Living in a Corrupt and Immoral Country
One of our supporters, Delbert Estey, has asked me to say something (hopefully intelligent) about “how good Catholics should approach living in a corrupt and immoral country.” It seems to me that there are two sides to the answer to this question, and both are equally important.
As a matter of basic Catholic spirituality it is first necessary to recognize that every country in the history of the world has been corrupt and immoral in serious ways. We must avoid the trap of thinking the problems of our own time and place make our role as Christians fundamentally different than at any other time and place. There is always an opposition between the Christian and the “world”. And while not all human cultures are predominately evil (consider, for example, the culture in a well-ordered monastery), it remains true that on the level of “country” (that is, the level of general culture), Christians must inevitably deal with what it means to be in the world but not of it.
Christ Himself called attention to this conflict: “If the world hates you,” He said, “know that it has hated me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18), and He added: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (Jn 15:19). And in the next chapter: “I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). Our Lord made these comments to his apostles at the Last Supper, and immediately afterwards he uttered His famous “priestly prayer” to the Father for his followers. Here is the relevant portion of Christ’s prayer:
I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth. As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth. (Jn 17:15-19)
The Christian mandate is clear from these words. We are sent into the world to bear witness to the truth of Christ. We are not to embrace the world but to enlighten it. And to do this we must be “consecrated in truth”, that is, we must live according to Christ and not according to the world. Certainly this can be more difficult in some times and places than in others, but every culture will pose significant obstacles to at least some aspects of Christian life. Indeed, the fundamental mandate to bear witness to Christ in every facet of our lives, already difficult because of our own weaknesses, will always be made more difficult in one way or another by certain elements of the surrounding culture.
It remains, then, to explore the second part of the answer, the adoption of a practical program for fulfilling our mission. Such a program must include the following points:
- Seeking Divine Assistance: The first step is to recognize that witness to Christ is dependent upon Christ Himself, on the life of grace mediated through His mystical body the Church. Thus we must transform ourselves through the reception of Christ in the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist; we must heed Christ’s voice in the Magisterium of the Church; and we must constantly nourish the Christlife within us through personal prayer.
- Forming a Cultural Nucleus: To avoid failure through isolation, our first social task is to form associations which reflect our mission in Christ. This usually means selecting a spouse who will share the mission, raising our children in a mission atmosphere and with mission values (including, at all costs, a sound Catholic education), forming friendships with those who are similarly committed, and in general attempting to carve out at least a small space in the world in which the Christian mission can be lived in mutual support through a group.
- Resisting Temptation: Christ has prayed that His Father will protect us from the Evil One. This should give us confidence that we can grow in virtue even in the midst of the world. But being “in the world” does not mean we should enjoy all the entertainments and bad habits the world places before us. Instead, we must be ready to confess our sins, seek help in the Sacrament of Penance, get spiritual direction as needed, and strive in every situation to witness to the Light.
- Engaging in Apostolic Work: By virtue of our baptism, we are all called to apostolic activity to extend the Kingdom of God. We must assess our opportunities, our strengths, and our means, and then expend some of our energy in bringing Christ to others not only through the general witness of our lives but through specific engagement in one or more of the spiritual or corporal works of mercy.
- Reforming Church and State: Every Catholic is a member of the Church and a citizen in some State. We have a responsibility to work actively to correct or improve Church operations where they fall short of what the Church herself demands. And in the civil order, we must speak out against injustice, vote according to Christian principles, and contribute something to those initiatives which seem most likely to move the State toward its own natural perfection.
This entire program must be lived without fear of the contempt of others, or of direct rebuke, or even of worldly reprisals. Again I wish to emphasize that these things lie at the heart of living rightly in a “corrupt and immoral country” precisely because they lie at the heart of what it means to be a Christian in every age and place under the sun.
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