Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
On Sunday, we celebrate the solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Especially this year, after a long and more than usually divisive election season, this feast serves as an important reminder for us. Politics are a worldly necessity. Because of the reality of sin, we have to seek after justice, for ourselves and for our neighbor, “with labor and toil,” amid “thistles and thorns” (Gen 3:17-18). If we were not privileged to participate in our more democratic form of government, we would suffer still more under some more authoritarian form. Nevertheless, while we are governed in this life by the political leaders we elect, we are always ruled, in this life and the next, by the Lord. We are His people first, “the sheep of His flock” (Ps 95:6-7, etc.), before ever we are Americans (or any other nationality).
Several things follow from this reality. First, there is always a higher law than that made by ourselves. Jesus Christ as King has revealed a universal moral law for all people, always and everywhere. The Ten Commandments are a good summary of this law. The same morality can be deduced by reason and experience. Just as we do not want to have our life, our religion, our families, or our possessions taken from us arbitrarily by some stronger party, so also we commit to treating others the same when we are the stronger. Just as we insist on access to education, health, freedom, and security in order to flourish, so also we respect others’ aspirations to the same. We call this “natural law.” It constitutes a basic and universal standard of right and wrong, to which all human law must conform. Our conscience pushes us to obey this natural law, and we know inherently that this is right: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Mt 5:6).
Second, then, politics and government have a purpose larger than themselves. It is, again, Christ the King who gives this purpose. Politics are, simply, a means for us as a nation to seek justice together, in conformity with the natural law. To the extent that they aim at, and perhaps even achieve, some worldly justice, they are serving their purpose, and therefore good and deserving of our cooperation. “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established” (Rom 13:1). The opposite is also true. If a government deliberately seeks injustice (as, for example, with legal abortion), it abuses its authority and contradicts its own purpose. Our own government, of course, is neither wholly good nor wholly evil. The kingship of Christ gives us standing to support the good, while opposing the injustices committed along the way, and to do so without resorting to violence.
Third, therefore, politics and government clearly have limits to their scope and power. No government can claim absolute authority, since only Christ the King has such power. No government, in fact, can rightly claim more power than serves justice. And since religious and political freedom, family life, subsidiarity, and so forth, are constituent elements of justice, no government can rightly claim authority over them. Moreover, political powers cannot bind conscience, however much they sometimes try. Hence, Jesus teaches, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28).
Pope Benedict XVI summarized all this in his warnings against a democratic “tyranny of the majority.” Rightness, goodness, and justice are not determined by popular support, but by fundamental principles and eternal realities. Even governments that are democratic in form and responsible to the people may fall into injustice if the people veer away from natural law or other objective standards of justice. In such cases, the kingship of Christ may serve to call people back to a deeper consideration of justice.
Finally, we as Catholics have pledged ourselves in the holy sacraments to be true subjects and servants of Christ our King. Christ rules us, not in some abstract or political way, but personally and directly. His love for us is without measure. His invitation to participate in His life, death, and Resurrection always stands before us. To accept this invitation means to repent of our sins, to accept His love and mercy, and to strive to follow in His way. “If you love me,” Christ teaches, “keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15). He truly died for love of us; shall we not imitate Him, “dying to self” (see Mt 16:24, etc) out of our love in return?
May our Lord Jesus Christ, Savior and King, continue to bless you with every blessing and every good thing needful for salvation, as we celebrate His most tender and loving rule over our hearts and minds. May our gratitude and humility for such undeserved gifts always grow. And may the beginning of the Year of Grace 2017 bring all of us peace and mercy. Please pray for me, and for all the needs of our Diocese and all the faithful, just as I pray always for you.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City
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