A Call to Arms

The calamity enveloping the world has left ordinary people two choices: live and let be or rise up and effect change.

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For some the choice is a little simpler. Jesus Christ commanded his followers to take ownership of the issues afflicting those who are less fortunate – at peril of his eternal rebuke for failure to do so.[1] For a Christian, the ways to help are as widely varied as civilization itself. The only wrong choice is to do nothing.

In its 2000 year history, the Roman Catholic Church has never been afraid to stand up and challenge the status quo. It was the Roman Catholic Church that protected the great philosophical and scientific discoveries of Rome after the fall of the empire.[2] At a time when many in the United States were using scripture to validate slavery, the Catholic Church vehemently condemned it.[3] In the years following the Civil War, it was the Catholic Church who led the effort to teach former slaves to read – an illegal act in many states – resulting in severe persecution and even death for those caught doing so.[4]

Fast forward to 2017 and there is no clearer example of holding strong and proclaiming Christ’s true message directly in the face of a world that despises it than Pope Francis himself. Against vicious attacks from the secular and religious alike, the Pope has remained a steadfast pillar of peace, love and hope for many in the world for whom so much is lost. From Syrian refugees to the very planet itself, Pope Francis’ message of compassion and respect echoes the words spoken by Christ 2000 years ago. And, as was the reality for Jesus, a leader who shakes things up will find no shortage of powerful enemies.

President Donald Trump famously, although briefly, clashed with Pope Francis during the campaign and derogatorily called the pontiff a “very political person.”[5] Other American political influencers like Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) suggested the pope should stick to religion and stay out of politics.[6] The professional politicos may have a point. There is the possibility that Pope Francis is overstepping his duties as the Bishop of Rome when he comments on political matters. To determine the answer, an investigation into the life of the man whom the Pope follows is needed. How did Jesus Christ address the political issues of his day?

Before that question can be answered, an examination of whether or not Jesus ever even attempted to involve himself in politics is required. There are many voices, both Christian and other, who will assert that Jesus was not political at all, citing his response to the Pharisees’ question about taxes that men should “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.”[7] The argument is that Jesus was saying that the authority of God does not supersede a government’s right to do as it sees necessary in the pursuit of its own interests and, further, that men of God should accept what governments set as laws and regulations without protest. But it is not entirely clear that Jesus lived by this maxim.

Although it is true Jesus was not an activist lobbying for changes to Roman law, he was incredibly active in his crusade not only to teach but also to reexamine the laws of the culture he was born into: Judaism. As an observant Jew, Jesus lived under Mosaic Law and asserted that he had not come to rewrite or undo this law, but to fulfill it.[8] That being said, there were many times when Jesus pushed back against the Jewish leaders draconian enforcement of the Law, even to a point of seeming to violate it himself.

Jesus invited the wrath of the Pharisees when he healed a paralyzed man on the Sabbath.[9] When the authorities confronted him about performing work on a sacred day of rest, Jesus responded that his “Father is always at work…and so [was he].”[10] The law of refraining from any work on the Sabbath was one of the Ten Commandments and to violate it was a grave offense. However, Jesus said it was better to heal a sick man than to walk past him in order to observe the Law. Jesus knew the spirit of God’s laws were more important than dogmatic adherence to them. However, this act put him in their crosshairs and began the tumultuous relationship with the elders that would culminate in his crucifixion.

Another instance where Jesus was vocal against rigid enforcement of the Mosaic Law was when the Pharisees tried to trap him regarding the woman who had been caught committing adultery.[11] The punishment for her act was death by stoning. The Pharisees tried to put Jesus in a position of having to either endorse the brutal execution of this girl – contradicting His message – or speak against the Law resulting in Him being stoned to death. Of course Jesus silenced the entire mob with one of the simplest yet powerful statements of all time: “Let any one of you who is without sin throw the first stone at her.”[12]

From the example set forth by Jesus the central truth of Christianity is revealed: “Faith without works is dead.”[13] Pope Francis is following the example and the commandments of Jesus Christ when he vocalizes his opinions in matters of human consequence and all Christians would do well to heed his words. The Pharisees were so locked to their observance of the laws and traditions, and also consumed by their own perceived importance, that they never realized the ultimate truth that Creation exists is because God loves mankind and wants all members of it to share in His eternal glory. So what is a Christian to do? The answer is quite simple: change the world through action – action that is fueled by love.

Western Christians, especially in the United States have slipped into a complicated and blurred worldview. On one hand, they want to practice their faith and follow in the footsteps of Jesus; on the other, western wealth is in many ways incompatible with the idea of denying oneself and taking up the cross.[14] Many are the new American preachers who excuse and even promote the accumulation of material wealth as part of God’s plan and a sign of His blessing. Although this is indeed creative interpretation, it is not even remotely reminiscent of the message Jesus brought which specifically warned against the accumulation of material wealth because of its hindrance of one’s ability to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.[15]

Jesus’ warnings about the detrimental effect material wealth can have on one’s salvation is evident in how wealthy western nations approach the problems suffered by others. With wealth comes one of the most dangerous states that can afflict a human: fear. It’s not that being wealthy is inherently bad because it’s not. However the state of mind that results from the fear of losing one’s wealth can lead to terrible consequences. There is, however, hope.

The Roman Catholic is called to do more than simply live their life, worship God and carve out a little niche in the world. The true Roman Catholic will heed the message of Jesus’ mother, Mary, which she delivered to three little Portuguese children exactly 100 years ago. When Catholics are called to account to the Lord for their actions He will not be satisfied with the answer that one did not hurt anyone. Rather, He will ask what one did for those most in need of mercy.

The primary message of the Fatima apparition is that humankind, as it has since its creation, continues to displease God. Wars, injustice, greed and a host of other sins against basic moral principles have brought the world to a precipice. The emphasis on praying for mercy for others, especially for the worst of sinners[16] confirms the enduring Christian message that God loves all His children and wants them to be saved. Catholics are commanded to unceasingly pray for mercy for others, but that is not all.

Prayer is undeniably the cornerstone of a faithful life but it must be combined with loving acts if the Christian mission is to be fulfilled. This is not to suggest that salvation can be earned solely through one’s own actions, because it can’t. But acts of love and charity are pleasing to God – and if one truly loves Him, that is an end in itself. The world is full of pain and suffering and to ignore it makes one complicit. The true Christian can never be complicit in another’s suffering.

It is no secret that God loves when His children turn their problems over to Him and trust Him to take care of them, but He equally loves it when they act in His name to end the suffering of others. Christians have been called to shine brightly in a world of darkness; to be beacons of light and hope in the abyss for those who feel all is lost. And it is by this shining light, by works of love that help others that the Christian truly honors and glorifies God.[17]

The sheer amount of suffering in the world can be overwhelming to the point of making one give up, but the solution has already been provided by Christ’s own example. The Christian must remember that he or she is not called to single-handedly solve all the problems in the world at once. If that were the end goal, it could have been accomplished thousands of years ago, by Jesus Himself. Jesus did not travel all over the world healing the sick and saving souls, rather He healed and showed love to those he encountered along the way. In actual ground covered, Jesus left a relatively small footprint while on Earth. By His example, Jesus showed that when striving to do God’s will, quality is far more important than quantity.

If Christians learned to follow Jesus’ example, rather than arguing about who is right or wrong, the world would be drastically different. Many Christians in positions of power spend too much time arguing over their rights and not enough time doing what’s right. Jesus doesn’t need defenders – He needs disciples. There are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world; add another billion Christians of other denominations and you have a very powerful force.[18] If every one of those 2 billion people actually followed the commandments of Jesus, so much suffering would disappear almost overnight.

The stakes are even higher for those Christians living in the United States, where vast amounts of wealth are held by those who at the very least identify as Christian. Americans are a generous people. The United States has more charitable organizations and raises more money for charitable causes than any other country in the world, and is second only to Myanmar in per capita percentage of giving.[19] But while charitable giving is crucial in alleviating world suffering, there is another vital area that often gets neglected: person to person help.

All too often the act of giving to one charity becomes a pass on helping others who are hurting. The old adage “I gave at the office” is often used to justify turning down requests from the homeless and downtrodden for money or other help. The idea is not entirely illogical. If one has in some way given time or money to help those less fortunate then they have not completely turned a blind eye to suffering. However, the current article is directed primarily toward Christians – and Christianity is not a religion of logic.

There are so many opportunities for the Christian to shine Christ’s love on those who need it most. The man on the street who asks for money for food needs to feel love far more than many others. Passing him by or, worse, berating him or calling the police for his violation of some panhandling ordinance is merely a momentary interruption in the day of the person doing the judging, but it will be etched permanently in the heart of the person asking for mercy – and in the memory of Christ.[20]

The most formidable enemy of the Christian trying to emulate Jesus is the devil. The devil is a cunning foe and, although he has no direct power over humans, he knows how to set the stage for their failures. One of the devil’s favorite weapons is fear. Fear can make good people shut their hearts off to those who need their help the most. Fear is an insidious weapon because it can conjure up all manner of justification for turning one’s back on another in need. Fear is powerful – but it is not for the Christian. Christians are called to get out into the streets and the fields – wherever there is pain, loneliness, hunger or thirst. Christianity is not a religion of fear; anybody who says otherwise, be they Christian or not, is gravely mistaken.

The devil has staked his claim to both the world and humanity. Propelled by a tidal wave of intellectual fallacy and chic new age spirituality, he has convinced many that belief in the one true God is outdated; that mankind is the master of its fate and ruler of its destiny. All three Abrahamic religions are under attack to varying degrees. And the majority of Christian leadership roles have been filled by self-absorbed, fear-mongering millionaire motivational speakers who have so perverted the message of Jesus that it is almost unrecognizable. It’s time for Christians to wake up, stand up and clean up.

God has made it abundantly clear how He wants things done, and Christians need to be at the forefront of making it happen. There is a war going on. Not a war of flesh and blood, but one of the spirit. Jesus prepared His followers with everything they would need to fight this war. He also gave a simple guide for how to treat others when He told His disciples to “love one another, as I have loved you.”[21] And it is this supernatural and unconditional love that Jesus wants His followers to be known by more than anything else.[22]

In all things, in all ways, in all interactions with others, love must be the central driving force. In this way, the will of God is certain to be accomplished. And mankind will be a little closer to being saved from itself.

References:

[1] Matthew 25:35-45

[2] How is America Going to End? Josh Levin, Slate, 08/07/2009

[3]Let My People Go: The Catholic Church and Slavery, Mark Brumley, This Rock (July/August 1999)

[4] Catholic Schools in the Public Interest: Past, Present and Future Directions, Patricia A. Bauch (Editor), 2011

[5] Fox Business News, Feb. 11, 2016

[6] Israel hawks to Pope Francis: Stay out of Politics, Rachael Bade. Politico, 05/13/2015

[7] Mark 12:17

[8] Matthew 5:17

[9] John 5:8-10

[10] John 5:17

[11] John 8:3-6

[12] John 8:7

[13] James 2:26

[14] Luke 9:23

[15] Mark 19:21-24

[16] Fatima Prayer: Addition to the Holy Rosary “Oh my Jesus, forgive us…”

[17] Matthew 5:16

[18] The Global Religious Landscape, Pew Research Center Demographic Report, 12/18/2012

[19] CAF World Giving Index, 2016, Charities Aid Foundation, 2016

[20] Matthew 25:46

[21] John 13:34

[22] John 13:35

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