Living in a Corrupt and Immoral Country

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jun 02, 2010

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: GenevieveDeMarie - Jun. 11, 2010 9:31 PM ET USA

    The *advantage* to living in an openly corrupt and immoral-to-the-point-of-hostility culture, is that at least one *knows* that the culture is antagonistic to faith and virtue -- just 25 years ago, when social corruption was much less obvious, it was also easier to dismiss mildly offensive material in the media as benign. Almost all the media I consumed as a teenager was irreligious and did as much damage to my faith as St. Teresa's romance novels did to hers 500 years ago.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 06, 2010 12:52 AM ET USA

    I feel that the "all societies are corrupt" response is very unhelpful to those of us who are feeling overwhelmed by the recent changes in American society. There can be no dispute that American society was much more supportive of Christian morality 50 years ago than it is now. It is not nice to minimize the concerns of people who are struggling in the trenches of the culture war. I'm sure you have a lot of perspective but try to show some compassion for parents with teenagers and young kids.

  • Posted by: delbert_estey8994 - Jun. 05, 2010 6:05 PM ET USA

    Dr. Mirus thank you very much. This is exactly what is needed. Again thank you, Delbert Estey

  • Posted by: St Thomas More Pray for Us - Jun. 04, 2010 3:20 PM ET USA

    Re: “at all costs, a sound Catholic education”. Where I live, many of our Catholic schools are closing or have become Catholic in name only; our religious ed programs are minimally funded; and youth ministry programs are non-existent. We should work to change that, but parents always have been the primary teachers. It’s tough, but it’s not a burden. As you continue the Culture Project, please help us. There are lots of resources out there. But it’s hard separating the wheat from the chaff.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 03, 2010 9:43 AM ET USA

    Excellent, serious, and devout! We Catholics need to get our apostolic heads on straight and Dr. Mirus has gifted us with a remarkably complete set of marching orders. The battle to corrupt souls rages in every quarter and it is our obligation, by God, to do good, avoid evil, and evangelize. You have heard Christ's call year after year. Now, go forth.