By Fr. Glenn Jones:
With the visit of President Trump to New Mexico recently, and with the division in the American political arena highlighted daily in the news, it seemed almost providential that one of the readings for the Catholic Mass this weekend was from St. Paul: “I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority….” (1 Timothy 2:1) Well, in our day that can make many grind their teeth not a little. “What? Pray for Trump?!” or, in a blast from the past: “What! Pray for Obama?!”
Yes, absolutely … no matter who occupies the offices of governance. After all, regardless of whether we love or loathe a person’s politics, Christians are nonetheless called to love their persons … and for those who govern, to pray they be given wisdom and grace to lead us toward ways conforming to God’s absolute Goodness and Truth. How can they possibly do that without God’s grace? And as Christ hated no one, His true disciples must not hate anyone, even if we may be opposed to what they stand for or promote. Remember Jesus’: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28)
Both the letters of Sts. Paul and Peter are quite specific in teaching that prayers need go up for our political leaders, so that, as Paul continues the previous quote: “…we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.” And so we are bound to obey legitimate authority. Paul writes the Romans (and, therefore, us): “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God…Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed…” (Romans 13:1-2) Such words certainly make us wonder, but also reminds us of Jesus’ own words to Pilate, who was about to scourge and crucify Him: “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above…” (John 19:11) And, finally, we remember Peter’s first letter reinforcing this principle: “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor…” (1Peter 2:17) …“the emperor”, by extension, meaning whoever is in authority.
This would seem a hard pill to swallow for us with our modern politics. But, then, we might remember the fact that the Romans were persecuting and suppressing the new Christian faith, and both Paul and Peter would be eventually executed via that authority, as Jesus Himself was.
Obedience and respect for authority was taught by the early Christian Church as well. St. Justin the Martyr wrote to the Roman emperor and senate, explicating Jesus’ teaching of “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17): “…to God alone we render worship, but in other things we gladly serve you, acknowledging you as kings and rulers of men, and praying that with your kingly power you be found to possess also sound judgment…every man …will render account according to the power he has received from God, as Christ intimated when He said, ‘To whom God has given more, of him shall more be required.’” (“The First Apology”, chapt. 17).
Obviously this does not negate the fact that there are unjust and evil laws: those which elevate one class or race of people over another, or require us to break God’s law, or laws against innocent human life. In fact, ideally Christians are bound by God’s law not to adhere to laws that are intrinsically evil (though in fear, weakness or misunderstanding they often do). But, simply because we do not like a law (e.g., taxes) does not make a law inherently unjust or evil, and thus they oblige.
And certainly this doesn’t mean that all rulers are good; we can think of Hitler and Stalin most immediately (or Vlad the Impaler. Yikes. Cruelty incarnate.) Yet God allows both good and bad rulers, just as He allows both health and sickness in our bodies—sickness giving an appreciation of health, and bad rulers motivating us to seek the better. How all this works in the divine plan is anyone’s guess, but for we Christians, in some way which may be inexplicable to us, God’s omniscience and omnipotence will bring about an even greater overall good, even if it be simply through human realization of heinous actions AS evil, as with slavery or tyranny.
In this vein, Christians think of the examples of martyrs dying for the faith, and yet by doing so bring many TO faith, punctuating the old adage: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.” And we see this “using” of evil most starkly in the crucifixion of Jesus: the greatest of all evils, and yet through it God brings about the greatest of Good—our salvation.
So next time you get a nasty political e-mail ridiculing someone in office, instead of passing it on with some snarky comment, simply delete it and bend the knee in prayer for both subject and sender. And let us all pray for peace and truth … for grace and wisdom for all world leaders to seek true good and the benefit of all.
Yes, to quote a line in the movie “Patton”: “It’ll take a pretty thick rug for that kind of praying,” … but we also know the unstoppable force of God’s grace. And no matter how hardened presidents, governors, legislators or judges may seem in positions which seem against the true good, we always remember the Archangel Gabriel’s words to Mary: “Nothing will be impossible with God.”
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.