by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace

Wednesday, January 20, 2021 – What a day it was!

Without doubt we all felt a sense of relief, thanksgiving, hope, answer to prayer — choose the word — as we saw the end to our national nightmare and the beginning of a new day in America. For me the day was summed up, as much as it could be, in the electrifying presence and poetry of Amanda Gorman.

“We are striving to form our union with purpose, to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions… and so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us but what stands before us. We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must put our differences aside.”

One outstanding feature of President Biden’s inaugural address was the acknowledgement that we will continue to have serious differences of opinion going forward. But that is the nature of democracy, Mr. Biden said, and should never be dealt with by an “uncivil war.”

In this light I believe that we Catholic/Christians have a concrete challenge before us — the division over the very meaning of the Gospel. It is beyond sad that in these months and years we have witnessed Christ’s message and Christian symbols used in ways that contradict entirely what that message and those symbols mean. Some examples, not to “rain on yesterday’s parade” but to demonstrate what deeply separates us who profess the Christian faith and try to live it:

  • A noted Christian leader said about the Republican members of Congress who voted to impeach Mr. Trump “what were the 30 pieces of silver promised you.”
  • The Jericho March around the Capitol days before the inauguration calling for the walls be torn down of a “fraudulent election” effected by “dark and corrupt forces”
  • Signs and slogans during the violent attack on the Capitol building: “Jesus Saves, Jesus is my Savior — Trump is my President, consecrate Congress to Jesus … because Trump is God’s chosen candidate… any other candidate, no matter what the vote totals show is illegitimate.”
  • The photo of a man holding a large wooden cross in front of the Capitol as the attack progressed.

Tragically, among these examples are similar ones from Catholics, and most startlingly, Catholic priests. One said: “If [Mr. Biden] dies the way he is now, unrepentant for his years of denying Christ…you and I know where he will go, he will be damned to hell for all eternity.”
Another priest conducted an exorcism over those who were involved in counting votes, who he said engaged in “fraud” “sin,” “lying,” “cheating” and “stealing” and who “put their souls in terrible mortal peril,” [an exorcism] over “demonic influence.”*

In light of these few obvious examples of terribly misguided use of our Christian/Catholic faith, it is incumbent on us to state as clearly and as often as possible what we know to be true allegiance to Christ, true discipleship. We take on this obligation not in a spirit of better-than-thou self-righteousness but in the service of truth. We simply cannot remain silent when the world is seeing Christianity in terms of these and so many other wrong expressions of that faith

There is no need here to explain what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about. What is needed is the willingness, courage, creativity on our parts to use every avenue possible to do this. Thanks to the “new grace” of the Holy Spirit for our times, Catholic Social Teaching, we have the means to make our faith relevant in today’s world. CST is God’s gift to us at this moment and this place in history.

*These examples and many others come principally from James Martin’s fine article in the January 12, 2021 edition of America Magazine, entitled “How Catholic Leaders Helped Give Rise to Violence at the U.S. Capitol.”


Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.

10 thoughts on “The challenge before us: The division in our Church over the very meaning of the gospel

  1. Dear Joe,
    Thanks for your enlightening words. Each of us must do what we can to speak the truth.
    I am also a member of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia and am part of the planning committee for this year’s annual meeting which is scheduled for September 17-19. We are wondering if you would consider being part of it. Possibly a speaker for a breakout session or keynote. The topic is economic development and Just transitions.
    If you would be so kind to think about and email me back that would be great.
    Sr. Kathleen weigand osb

  2. You mention two priests. So, what is the Church going to do about the messages coming from the ordained? The Church is in big trouble because of misleading leadership by Church officials, and priests and others going back to pre-Vatican II damnations to hell sermons. Let’s start calling out the big sins of structural racism, voter suppression, kidnapping of kids and caging them, and politicians who foster violence and big lies. We have a huge problem of our adult faith formation that has poisoned the white souls in the pews especially here in my home state of Wisconsin.

  3. Thanks, Joe. You said it so well. I’m forwarding it to a nephew of mine to, hopefully, help him see what it means to be a Catholic/Christian today.

  4. Thank you Fr. Joe for your thoughts. It is amazing that so many Christians other than Catholics also have attitudes seem to contradict the message in the Gospel as shown by Jesus’ life. Adult faith formation classes (including priests) and religious ed. classes for youth need to begin or continue including Catholic Social Teaching in their meetings. If possible, the sharing of Christian teachings could be implemented between a local Catholic church and other churches, synagogues, and mosques in a community. But, it might be enough to start with the Catholic church. Also, it might be advantageous to more publicly have statements from Catholic leaders which affirm the pro-life nature of Catholic social teachings, along with abortion. From what I have been reading from various sources, there are many who espouse Catholic doctrine along with supporting the abortion stance. But the media either hears only one-sided reports or are just deaf to fuller statements from the Church. There is definitely a need to broaden our approach to discussion within the Church as well as the need to make broader segments of the larger community aware that the Church is just not focused on one issue. Peace!

  5. I started Catholic school in 1949, and in the course of those intervening 70 years of involvement in 15 different parishes around the world, I have concluded that Jesus message was clearly, “Love one another!” I wonder if somehow , I was privileged to be present at the 15 best parishes or whether Jesus speaks above the roar. Father Joe is an extreme practitioner of that Catholic, Christian behavior that consistent love and concomitant respect is the way to peace. Father Joe speaks above the roar. Thank you.

  6. Thank you so much, Fr. Joe and PCUSA, we need to get that message out. Until I started walking the Good Friday Walk across 42nd Street with Pax Christi Metro New York, I hadn’t heard much about Catholic Social Teaching, though I did get good preaching most of the time at my Redemptorist parish. Becoming part of Pax Christi has helped my faith growth and my ability to stay in the Catholic Church, despite differences in who is called to the priesthood and obvious differences in how our people of color are treated. Working for peace and justice is not easy, as Christ showed us, but we are called to walk in his footsteps, all the way to the cross if necessary, nonviolently responding to the evils around us. Thank you for giving us the resources to continue to pray, study and act in the way of Jesus!

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