In 1989, Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon published what was for some a landmark work, Resident Aliens. Without going into too much detail, it asserted that the United States was no longer a Christian nation, if it really ever had been from the beginning, since we are a nation built on the foundation of freedom of all religion. The body of Christ then truly exists as a “colony” in a foreign land. The implication then was that Christians should be more concerned with the transformation of those in our places of worship instead of the state. As church, we needed to truly be Christ in a world that will never understand what that truly means.
As a Catholic, I always had a bit of reservation with this viewpoint. Yes, it is true that Jesus Christ is countercultural and being his disciple means behaving in a way that at times will be contrary to the society-at-large. However, we live in a redeemed world and are called to work within that world. We are not really just pilgrims passing through. This world and the society in which we live has been entrusted to us as stewards. In good stewardship, we cannot stand on the sidelines. Even though I do not think Hauerwas and Willimon really meant that, it seemed to me too easy to slide into this state of non-cooperation and apathy toward government.
Now it is 2017 and the events of the past month have left my spirit in a state of crisis. Are we, as intentional disciples of Jesus Christ and good everyday stewards, politically homeless in this country? As faithful citizens we must participate in the political process, but have we given that process so much power that we have delegated away some of our responsibilities as the body of Christ? We cry out about closed borders and refugee bans, but how have most of us really played a part in a process that welcomes anyone outside of Sunday’s coffee and doughnuts? We vote pro-life and then keep that topic hush-hush in the company of others who see the world differently. I will admit I have had a hard time saying anything in certain situations this past month in fear of truly being ostracized or inciting a severe backlash. But that is no way to be a Christian. I follow the One who spoke freely and because he did was murdered. My sinful actions remind me daily that I am still in need of the Savior of the world, but my silence can convict me as well.
The readings for this past Sunday contained the beatitudes. In my parish, the pastor asked all of us to meditate on them and ask ourselves which one truly speaks to us about the Christian person we want to become. But I fear that many of us will fall into the same trap as always. We will do some random acts of kindness or charity and we will see ourselves as safe. I heard someone say recently that if you were preaching the good news and not facing any opposition you probably weren’t preaching the entirety of the message.
So this Sunday, the message is clear. In the first reading from Isaiah, the Lord commands us to “share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own.” As Christians, we know that our own is extended to everyone, for there is neither Greek nor Jew, nor slave or free in the eyes of Christ. Even if a government sees it differently, we cannot. We also cannot buy into the lie that we can entrust this command to others. Yes, we can speak up, but words without actions are empty. In the second reading, St. Paul tells the Corinthians that he came to them in fear and trembling, but it was the power of the Spirit that convinced them of the Gospel. We need not fear, for when we act in charity it is not us that makes the difference, but God through us.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus says to his disciples that we are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” He does not speak to a specific nation or city. He does not place this label on all men. He says this to his disciples. Today, Jesus is not looking for sanctuary cities; he is looking for sanctuary churches. He is not looking to any nation for a plan; he is looking to his faithful disciples.
I am thinking again about Resident Aliens and wonder where the real power lies. Shall I write a letter to my senator while I ignore the requests for help from Catholic Relief Services? Shall I raise a ruckus for those coming from a foreign land while I ignore those in my backyard being helped by Catholic Charities USA? Shall I cast my vote for life while I offer no substantive support to the crisis pregnancy centers in my area? The cover of the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Resident Aliens describes the book as “a provocative Christian assessment of culture and ministry for people who know that something is wrong.” We, as Christians, are not the entirety of the problem, but we surely can be a big factor in the solution. Because whether you label yourself Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, we must all open our eyes, our minds, and our hearts to the reality that certainly something is wrong.
We urge all disciples of Jesus Christ to make a difference. Please visit the agencies hyperlinked above and offer any support you can. Thank you.
Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS
God Most High,
Many forces in this world seek my submission.
But you have sent your son for the sake of my redemption.
And my reunion with you in glory.
May I honor no king but Him.
Christ reign in my mind.
Help me to see and know God’s truth in all things, visible and invisible,
To envision a world where God’s justice rules.
Christ reign in my will.
Make me obedient to the just precepts of God,
Faithful to your holy commission.
Christ reign in my heart.
Help me spurn my love of self.
Replace it with a deeper love of God,
A greater love for his people.
Christ reign in my body, my flesh and bone,
My hands and feet.
Put them to work in the building of your kingdom.
Make them skilled and joyful in serving you.
Let them be merciful and tender in reaching out to my brothers and sisters.
Christ reign over me.
Christ, my king.
—Christ Reign prayer from Catholic Relief Services