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.