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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

Christian Piety and Political Power in America

Is faith in the Risen Lord a true shield against a growing political and cultural absolutism in America today? If so, it may explain why a growing number of Catholics feel the need not retreat from the public square even as they seem to lose struggles for the sacredness of marriage and life. Instead, Christians and other people of prayer engage marketplace of ideas with even greater vigor. In the meantime, young people are responding to the call to ministry and lives of prayer with greater courage and enthusiasm than ever. Even as our churches in America and around the world are burned down and unbridled hatred is unleashed on our brothers and sisters in the Lord with horrific brutality, we have good reason to fall to our knees and pick up this shield again in prayer.

The Catholic faith is about freedom because it is about the truth, the deepest truth about God and about our existence. It appeals to the deepest sanctuary of the heart. If it promotes social institutions, it does so to make space for the voice of conscience in human affairs. Whether it concerns the sacredness of marriage, or of motherhood, or of family, or of life itself, the Church has a responsibility to speak the truth in love. The Risen Lord died that this voice might be made pure through the forgiveness of sin. All the baptized are obliged to propose hope with love, no matter how often it is rejected or how deeply it is despised. It is about people being set free to thrive, to live life to the full, to come home to God where they most belong.

As it abandons Christianity, America is diminished under the weight of bad religion. We have enslaved ourselves by worshipping at the altar of political avarice. All too often, our leaders refer to God with manipulative sentimentality, cloaking with calculating hubris their hidden agendas with pious jargon. Our branches of government usurp the very place of God, desecrating the most sacred institutions of human existence, declaring as burdens and not blessings the dying, the unborn and the stranger. As a result, marriage, motherhood and family life are all vulnerable to the latest whims of the politically powerful while scoffing cultural thugs shame us into silence.

Everyone is afraid of being called intolerant. But the greatest sin in America today is not intolerance. Indeed, intolerance toward Christians is heralded as a great social virtue. Fewer and fewer leaders find the courage to stand up for people of faith. They are looked upon as a political liability, discussed as an unruly part of the political equation. It has long been the case that people of faith who question the wrong cultural conventions are deemed politically and intellectually anathema. To propose that there is another standard besides the whims of the powerful is a threat to popular convention and civil discourse. Christians find themselves compelled to propose just this and so they always find themselves as the special target of social hatred.

True piety and humble prayer always take Christians into this beatitude. Real prayer leads us to question both ourselves and our conventions in the light of heaven. Such prayer is dangerous personally and socially for those who are attached to using others for their own projects and personal gain. Yet, for those who need a word of hope and a shield against tyranny, such prayer this kind of prayer is vital.

Prayer rooted in what God has revealed causes us to measure everything against the wonder of His love at work in our misery. Manifest in the very least of our neighbors, the glory of this Living God implicates us in the plight of the less fortunate and most vulnerable, because this is where He is. As a people without this kind of piety, without this loyalty to God for His own sake, we cannot find this standard of American greatness raised by our forefathers or provide the rest of humanity a sanctuary of true human liberty.

In this proclamation, our faith lives in the wonder of Divine Providence raising up the poor and lowly, and bowing down the powerful and self-satisfied. A piety rooted on this hidden truth purifies politics. It reveals those wolves that merely use people to gratify their will to power. It raises the most essential questions about the meaning of society and the proper role of government. Here, our faith protects what is most tender and noble about our fragile human existence.

Christ crucified humbles us all. Before Him we know that might does not make right, due process alone is not enough for justice, and even capitol punishment does not provide the last word about the truth. The earthly supremacy claimed by any court will pass away -- and He will remain. To Him, we will all render an account.

The greatness of the Christian religion, the power of the Cross, is how it raises us above ourselves and gives us the courage to seek and live by the truth. This is the freedom to question cultural convention and political powers, to renounce the absolute claims they make on our lives, to choose to live in the freedom of God's love. Under the shadow of the Cross, believers know that the land of the free and the home of the brave can be rediscovered in our time. Under the shield of faith, we have every hope of finding the courage to defend those sacred institutions and values that make a nation great.

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