Gospel can Heal, Unify
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the Lord give you peace! I am offering prayers of thanksgiving for the safety of our Holy Father in his recent apostolic visit to Lebanon, and for the evident joy and peace with which his preaching was received there. The power of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to heal, unify, and restore what our sins wound, divide, and corrupt is awesome, and we should never be afraid, as Pope Benedict never tires of showing and saying, to proclaim that Gospel by the witness of our lives.
Indeed, as we celebrate the feast of St. Matthew tomorrow, September 21, we should remember how the evangelist himself was healed by Christ. Before Christ called him, St. Matthew was a tax collector. Roman taxes were collected by private firms, not by the government directly, and therefore a tax collector’s livelihood consisted not in a salary, but in collecting more in taxes than what the firm contracted with the government to collect – the more he collected, the more he could keep himself. Tax collectors were thus seen as betrayers of the Covenant, not only because they collaborated with an occupying foreign power, but also because they extorted their earnings from their fellow Jewish believers (see Lk 18:11). Many, then, were scandalized when Jesus called Matthew as a disciple (Mt 9:9), but few knew better than St. Matthew himself the truth of Jesus’s reply, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but those who are ill” (Mt 9:12). And so well did our Lord restore and strengthen such a sinner as St. Matthew was, that he followed Him immediately, and for the rest of his life, as Apostle and Evangelist, until he died, tradition tells us, a martyr for Christ in Ethiopia.
In our country, too, and even here in Iowa, we are badly divided in culture and politics. Not only are the “conservatives” and the “progressives” divided against each other, they are also each divided among themselves. Those on the “right” have two competing visions. One vision is built on the sanctity of human life, the protection of the unborn and the elderly, and the defense of traditional families. Another vision is built on smaller and less intrusive government. These two visions overlap only a little, primarily in the truth that a strong and flourishing traditional family is the best social defense against poverty and a host of other damaging and expensive social ills.
Those on the “ left” also have two competing visions. One vision is built on individual autonomy and the greatest possible freedom of choice. The other vision is built on the idea that government should take a leading role in all kinds of areas needing support and protection. These visions overlap more extensively that those of the right, especially in support for abortion and, more recently, in the use of government authority to establish and enforce a “right” to contraception and to same-sex marriage, even, if necessary, at the expense of other rights to conscience, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.
It’s difficult to see – especially in this election season, when partisanship dominates everything – how the Gospel can heal, unify, and restore our country. We cannot limit ourselves to thinking of the Gospel only as “common ground”. “Common ground” implies that we can agree on some things, while disagreeing on others, and still work together with reasonable compromises. But this presumes there are underlying truths we can agree on, whereas now we are too often divided, even at the level of fundamental truth. What meaningful common ground can exist between those who insist that the child in the womb is a human being with human rights, and those who insist that she isn’t?
St. Matthew could not remain a tax collector and also became a follower of Jesus Christ. The Gospel heals, unifies, and restores, because it calls us all to conversion. The Word of God isn’t about compromise on truth, or mere common ground; it’s about our total reliance on and obedience to the God who made us, and wonderfully restored us in Christ, and longs for us to be eternally with Him in Heaven. And like Matthew, we are all sinners, in need of the Divine Physician of our souls.
The more we are divided on fundamental principles, the higher political stakes becomes, and the more easily we can justify inappropriate behavior for political ends. Calumny, bribery, lies of omission and commission, misrepresentation of one’s position, and even oversimplification, are all forms of political “behavior” that are not only predictable, but even accepted today. This ought to tell us we are on the wrong path, that we are very far from the Gospel. This ought to tell us that we need the conversion and unity to which the Word of God calls us.
Indeed, if there is a “common” good, it lies precisely in what is good for both me and the other. The truth of the Gospel is that we are one, not two. The Catholic Church teaches clearly that this common good embodies several fundamental principles: the sanctity of human life, solidarity and subsidiarity, an authentic freedom for full participation in society, the universal destination of goods, the legitimacy of private property and the preferential option for the poor, and truth and justice. All of these principles are necessarily true of any party, platform, policy, or law that wants to be called “just.” If we compromise on these fundamentals, we will have neither justice nor goodness, but only the raw application of power, and a perpetual alternation of “winners” and “losers.”
Instead of dividing over partisan injustices, we must strive to make our whole society a true reflection of the beauty and mercy of our Lord’s most compassionate Sacred Heart. As a preacher of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, I call you, dear brothers and sisters, to deeper conversion and peace. Hear the call of Jesus in your life. Hear the call to conversion, to abandon a sinful way of life, or idea, or commitment, or pleasure, and to take up the Cross and follow Christ. That’s why I also recommend that we go to Confession as part of our discernment in political choices; if we cling to our personal sins, it will blind us to the truth and peace of the Gospel in other ways, also. Like St. Matthew, we must be willing to be healed! If we refuse what the Divine Physician prescribes for us, we will certainly deserve our earthly conflicts and our spiritual condemnation.
Please continue to pray for the liberty of the Church, for the Holy Father, for me, for our priests, and for all the souls in the Diocese of Sioux City. Pray especially for the peace of the Gospel to change the minds and hearts of all politicians and candidates for office, so that God’s truth and justice may be more truly present among us. I pray for all of you diligently!
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend Walker Nickless
P.S. One up and one down for the Broncos, but it is still early in the season!
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