-life voters but also those who are ambivalent but believe the number of abortions should be reduced and the practice made subject to reasonable regulation.

Listen to the power and the passion of these words: “What happens to the mind of a person, and the moral fabric of a nation, that accepts the aborting of the life of a baby without a pang of conscience? What kind of person and what kind of a society will we have, 20 years hence, if life can be taken so casually?”

These are not the words of Jesse Helms. They are the words of Jesse Jackson, spoken in 1977, four years after Roe v. Wade.

Our party has always been the voice of the powerless and the voiceless. They have been our natural constituency. Let us add to this list the most powerless and voiceless member of the human family: the unborn child.

And I will go further and urge that, in fighting for life, we have a corresponding obligation to do all that we can to make life worth living for both mother and child.

The right to life must mean the right to a decent life.

Our respect for the wonders of pregnancy must be matched by a sensitivity to the traumas of pregnancy. When a woman is faced with a crisis pregnancy, we must reach out to her with compassion and understanding. We must give her the support she needs to get through her pregnancy with dignity and security.

Progressive Hero Bows Out

Remember Father Matthew Fox, O.P.? The eccentric priest came to national attention a few years ago for his New Age ideas and for hiring a self-described witch, Starhawk, to lecture at his Catholic college. His case became a cause célebre, with our friends at the National Catholic Reporter, for example, treating Fox with considerable respect.

Now Father Fox has been dismissed by his Dominican order, which for years faced escalating complaints about Fox’s theological deviations and, well, sheer weirdness. Father Fox’s so-called Institute for Creation Spirituality acquired a reputation for recruiting faculty specializing in Zen Buddhism, yoga ritual, witchcraft, and sensual massage.

At one time Fox’s experimentation with environmentalism, feminism, and American Indian mysticism generated enormous enthusiasm on the religious left, but his dismissal was treated perfunctorily. Yesterday’s fad is today’s yawner.

Evil Empire Rhetoric

Sound like Ronald Reagan’s hyperbolic rhetoric? “Liberty will not be fooled. There can be no coexistence between democracy and the totalitarian state system. There can be no coexistence between market economy and powers who control everything and everyone. The experience of past decades has taught us that communism has no human face. Freedom and communism are incompatible.” Actu¬ally, this is Boris Yeltsin, president of Russia, addressing the U.S. Congress.

Greeley on Vidal

We suspect the Washington Post got rather more than it bargained for when Father Andrew Greeley turned in his review of Gore Vidal’s new novel, Live from Golgotha: “If Christians viewed blasphemy the way orthodox Moslems do, some Christian version of the Ayatollah might have put out a contract on Vidal,” for if his story “is not blasphemous, then nothing is.” Admittedly, Greeley added, “Blasphemy, real blasphemy, in which the sacred is obscenely ridiculed, is pretty hard to come by. Indeed you almost have to be a believer to carry it off. By that standard, Vidal might be judged to be a man of very strong faith indeed.” And yet the book is “deliberately designed to be [blasphemy] and indeed as offensively blasphemous as possible. One misses the whole point of the story—and fails in simple honesty—unless one states explicitly that this is what Vidal is about….

“I’m not suggesting that committed Christians launch a boycott of Live from Golgotha. That would make Random House’s day. My point, rather, is that if you enjoy a romp of cheerful blasphemy, this book is for you. If you don’t find that sort of thing to be exactly your cup of tea, then you can easily miss Live from Golgotha—unless you have some excellent reason to want to induce an attack of nausea.”

Losers Take All

In 1990, when the Sandinistas were defeated in democratic elections and the Chamorro government took office, hopes were high that the country had reached a turning point in its chaotic and brutal history. Sadly, Dr. Lino Hernandez, Raymond Genie, and Peter Sengelmann report that the situation is just as bad now as it ever was. At a mid-September press briefing held by the Puebla Institute, the three Nicaraguans described the current political status of their country as one in which the “losers take all”: the Sandinistas still effectively control the judiciary system, the army, the police force, and the National Assembly.

Following the United States’ withdrawal of aid to Nicaragua in May, Chamorro claims to have resolved some of the problems that initially provoked the withdrawal (for example, confiscated American properties and the notorious Sandinista police chief Rene Vivas). Recently, Chamorro has removed Vivas from office and appointed Fernando Caldera as the new Nicaraguan police chief. But at the briefing Hernandez asserted that Chamorro made this change simply to appease the U.S.; moreover, Caldera was the chief of state security under the Sandinista regime and has a long record of human rights abuses. Under his leadership, the chances that abuses by the police force will end are slim. Unfortunately, this situation is complicated by a judicial system that is controlled by the Sandinistas. The majority of the Supreme Court in Nicaragua is Sandinista—in fact, a number of them are not even lawyers. Hernandez, who is the President of Nicaragua’s Permanent Commission on Human Rights and is no stranger to injustice (he was imprisoned under both the Somoza and Sandinista regimes), insists that the Nicaraguan citizens urgently need a non-partisan judicial system for redress of abuses.

Raymond Genie, whose son was found to have been murdered by General Humberto Ortega’s bodyguards in 1990 after passing the general’s motorcade, is still battling with the judicial system two years later. In July of this year, a civil district judge in Managua transferred the case to a military court, as all cases that involve soldiers are transferred. In the military courts, not only can Ortega appoint the judge, he can also appoint all the people that work around the judge—in the past few years, only three soldiers have been prosecuted, and those three only because of external pressures. Genie has also found that obtaining documents from the prosecution may prove to be impossible; such was the case in a murder trial related to his son’s. For now, Genie is appealing the decision that the case be tried by a military court, but many think that it will be unlikely the soldiers will ever actually stand trial.

As this scandal involving Ortega has recently received a great deal of attention, so too has one involving Antonio Lacayo, Ortega’s “co-governor.” Lacayo is accused of bribing members of the National Assembly not to revoke the Sandinista property laws. This accusation raises the thorny issue of confiscated property in Nicaragua, an issue that is currently being addressed by the Committee to Recover Confiscated American Properties in Nicaragua. Peter Sengelmann, director of the committee, estimates that at least 450 Americans have had their properties confiscated in the years 1979-1990. In fact, General Humberto Ortega’s compound occupies an entire neighborhood that had been confiscated; the Attorney General also lives in a confiscated home. Measures such as the creation of the National Review Commission have not resolved the problem: few properties, if any, have been returned as a result of its activities. Ultimately, unless these issues are resolved, the internal and external investment necessary to help Nicaragua recover will continue to be withheld.

Kathryn Madden

The Bishops on Women

In their upcoming November meeting, one of the major items the American Catholic bishops will take up is the fourth draft of a pastoral letter on women that has stirred up controversy from the time it was proposed back in 1988.

“Progressive” bishops such as Joseph Imesch of Illinois, who currently chairs the drafting committee, saw the letter as a means to promote the feminist agenda in the Church and to condemn the “sin of sexism.” Early drafts of the letter contained major sections called “voices of alienation,” which quoted angry women but in an important sense appeared to be ventriloquist airings of the opinions of some of the bishops themselves.

The Vatican was not fooled. When traditionalist groups protested the bishops’ apparent surrender to the radical wing of the feminist movement, Rome (to use the bishops’ lingo) opened up a dialogue with the U.S. Catholic Conference. The result is a letter that takes up themes from the pope’s own encyclical Mulieris Dignitatem, which asserts not sexual egalitarianism but the “complementary” natures of men and women. The issue of women’s ordination, a gleam in the eye of some American bishops in 1988, now seems to have been laid to rest, at least as far as the pastoral letter is concerned.

The bruising back-and-forth between progressives and traditionalists, the bishops and Rome, seems to have wearied all parties and eroded the enthusiasm of the bishops for the women’s pastoral. In fact, Bishop Imesch is skeptical that anything will be approved at all, and if so the pastoral will probably sit in a locked drawer at the U.S. Catholic Conference.

Sometimes, observes a wry priest of our acquaintance, the bishops’ best course of action is to do nothing at all. And despite much cost and wheel-spinning, that’s what the women’s pastoral seems to have come down to in the end.

Where the Money Is

Despite what many candidates and journalists would have us believe, simply taxing the rich will have practically no effect on the swollen deficit. According to Paul G. Merski, financial affairs director at the Tax Foundation in Washington, D.C., only $39.1 billion would be raised by doubling the tax bills of the fewer than 64,000 people in the U.S. with incomes of $1 million or more in 1990. The federal government could operate for only ten days on this sum.

Doubling the taxes of those earning over $500,000 per year (fewer than 200,000 people), the government could operate for 16 days. Taxes from those earning over $200,000 would be swallowed up in z8 days, while taxes from those earning over $100,000 could support the government for only six weeks. Divided among the states, “soak the rich” taxes would amount to a pittance.

Despite many public misconceptions, the rich today pay a higher percentage of America’s taxes than in years past. As of 1990, 43 percent of total income tax revenue came at the expense of the richest five percent of earners, as opposed to 18 percent just ten years ago. The share paid by the top ten percent has risen from 49 percent to 54 percent in the last decade. The richest five percent of taxpayers have forgone 2.1 percent of their incomes; the poorest z5 percent, by comparison, paid 4.5 percent. This progress is due to the elimination of loopholes and tax shelters, and the reduction of tax rates.

Income tax revenue has increased by about $20 billion annually since 1981, but Congress has increased spending out of proportion to these gains—$1.59 for every $1 in increased taxes.

Robert LaKind

Ecumenical Report

Despite the many inroads that have been made in Jewish-Catholic cooperation, only recently has the potential arisen for serious discussions of theology between the two faiths. A new Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding, located at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, hopes to bring together Jewish and Catholic leaders to discuss matters of doctrine. The founders of the center include Archbishop William Keeler of Baltimore and Rabbi Jack Bemporad, the former chairman of the Interreligious Affairs Committee of the Synagogue Council of America.

Meetings of the two faiths on theological questions have been resisted by some Orthodox Jews who believe that such discussions will lead to conflict rather than agreement. Yet as Judith Banki of the American Jewish Committee points out, “Each religious group needs to understand the internal integrity of the other group’s spirituality.” The center has already sponsored a trip to Poland to arrange visits by Jewish scholars to teach in Polish Catholic Seminaries. In November, the center plans to hold a conference on the Christian understanding of the place of Judaism in the history of salvation.

Words Without Music

Just when you thought linguistic depredations in the Mass were exhausted, along comes word that this year the United States bishops approved new translations of the simple verses concluding the readings. “This is the Word of the Lord” and “This is the gospel of the Lord” become the truncated, jarring “The Word of the Lord” and “The gospel of the Lord.”

To be effective the first Sunday of Lent 1993, these changes are accompanied by the explanation that they represent more accurate translations of the Latin. We’re gratified to learn that Latin is being given any deference at all, but this explanation for the change suggests that ancients who composed in that sonorous tongue committed grammatical mayhem. They did not. The reality is that in the translation from one language to another certain difficulties arise. It is the obligation of the translator to retain the essence of the message while at the same time respecting differences in syntax. What to the ear is harmonious in one tongue may result in slipshod construction in the other.

Some of us in parishes anxious to jump the gun have already heard lectors pronounce the grotesque remnant. One’s innocent reaction is pity: the nervous lector inadvertently swallowed “this is the.” But no, these lectors are the avant-garde. Parishes eager to be in the forefront of change, any change, will not wait until Lent but embrace now the latest alteration.

Why, with all that must burden the bishop’s agenda, would a single minute be focused on changing an innocuous, grammatically correct English sentence into an awkward, verbless orphan which lies on the printed page like an amputated limb on a stretcher? Why the imposition of yet another change, another distraction? If this alteration is so urgent, are further purges in mind? Should we gird our loins and plug our ears against the day we will hear the glib invocations, “My Body,” “My Blood”?

These small alterations are just the beginning of the real story: English-speaking Catholics are about to suffer an all-new Lectionary, as well as a revamped Sacramentary. Next month’s CRISIS will discuss these new texts in detail, but the larger picture is clear: the barbarians are again at the gate.

B.F. Smith

The Challenge of Chastity

Parents should welcome a new little handbook addressed to them, Challenging Children to Chastity: A Parental Guide, by H. Vernon Sattler, C.SS.R. (published by Catholic Central Verein of America). We do not find here a scholarly treatise, but a simple, informal, even rambling presentation which touches many subjects. Father Sattler’s years of pastoral experience shine through on every page. His approach is firm and uncompromising, but at the same time compassionate and patient. We find none of the hand-wringing desperation about the state of morality in our times which does little to improve the situation even a bit.

Challenging children to chastity is an even greater challenge to parents. Something of a revolution has taken place as far as the notion of family is concerned, as Father Sattler notes so well. We can no longer just assume that family will include the actual father and mother by blood or adoption of the child. Rather, with ever-greater frequency and complexity, we find every conceivable combination resulting from desertion, divorce, death, separation, and remarriage, Who will challenge these children to chastity? Faced with such difficulties, parents, for the most part, welcome all the help they can get.

Father Sattler’s handbook is just such help. It would be futile to seek a quick solution in any handbook or even in ecclesiastical decrees and pronouncements. What we do find is much valuable light and direction for pursuing an answer in the realm of everyday experience. A basic criterion for evaluating any education in human sexuality text should be such text’s fidelity to the goal proposed by the Church. Education in sexuality, to quote the bishops, has as its goal “training in chastity in accord with the teaching of Christ and the Church, to be lived in a wholesome manner in marriage, the single state, the priesthood, and religious life.” Conversion to the pursuit of virtue is the goal, not the mere accumulation of knowledge and facts.

Chastity “consists in self-control, in the capacity of guiding the sexual instinct to the service of love and of integrating it in the development of the person.” Much more is involved in human reproduction than instinct. The distinctively human and Christian dimension of reproduction is that it can and should be the work of love. Virtue is absolutely essential if the love of God which has been poured forth into our hearts is to be effective in the reproductive process. Since the virtues are so interrelated and interdependent, to promote chastity means to promote commitment to the life of virtue on the part of parents first of all and, through the parents, by association, as it were, a similar commitment on the part of the children.

We often find families who are health-conscious and committed to the pursuit of physical fitness and healthful living. Because of their commitment to this goal, they readily make great sacrifices and expend great energy for the sake of their goal. Healthful living becomes the family way of life. Who among the members of such a family would think of avoiding the effort and sacrifice involved in healthful living by hiring a substitute to diet for them, or jog for them, or pump iron for them? Who would resort to steroids or pills to escape the effort and sacrifice? The connection between effort and sacrifice and the desired goal is too obvious. It is almost axiomatic: No pain, no gain. Parents in health-conscious families do not spare their children but urge them by word and example to ever greater fidelity and effort.

Moral fitness requires a similar effort, sacrifice, and discipline. There is no substitute or short cut. Physical and moral progress are promoted in much the same way: through effort and sacrifice, through commitment to the goal, through mutual encouragement and support. There is no other way. The greatest gifts lavished from on high by the Creator avail little without the virtues which allow the divine gift to become operative in this unruly and recalcitrant humanity of ours. Grace builds on nature; it does not destroy it.

Reverend Isidore Dixon

The Texas Solution

Environmentalists of the Al Gore stripe are fond of complaining that environmental and other problems are in substantial part due to over-population. This conception, which goes back to Malthus has fixed garish images in the public mind of a world swollen with “teeming masses”—especially from the third world—eventually “crowding out” our cities and resulting in “standing room only.”

To show this perception for the nonsense it really is, consider a counter-image suggested by the economist Thomas Sowell. Imagine if the population of the entire world were located in the state of Texas. The global population is currently about 5 billion. Texas has 262,000 square miles of land. That works out to approximately 1,500 square feet per person, or 6,000 square feet for a family of four—”about the size of the typical middle-class American home with front and back yards,” Sowell notes.

Human resources, creativity, productivity—these are the challenges we have to face. The overpopulation chimera, however, endures.

Recovering the Soul

Shakespeare once wrote, “What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty!” Modern psychiatry, however, seems to disagree, as the current president of the American Psychiatric Association admits. Psychiatry, Dr. Lawrence Hartmann told this year’s APA convention, has overdosed on materialism and become “hopelessly biologically reductionistic,” explaining humanity in biological terms that ignore man’s mental and spiritual dimensions. The emerging backlash to such reductionism was evident in the convention’s official theme, “Humane Values and Biopsychosocial Integration”—an elaborate way to say that humanity is more than biology.

In another convention speech, Dr. M. Scott Peck, author of the best-selling The Road Less Traveled, expanded this humanist theme by broaching the topic of spirituality: “Patients are entitled to therapists who are open to the spiritual dimensions of their lives,” Peck told an overflow crowd. Indeed, Peck writes, one of the greatest weaknesses of modern psychiatry is its practitioners’ inability or unwillingness to treat their patients’ spiritual difficulties. Most psychiatrists, says Peck, “suffer from a self-imposed psychological set of blinders which prevents them from turning their attention to the realm of the spirit.”

Of course, this weakness has been noted by prominent thinkers not active in the field. In a 1989 lecture Walker Percy quipped, “We do not find it odd that there is only one science of chemistry and neurology but at last count more than 600 different schools of psychotherapy, and growing. The physical sciences are converging whereas the psychic ‘sciences’ are diverging; that is, getting nuttier.” Percy attributed this condition to the modern desire to explain all quarters of reality through rigorous scientific investigation. While that methodology functions admirably in describing concrete, observable physical phenomena, it breaks down when we insist on employing it in the less tangible mental and spiritual realms. Hence the extreme difficulties encountered by all the social “sciences,” with psychiatry no exception.

Leon Kass, M.D., discusses a related difficulty in his seminal book Toward a More Natural Science. Dr. Kass explains that many of the problems facing psychiatry stem from a distinctly modern tendency to view man as either mind or body. For Kass, a genuine understanding of the human person must respect both elements, comprehending man as a “psychophysical unity.” Kass argues that our combination of mind and body should be approached less as a scientific problem than as a source of wonder and contemplation, particularly when one considers how well each is suited to serve the other.

The theme of the APA’S meeting savors a good deal of this philosophy. Its “biopsychosocial” focus—although somewhat redolent of psychobabble—genuinely seems to aspire to treat man in terms of the totality of his being, and may even lead mainstream psychiatry back to the ancient idea of the soul. It is, at the very least, a step away from the contemporary tendency to focus on the lower at the expense of the higher.

D.M.C.

A Path Toward Rome?

In the Catholic community concern has lately been growing over the increasing numbers of conversions by Catholics to evangelical Protestantism. What has received little attention, however, are the increasing numbers of evangelicals converting to Orthodox Christianity.

Many observers believe that evangelical religion is attractive because of a perceived lack of spiritual purpose. Evangelicalism provides many with the feeling that they are taking an uncompromising religious stance. Why, then, are evangelicals converting to the Orthodox Church? Evangelicalism provides its followers with the basics of the Christian faith but stops there, and so evangelicals feel a need for the sacraments, liturgy, and institutional commitment associated with the Orthodox Church.

Many of these converts are coming from the clergy of the liberal Protestant denominations. Reverend Peter Gillquist, head of missions and evangelism for the Antiochian Orthodox Church, claims that SO to 70 percent of the inquiries he responds to are from Episcopal clergy. Gillquist himself was a Campus Crusade executive in the 1960s before becoming the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Orthodox Church, a group of 2,000 evangelical and charismatic Protestants, which had applied unsuccessfully for ten years to become a member of various Orthodox jurisdictions. In the spring of 1987 the church was accepted into the Antiochian archdiocese, which was then criticized for admitting evangelicals.

Men for All Seasons

The following homily was given by Father Richard John Neuhaus at the Red Mass upon the opening of the judicial and governmental year of New York City, September 9, 1992:

This is the Mass of the Holy Spirit or the Red Mass, as it is often called. The tradition began in the thirteenth century in England, in the reign of Edward I, to mark the opening of the judicial year, to pray for the Spirit’s guidance in the deliberations and decisions ahead. Today it is expanded to include not only the judiciary but all public servants. The vestments are red, reflecting the fire of the Holy Spirit that descended upon the apostolic band at Pentecost. Through the centuries and today, the Church’s prayer in this Mass is this: that in serving the law, in serving the state, in serving the people, you will be, always and foremost, servants of God.

Judges, legislators, administrators—you call yourselves public servants. And so you are. For many today, the term “public servant” seems outdated, even quaint, reflecting the assumptions of an earlier and more innocent age. Worldly sophisticates tell us that law and politics are not about service but about manipulation, egotism, and the will to power. All those dynamics are no doubt involved in attaining and exercising public office. I assume that you are well aware of the moral ambiguities of public life. And yet you persist in the claim, indeed in the conviction, that you are a servant. The Church’s intention in this Mass is to affirm and strengthen and challenge you in that conviction.

You are servants of the law, servants of the government, servants of the people. I do not say that you are “above all” servants of the people. Above all, you are servants of God. Your oath of office is taken in the presence of the state and in the presence of the people. Most solemnly, most importantly, your oath of office is taken in the presence of God. You are a better servant of the people because you are first a servant of God. You better serve the law of the state because you first serve the law of God. Recall the words of Thomas More in The Man for All Seasons: “I am the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” Although King Henry refused to recognize it, Thomas served Henry best because he served God first.

There are today, as there were then, great confusions about the relationship between serving God and serving the state. The principle of the separation of church and state is one of the greatest achievements of the American political experiment. It is a principle resoundingly affirmed by the Second Vatican Council, most notably in the “Declaration on Religious Freedom.” The state has not the right to infringe upon the religious convictions and practices of individuals and communities. Similarly, the Church has neither the right nor the desire to enlist the coercive power of the state to impose its truth upon others. As His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, has repeatedly declared, “The Church never imposes, she only proposes.” The Catholic position is that adherence to the truth, if it is authentic, must be free.

The separation of church and state is distorted and debased, however, when it is interpreted as requiring the separation of religion from public life. The separation of church and state does not mean that, wherever government advances, religion must retreat. As the purpose of the First Amendment is not freedom from the press but freedom for the press, not freedom from speech but freedom for speech, so its noblest purpose is not freedom from religion but freedom for religion.

The Church does not impose, but she surely does and must propose, also with respect to law and public policy. She proposes persistently and, let us hope, persuasively. The Church does not have the competence to prescribe the means by which justice might be achieved, but she has the undeniable duty to proclaim the ends that justice demands. In the teaching of the Council and in numerous subsequent statements, the Church encourages and demonstrates respect for the dignity, integrity, and competence of those who have primary responsibility for decisions in the political arena. But on questions as various as the goals of education, the care of the poor and the marginal, the protection of the unborn, and the strengthening of the family, the Church must and the Church will persist in proposing and persuading.

If the people of this city and of this state agree with the Church’s understanding of what is required by justice, and if the people act through the political process to put that understanding into law and public policy, let nobody call it a violation of the separation of church and state. The proper word for people acting to give political effect to their convictions is democracy.

As the separation of church and state does not mean the separation of religion and religiously-grounded conviction from public life, so also it does not mean that Christians in public office must divide their souls between Christ and Caesar. You do not stop being a Christian or a Catholic when you take your place on the bench, or argue in court, or deliberate in the city council, or administer a government program. Impartiality does not require amnesia or a contrived anonymity; it does not require that you forget who you are. You do not stop being a Catholic when you exercise your public responsibilities.

You administer the law impartially, fairly, and honestly, not despite the fact that you are a Catholic but because you are a Catholic. You are a more conscientious public servant because you know that the God before whom you took your oath of office is the God whom you encounter in this Mass, because you know that He is the God who will require from you an account on the Day of Judgment. If you cannot in good conscience perform the duties of your office as a Catholic, you should not perform those duties at all.

For the Catholic, and indeed for all people of conscience, there are inevitable uncertainties and tensions between moral conviction and public duty, between doing what is required and doing what is right. The inescapable and ever troubling text for Christians is the word of Jesus, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” This cannot mean and does not mean that you are to divide your souls between Christ and Caesar. Rather, with an undivided soul, you offer your service to Caesar—your service to the law, to the state, the people—as a service to God.

In our gospel reading, Matthew 5, Jesus says, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” You know that the service you offer is always imperfect. Which is why the Catholic in public office will be regularly at the altar to be guided and sustained in the doing of his duties. Which is why the man or woman familiar with the moral ambiguities of public responsibility will come to an ever more profound understanding of the need for confession and the forgiveness of sins. Which is why you will ever more earnestly join the offering of your imperfect service to the perfect offering of Christ in the sacrifice of the Mass.

In today’s gospel reading Our Lord speaks of another Kingdom, another city, the heavenly Jerusalem. That will be the time of a genuinely new world order, of a radically new politics. In that promised city there will be neither litigation nor political compromise; property claims will give way to generosity, punishment will give way to forgiveness, and all will be ruled by the law of love. It is the new order for which we pray in the words, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It is the new order in which we participate here in the sacramental presence of Christ the King.

By this participation you are strengthened as you return to the duties that are yours in the existing political and legal order—in this unheavenly city of New York, in this imperfect world radically wounded by sin. Your duty as a public official is not to establish the Kingdom of God. God will see to that, and in ways that surpass our understanding. Your duty is to do the right that can be done in a world that has gone woefully wrong. Your duty is to give justice a chance in a world that is given to injustice. But your present duty is vivified by a future hope. Yours is the hope that the doing of your duty will be vindicated in a better city here. Yours is the certainty that it will be vindicated in an infinitely better city to come. Your work will be vindicated if, like St. Thomas More, you keep always in mind and heart that you are the public’s good servant, but God’s first—knowing that you are the public’s better servant because you are God’s first.

Reverend Richard John Neuhaus

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