A true compass

February 19, 2017

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley

A few weeks ago, I “shared” a Facebook post. It was a brief pastoral statement issued by the president and vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Cardinal DiNardo and Archbishop Gomez offered a joint message as bishops in response to President Trump’s recent executive order on refugees. The Facebook comments were so harsh and divisive that I quickly removed the post. It was painful to be reminded of how difficult it often is to engage in civil discourse without resorting to name calling and imputing motives to others.

The joint message of these two bishops was not subversive, except in the way that the Gospel is subversive to conventional thinking. Speaking about the experience of the millions of refugees fleeing their homes in the Middle East and other troubled parts of the world they said, “Our desire is not to enter the political arena, but rather to proclaim Christ alive in the world today. In the very moment a family abandons their home under the threat of death, Jesus is present. And he says to each of us, ‘whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me’ (Mt 25:40).” These are truths of our faith. These are truths of which we need to be reminded.

It is troubling that the level of discourse in our country right now is such that pastoral leaders and others who seek to shine the light of the Gospel and our Catholic faith on the truly challenging moral and social situations of our times are frequently shouted down, or discredited by allegations of political partisanship.

A day or so later I came across another post on Facebook that described well the sense of displacement that I was experiencing. (I honestly don’t spend that much time on Facebook or social media!) It spoke of the experience of being “politically homeless” in our politically charged times.

The point was that living with integrity as a Christian and a Catholic will never allow us to be adequately identified by tidy political or partisan categories. We will never be fully at home within the confines of any political platform or agenda. The Gospel of Jesus Christ transcends the common red/blue, liberal/conservative classifications that seem to be our default setting for analyzing our world and sizing up one another.

The believer will always be an enigma to the world. A Catholic who consistently strives to live his or her faith and abide by the Church’s liberating truth regarding the uniqueness of marriage, the dignity of human sexuality and the sanctity of the unborn will be regarded as a conservative. But, when that same person speaks up on behalf of the migrant and refugee, or calls attention to the plight of the poor and the dignity of the homeless or the degradation of our environment, he or she is accused of promoting the liberal agenda. 

Our challenge in these politically charged times is to recognize that the Church must always speak to our common humanity and shared human dignity. It must proclaim the mercy of God revealed in Christ for all of humanity, especially the least of our brothers and sisters.

I am tremendously proud to be an American and a citizen of the United States. But, I am even more grateful for the fact that I have received the gift of faith and have been baptized into Christ as a member of his Body, the Church.

In our confusing times we need a true and reliable compass for negotiating the complexities of life. Our political allegiances and alliances can help us order and build a more just society. But, only our faith can keep us rooted in and oriented toward our true identity and destiny in Christ who is the way, the truth and the life.