Frustrated by our politics, a reader writes…

Frustrated by our politics, a reader writes… October 28, 2014

I have something I want to run past you if you don’t mind. If you don’t have time for this just hit the old delete button, I won’t mind.
Since the 2012 elections I have felt like a man without a country and very disappointed, disappointed at my fellow countrymen for pretty much telling me, “Hey, we don’t give a rip about your conscience rights nor your religious freedom. Heck, we don’t even care about religious freedom at all.” My logic here as that people knew O’Bama was forcing the HHS mandate on us without any concern for our consciences yet people still voted him in. I felt and continue to feel so betrayed and set adrift.
Before all of this I was very much a “Buy American” kind of guy and tried not to shop at places like Wal Mart, etc. Since the 2012 elections I don’t give a rip anymore. We now shop at our local Wal Mart and I no longer care when I see someone in Flint, MI driving a Honda or a Toyota. In fact I kind of laugh with a “Take that, Union!” type of attitude.
Anyway, I don’t feel right about this kind of attitude but I just can’t get past it. I always appreciate your level headed view on things. I think I’ve shared with you in the past that you’ve righted my ship more than once and I will always be grateful for this.
Well, there it is. I hope it made sense. 🙂

The secret of the Catholic is that he is *always* a man without a country. “Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come.” (Heb 13:13–14).

Caesar has never been friends with Christ. He merely finds him a useful tool at times. And Christ, who has no interest in worldly power, allows Caesar to think he is using him as he pursues his sovereign path from Calvary to the empty tomb and the Heavenly Zion.

We’ve fallen, of late, into thinking that maybe we could create the earthly Zion. America has been (and, by the way, remains for the moment) reasonably friendly to the Church. Our lot as Catholics is fantastically better than, say, Chaldean Catholics under ISIS or even Palestinian Catholics under Israeli rule. Sure, Obama holds Catholics in contempt and our culture is souring on the Church. But we still have a lot going for us in terms of civil freedom and lack of harassment from the culture and the state. So we should count our blessings. But we should also allow this time to wake us up to the fact that the world is not and never has been our friend. That’s not cause for despair. It’s a splash of cold water in the face. It’s the same thing the apostles saw, only they felt no disappointment over it since they knew from the outset that the world was the enemy, not the potential ally, of the Church and they had no illusions otherwise. American Catholics are facing the disillusioning process of having their worldly hopes stripped from them as the world turns its perpetually hostile face to the Church.

Our task is not to hate the world but, like Jesus, to love the world–quite possibly to the laying down of our lives.

The gravest danger we face as Catholics is not the hostility of the world. It is the deceiving friendship of the world. St. John, who tells us that “God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son” (Jn 3:16) also paradoxically says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever” (1 Jn 2:15–17). He does not contradict himself here. His point is that we have to love the world with the gift-love of Christ, not the hungry need-love of fallen man. The need of fallen man, the worldly love that so animates our political life, is for power, honor, money and pleasure. The world promises us, as Satan promised Christ, “all these things” if only we will worship it (and therefore the prince of this world).

And the prince of this world always disguises himself as an angel of light. This is why Jesus warns, not against persecution, but temptation: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28).

Think about it: how often are we lured into sins by our enemies and persecutors? Virtually never. Indeed, persecution often brings out the best in us so that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians” as Tertullian famously said. It is our friends and allies who almost always give us the moral permission to sin. They are the ones who offer you that first bite of the apple, the first hit of cocaine, the encouragement to go ahead and take vengeance on that jerk who wronged you, the assurance that you and they are better than those slobs over there. It is the propagandists for *our* side who say that, precisely because we are so much better than our enemies, it is okay–just this once–to commit mortal sin that good may come of it. Small wonder Jesus called his friend, not his enemy, “Satan”.

Our task is to stick like limpets to what Christ said, including the bits about non-violence and refusing to take vengeance. So, for instance, in your example, all patronizing Walmart or gloating over the destruction of American manufacturing does is punish the weak and enable the strong to go on grinding their faces. Or in my own case, I often let fly with a blast of frustration at people who are so wrapped up in their own fear they can’t see past the end of their nose. The result is not that their eyes are opened, but that they clamp them shut against the blast of my anger at them for their blindness. It’s like Peter chopping off some schmuck’s ear. It achieves nothing.

The Way is Christ. The Church virtually never approaches human political systems in terms of black and white. They are seldom as bad or as good as we say they are. This is why the bishops (who called for universal health care for a century before Obama attempted it) have been measured in their responses to the gigantic flaw that is the HHS mandate. They don’t condemn Obamacare wholesale, because it is a step in the right direction. But they also don’t see it as utopia and warn of the grave threat the Mandate represents.

In the same way, while recognizing that the right has some merits in its opposition to abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, ESCR, and the fiction of gay “marriage”, it also recognizes that much of this is motivated by cynical exploitation of prolife sentiment, and is often a fig leaf for profoundly anti-Christian and anti-life agendas. In short, the Church’s habit is always to affirm what can be affirmed in human systems of order while refusing to ever mistake these systems for the kingdom of God.

American politics, in contrast, is a strange combination of messianic secularism with a Calvinist vision of total depravity that, in the words of the X Files “Trusts no one”.

Such a politics is doomed to be at cross purposes with the gospel and there is no guarantee at all that American Protestant Christian culture will not be totally co-opted by it. Indeed, I think the case can be made that it already has. The Catholic Church in the US, though it has been heavily tinted by it, and by the party spirit that infects it, has the secret power of the Spirit to, as Jesus says, “drink any deadly thing [and] it will not hurt them” (Mk 16:18). The Church over the centuries picks up the tint from its surrounding culture, but it does not capitulate fully to that culture (though some of its members may). It manages to walk out of Egypt with its treasures, but not its idols. Our hope and prayer (and the focus of our discipleship as Catholics) has to be the same in whatever earthly nation we find ourselves. America, like every other human creation, has great glories and great sins and failings and so do her political parties. She will never be perfect and she will not last forever. As C.S. Lewis points out, “Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – These are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

Our concern with politics matters only insofar as it affects the eternal destinies of each person. The danger of our politics is that it strongly urges everybody, both left and right, to be concerned with persons only insofar as they are useful for the acquisition of power, honor, riches, and pleasure. To rightly love the world is to love each person in the world. To rightly refuse to love the world is to refuse to disorder our love by treating things with more love than persons, especially the Persons of the Blessed Trinity. The good news is that Christ tells the members of his body “Little children, you are of God, and have overcome them; for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 Jn 4:4). Our life here is, in the words of Tolkien, a “long defeat”. Because as Paul says, “the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Ro 8:20–25).

In the mystery of Providence, the world, including its politics, is *supposed* to frustrate us. But that is not our cue to abandon the world. It is our cue to love it as Christ does, not as the flesh does.

Hope that helps.

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  • I know I’ve said it before. Mark, you have your good days and your bad days. This is one of the good ones. Keep up the good work.

  • Dave G.

    That was well said. There were a few points worth unpacking, but I think this is the Mark we like to sing about around the campfire.

  • freddy

    Oh, very well said! I’m going to have all the voters in our family read this to help us relax, focus and pray.

  • Narij

    This is why i visit this site, thank you.

  • LSpinelli

    Beautifully said, Mark. Thank you.

  • petey

    “The secret of the Catholic is that he is *always* a man without a country.”

    exactly right.
    that said, i have no patience for those who suddenly have a problem under the obama administration, but didn’t under previous administrations.

  • Very nicely done. Thank you, Mark.

    And it was helpful to be reminded that the world’s politics is supposed to frustrate us as I look at my sample ballot here. (There are several races where I just don’t think I can manage to vote for anyone.)

  • Funny, just two posts after this, you posted about a particular capitulation to the secular culture that you happen to endorse.

    • chezami

      No. I didn’t. It’s a conference of gay Catholics who are faithful to the teaching of the Church. But for people like you, that’s not good enough. They are to be punished, not for their sins, but for their temptations. And people wonder why homosexuals feel unwelcome in the Church.

      • It’s a capitulation to the secular trend away from heterosexual monogamous families that began with the Lambeth Conference of the Anglicans back in the 1930s (I’m too lazy to look up the reference right now- sin of sloth).

        Same slippery slope, and I don’t pretend that the embrace of mental illness is at the bottom, more the middle. And we’re all punished for our temptations, if we have a correctly formed and informed conscience (I certainly am every time I give into my son’s request for pizza for dinner).

        • Joseph

          It doesn’t have to be a slippery slope. It was for the Anglicans because their religion isn’t built on solid ground. This is the Catholic Church. Unless you don’t believe in Christ’s promise, slippery slopes don’t exist. Christ God can turn what would be a slippery slope for a typical Protestant religion into a win for Him and His people… no “capitulation” required. Why should we close up our spiritual hospital? Some patients don’t recognise they’re sick… isn’t this a good way to open up a clinic for those that don’t? Think of it this way… in most public schools now you have *gay* recruitment centers called LGBT-Questioning groups where they prey on confused teenagers. This is like a Christian Living Questioning center in an LGBT only school. What’s wrong with that?

          • After losing the culture war, I have a hard time believing that Christ’s promise still applies to America and Northern Europe. Perhaps I need to move to a sane country like Uganda.

            The existence of this conference means the capitulation already occurred. Such a conference would have been unthinkable a decades years ago, despite the fact that the Catholic Church was arguably MORE welcoming to gays in the late 1980s to early 1990s, before being attacked.

            Sometimes we need to consider not infecting more people when we open a clinic. Sometimes it is a good idea to not fly the doctors around the world to infect others with the disease.

            • chezami

              So you favor murdering homosexuals, but not letting faithful and chaste homosexual have a conference promoting fidelity to the Church. Smart, Ted.

              • At least they haven’t abandoned the defense of heterosexual marriage. Unlike the states of Washington and Oregon, thanks to Jesuit-trained judges.

                And if they were faithful and chaste, they wouldn’t be gay. Period. It is time to abandon even the language of our enemies.

                • chezami

                  Gay Catholics who obey the Church are not our enemies; though you are clearly theirs. You need to get off the web and go talk to a spiritual director. You are doing enormous damage to your soul.

                • It is time to abandon even the language of our enemies.

                  This refusal to engage an opponent with respect is exactly the point at which you cease arguing and begin trolling.

                  I know from your other posts that you do not mean to troll; but there are a few points on which you simply refuse to understand or engage what others mean. I’m not asking you to agree. I’m simply asking you to hear what others are saying, so that you can engage the argument fruitfully.

                  • Joseph

                    Right… I remember specifically St. Paul stating that he actually engaged the *enemy* using their language as a means to turn them. That was sort of his… specialty.

            • MillerJM

              Or perhaps American and Europe need to fall away for a little while so there can be a sifting, like for the Israelites. Don’t lose hope man. Good things will come from the bad. They always do. This country needs to suffer a bit in order to find its way again.

            • Joseph

              The *culture war* is a *secular* war. The Church can only influence the sides in that war, but ultimately, that is a raging battlefield outside of the ramparts of the Church. I’m sure the Christians in the Apostolic age had similar fears. They were literally strangers in a strange land. No one had the *culture war* odds stacked up against them like they did. It’s going to get worse before it gets better (for all we know it may not get better before Christ comes again). The West has been on a trend of de-Christianization for a very long time. The sour and rotten fruits are finally sagging off the withered tree. Unlike the Apostolic age, we are dealing with widespread *apostacy* versus paganism. At least the pagans could be reasoned with. Apostates knowingly reject Christianity and Church teaching. It’s not going to get any easier to be Catholic, and the fact that you’re struggling right now with it shows that you’re in the right place.

              Don’t fall for the tricks, man. Stay strong.

        • No one is ever punished for any temptation. As you yourself say, you are punished for *giving into* temptation. That is, we are punished for actions, not for feelings or desires or passions – because these are largely or even entirely beyond our conscious control. Temptation is not sin, and is not grounds for punishment. Rather, one of the punishments for sin is more temptation – that is, temptation is something we suffer, not something we commit.

          Moreover, if we endure temptation without giving in, this is a virtuous act, and is exactly following Christ.

          If you really believe we are punished for temptation, you are departing from Catholic doctrine and faith.

  • Jakeithus

    Thanks for this Mark, it’s very timely for me personally.

    Not being an American, things are a little different, but I just watched an election locally where a government that has been filled with disrespect, corruption and mismanagement received a clear message from voters that “Everything is A-OK, keep on doing what you’re doing”, and the resulting sense of disappointment, confusion and frustration kept me up late into the night.

    You’re correct in saying that this world is not our home; the temptation to get too caught up in politics is always going to be something we Christian’s face in this life.

  • Artevelde

    No lasting city indeed, and I would not for a moment argue with the truth of this maxim. But just as we clean our house and iron our shirts, even though we know the results will not last, engaging in politics – in the broadest sense – is a Christian duty as well. We should not crave worldly power for its own sake, but neither should we stand aside when injustice is done. When visiting your Blog, Mark, I often smile at how at home I am among fellow Catholics, and just as often I chuckle when I notice the immense cultural and political gap between me and your average American conservative. We do not have to agree completely on how to garden this temporary abode, but I think we can all agree that some common ground is possible, and I firmly believe that common political ground can be found much more easily when we remember that this world is not our ultimate business.

    • ” I think we can all agree that some common ground is possible”

      That’s just the point. I no longer believe common ground is possible, I’ve been told to often that it isn’t.

      • Artevelde

        I meant between Catholics, whatever their political leanings. And, in the last resort, even though I don’t know you, I meant between you and me. Why else would you dwell on a blog that deals both with the Catholic faith and worldly politics?

        • I’m talking between Catholics as well. Just look at Mark Shea’s “agree with the gay lobby because otherwise you are putting your soul in danger” above.

          There’s no common ground there. None at all. It’s agree or be censored time.

          • Artevelde

            I don’t agree with any *gay lobby*. Neither does Mark, as far as I can see. But the question ”who is your neighbor” is at the heart of our faith. The answer to that question is where the risk to your soul lies.

            • Andy

              I think back to this Sunday’s readings

              Matthew 22:36-4
              36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
              37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

              Indeed we must love God but that itself is insufficient – we must love our neighbors – for me my neighbors are all around me – even those who I disagree with. If I can’t grant them respect as children of God – how am I loving God wit with all my soul and my mind?

              • Respect is gone. It was destroyed by those you are holding up to be saints. After all, only homosexuals get to go to heaven.

                • Andy

                  Ted – I think you have become somewhat unhinged by the “gay issue”. I have no idea what you are talking about – I quoted Jesus – I said in my mind it is all people, Your comment makes little sense to me.

                  • I’ll admit to that. This synod’s supposed focus on the family that only focused on gay and divorced families and barely even mentioned children (7 times in three paragraphs in the final document) has got me believing that the time for morality has passed in the United States and Europe, and that even the Church doesn’t stick up for eternal truths anymore.

                    There is no political home for such as me anywhere- no common ground left. Only “agree with me or get off my feed, you bigot”.

                    • Andy

                      A political home – why is that important? I haven’t felt at home in politics in I don’t know how many years. Morality hasn’t passed in the US or Europe – Morality requires that we live as moral men – I believe that what I quoted above is the start of that moral life – the requirement to love – this means even those whom we find it hard to love, maybe even more so those folks we disagree with. So for me to begin to live a moral life I have to love those around me – even the “gay couple” down the road. Love does not mean acceptance – it means recognizing that they have an inherent life to my respect as children of God.
                      I haven’t seen the church not stand up for moral principles or eternal truths at the synod. The synod is/was a conversation that has yet come to fruition. I too was dismayed by the lack of focus on the traditional family, i was even more concerned that there was not much discussion about the role the current social-economic issues have on the family, but I haven’t despaired.
                      The synod was attempting to deal with pastoral issues – how indeed do you deliver the good news, how do you help individuals see the splinters in their own eyes, how do we reach out to the divorced – an unfortunately large part of the world. Those are true pastoral issues that will require much conversation.
                      We are called to be models of Christ’s love – a tough calling at which I mostly fail. But that doesn’t mean I get to give up, and nor should you.

                    • How do you love without acceptance? Especially when the gay lobby has pretty much said “accept us or you don’t get to interact with us at all”?

                      I’ve given up. I can’t be a model of Christ’s love when I am actively prevented from mentioning the idea that some tendencies might lead to sin.

                    • Andy

                      Almost every tendency can lead to sin, not just some. Love means showing respect – I really don’t accept the “gay couple” down the road, however, I respect them as human beings. I interact with them in my own way – we have gotten to talk bout their relationship and my relationship with my with wife while talking about how they grow great cucumbers. Sound weird and it was, but we had a civil conversation and walked away not in agreement, but at least with awareness of what each is saying and what each means. That is the start of evangelization and perhaps conversion. It started though as I said with an inconsequential conversation about cucumbers. Who knows when it will happen again and what good may come from it. I am open to talking with them about their relationship as a catholic and because we respect each other as children of God they are willing to listen. What more can I ask for – it is the Holy Spirit that will cause the conversion.

                    • MillerJM

                      Look at Jesus – He answers your question perfectly. He loves the sinner, to the point that He would die for the sinner, but He hates the sin.

                    • Joseph

                      Honestly, Ted. Take a breather. You are being hysterical and I say that in charity. Don’t fall for the straw man trick of the mass media. What you are experiencing right now is *exactly* what they wanted you to experience. Just like the jeers, scoffs, and criticisms from atheists, evangelicals, and Catholics alike after the most recent distortion (Pope Francis’ statements on the Big Bang/Evolution). We’re getting hit hard right now. The Church is built on a strong and *consistent* foundation. The media is attacking us by trying to make us look inconsistent and weak, using their tools of manipulation. I’m sure you were strong when Pope Benedict was constantly taken out of context and his messages distorted. How quickly you’ve forgotten! Don’t despair, man. Recite the Creed a few times to remember what it is you believe, sit down and read the Scriptures and let the words of Christ calm your nerves. Don’t freak out. We’re under attack from all sides, it’s time to man up and face this persecution head on rather than listening to the propaganda and running for the hills.

                    • Marthe Lépinem

                      Maybe what you saw as a “lack of focus on the traditional family” was because the Synod, it seems to me, was looking at what to do about the problems that have been, and are, destroying the traditional family, thus the focus tended to be on the various distortions and false ideas and threats to traditional families that have plagued societies in our present time.

                    • Andy

                      I agree with what you are saying – I think that the synod missed what I think are the important negative forces, that is all. I think the distortions as you call them are important and require a postural response, but i think that the economic forces, the political forces and the socio-sexual forces are of equal importance if not more.

                    • Marthe Lépine

                      You seem to be confusing the Synod as it took place at the Vatican, and the Synod as it took place in the biased imagination of most members of the media…

                    • HenryBowers

                      If there is really no common ground, what is the point of telling us? Absence of common ground would mean that we categorically could not understand you on any topic; but you suppose that we do understand you, because you’re upbraiding us; so . . .

                • chezami

                  The only one showing that his capacity for respect is gone is you. You are an embarrassingly terrible witness to the Faith when you have these hysterics.

            • I know you don’t. And that’s why the capitulation has already occurred.

              Being a heterosexual, I am an enemy of the state under your liberal regime. I recognize that fact- and it is the cause of there being no common ground left.

          • Marthe Lépine

            That is definitely not what Mark was saying. If you really believe this, I would agree with Mark that you need to talk to a spiritual director. And if I remember well (I may be wrong and I am sorry if I am), you once in the past mentioned that you were affected with a certain level of autism. If that is the case, I would suggest you talk to your psychologist or psychiatrist, because you sound (more exactly your comments, particularly in the other blog entry about a certain meeting to take place at Notre-Dame U. are giving that impression) as if you are presently going through some kind of crisis and getting help would be a good idea. I will pray for you.

      • chezami

        Your hysterics are killing your soul, Ted. Stop it. Get off the web. Go talk to a spiritual director, and calm down. You are doing nobody any good, least of all you.

        • So dissent is fine for homosexuals, but don’t dare let a heterosexual dissent, right?

  • PalaceGuard


  • W. Randolph Steele

    After reading all these comments, two things Winston Churchill said come to mind. “Democracy is the worst form government except for all the others” and the less well known part of the qoute “And spend five minutes with a voter and you’re convinced of it”.

    • James

      Thankfully what the Founding Father’s of the U.S created was a Republic. Now we have to just re-educate the unwashed masses…

      • W. Randolph Steele

        SOME of the Founding Fathers. Hamilton wasn’t exactly a “republican” And the Founders thought only “Better People” would serve. THAT was over by 1796.

  • virago

    That was moving, deeply moving. You beautifully laid out the proper role of a Catholic in worldly affairs. It gives a sense of relief to be reminded of the real reason for me and you and everyone. I wanted to go reread C. S. Lewis and maybe try to read Tolkien again.

    Then I read all the comments and maybe I’m not ready for heavy thinking.

  • kageokami

    Hi Mark,
    I agree with you for the most part. But, unfortunately in America we Catholics are not represented with many options. I hate to use the “saying” that we have to choose between “the lesser of two evils” but, sadly that seems to be the case. For me, I vote prolife. Period. If a candidate doesn’t hold a pro life view they don’t get my vote. To be honest in recent history there is one party that is morally objectionable to a fault on the issue of life. We know which party that is and it will serve nothing to name it. Most of the elected members of that particular party vote the “party line” even if they “personally oppose” any views against life. I understand our ultimate fight is “for the Kingdom” but, in the “short term” it may be best to at least concentrate on the “life issue” for now until we can grow a culture that will have “ears to hear” more. Make sense? I hope that one day in America we will see a “Catholic Party” ( which is neither one or the other of the majority front runners) not necessarily buy name but by views that are supported. Until that day, we need to vote on our 5 particular issues as primary beyond any other.

    • Joe

      You know what needs to happen is vote for someone who holds truth and values even though they are not on the ticket as there is always a place for a write-in and who knows one day enough may vote the same name and actually elect that person. I know I’m dreaming but it sure would send a message to those idiots.

  • David Naas

    The problem for “faithful Catholics”, is they spend more time listening to the Media (Left, Right, Secular, Religious) than to the Church. They then try and operate on a distorted view of what the Church teaches and requires. And flood blogs with their Papally Infallible Opinions (because, who’s more Catholic, Them or the Pope?)

  • littleeif

    It is not enough to say a plague on both houses. The fact that we live in a representative democracy raises the moral obligation (and the possibility of sin in neglect of it) to vote, to take sides – precisely because we can. Nor do I have the confidence some apparently do in the sufficiency of surrendering our intellect to a college of bishops on matters of body politic. I am reminded here that a unified Catholic vote would, for example, end abortion, and confusion within the Church itself has permitted the culture of death (see for example

    We acutely bear responsibility because we uniquely understand the murderous nature of abortion and might have stopped it under the provisions of our way of life. To say, well, that’s the way of Caesar excuses nothing in our case.