A piece I wrote for October 2020 Connections, the newsletter of St. Matthew’s.
When I was nine or ten, I remember coming home from school and wanting to watch cartoons and Star Trek, but every day and every channel was the same boring show. All these people talking. And talking. Sometimes they would become very animated in their talking, but it was always the same. Even though I had no idea what was going on, I would sit and wait, hoping they would get tired of all that talking so that I could see what Captain Kirk was up to (I always hoped for the Klingons to arrive. Very exciting.) What were these folks talking about? At the time, all I knew was that somebody had broken in and stolen a gate from a water building. Who knew they had such valuable things at the waterworks. Months later, we had a new president, the former resigning in shame.
I’ve shared with you in the past: I don’t preach politics. Never have. Never will. Instead, I choose to preach the Gospel, because as I’ve also shared with you, I believe that the Gospel Message is the most radical and revolutionary message every spoken. Politicians come and go and nations do the same, “‘but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:25)
In such heated political times as this, you may be wondering if I’m going to change my “policy” on preaching politics. The answer is: absolutely not, but I would be a poor priest if I did not provide some guidance through it, and the question that keeps running through my mind is: How should we as a Christian people respond? Scream a little louder? Sign another petition? Join a protest? Make nasty comments on social media (the equivalent of doing nothing)? Vote (always a good idea)? Not to be the pessimist in the group, but all of these have been tried and all they’ve really produced are people shouting even more loudly, paper wasted, more violence, a disintegration of tolerance and respect, and politicians who, once in office, end up being no better than their predecessors.
Thank you for the commentary, Fr. John, but you still haven’t answered the question: what should the Christian response look like?
I’m glad you asked!
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9) What are we to do? We are to be the royal priesthood, proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Not as our earthly leaders do, but as our Lord and Savior has taught us. We are to be a nation, a Christian race that is set apart, not indulging in the sins of the world, but demonstrating the path of righteousness. We are to be the Lord’s possession, not giving our allegiance to things that are passing away, but to Him who was, who is, and who will come again. We are to be all these things, witnessing not to a campaign slogan, but to the eternal Love of God. Unlike everything else that makes the news these days, what we do for the Kingdom won’t make good TV, it won’t draw large crowds, and it will likely only change the lives of a very few, but… You’ve all heard the story before:
A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.
She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”
The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference for that one!”
That is the ending I’ve always heard, but recently I came across another:
The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.*
Perhaps that’s just a bit too naïve, too optimistic, but I’m really not a pessimist.
Make a difference… be the light for one person. This is our politics. Be the leader, the royal priest to one person, pointing them to the path of eternal life, so that they may do the same for another. It is through this great work of the Gospel that we will affect eternal change in the lives of many and that we may affect change in our society.
*“The Starfish Story” is adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren C. Eiseley