O.K. I find that I’m a bit stuck in yesterday — yesterday being the day after the election, or the first day we had to really grapple with the fact that the candidate who supports abortion, homosexuality, socialism, and constitutional crime actually won the election. I am not going to harp on everything that this might mean for the country because you are already hearing that from other sources. I sat for awhile and prayed with the readings yesterday as I normally do. But yesterday I prayed longer. And I really felt that the Lord was speaking to me through them and perhaps even speaking to you through me. That is my hope, anyway. I am so stuck in yesterday that this morning I decided to preach on the readings from yesterday (November 8, 2012): http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/110712.cfm I have only done that a few times in my 11 years as a priest, but the message I felt on my heart was so strong that I thought it was justified.
Let me preface this with a larger statement about how and why Obama was elected, and what “God’s will” has to do with it. There is no doubt that God could have stopped it from happening. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. But what we cannot forget is that whole “free will thing.” I will summarize this in a few sentences, but realize that it is a vastly complex theological question: in the short term, man’s will can thwart God’s will because we are free. In the end, we can never thwart his long-term will. If a drunk man slams into a family of six with his car and kills all of them, this is not necessarily God’s will. That man had a free choice not to do something very, very stupid with his freedom. The only thing that is absolutely certain is that even if something bad happens, God can and will turn it into something good if he has the cooperation of his Faithful Ones. As St. Paul tells us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).”
So what does this have to do with the election? Was it God’s will that Obama was elected? My friends, I cannot answer that question. I am not privy to the great plan. It may or may not have been his will. What I want to make sure we understand is that we do not take the attitude that it was certainly his will, and then become discouraged over it. Men and women make bad decisions every day. And when millions of men and women who do not know or love God get together, they can make tremendously bad decisions. If you look at a major portion of the history of Israel in the Old Testament, what do you see happening? Israel turns away from God so God sends them many kindly prophets to turn them from their evil way. But Israel is hard-headed, and will not listen to the kindly prophets. And when many kindly prophets are not heeded, God sends a prophet with a bit of an attitude problem. When a country fails to heed God’s warnings, the Old Testament pattern teaches us that God will send them a horrible king to rule and oppress them or a foreign army to attack and destroy them so that they will finally turn their hearts to him again. Perhaps every nation gets the leaders that it deserves — this is a hard saying, but it may be more true than we would like it to be. Is that what is happening now to our country? Is God allowing our decisions to play out to their logical conclusion, and allowing those decisions to “punish” us? Again, I cannot say for sure. But it is worth praying and thinking about.
A NOTE ON PUNISHING: I think it is perhaps wrong to say that God is “punishing” us for largely abandoning Him as a country. I think that God is more like a father who repeatedly tells a young child not to touch a hot surface ‘lest she be burned, and eventually he allows the child to be burned in order to teach her a lesson. When God allows us to feel the consequences of our own actions, it is different than the way we generally view “punishment.” He doesn’t let her be burned THEN beat her for it afterwards — THAT would be punishment.
So what do we do? An exhortation from St. Paul seemed particularly poignant:
“For God is the one who, for his good purpose,
works in you both to desire and to work.
Do everything without grumbling or questioning,
that you may be blameless and innocent,
children of God without blemish
in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation,
among whom you shine like lights in the world….” (Phil 2:13-14)
Isn’t that a beautiful exhortation for what we should be about as a Christian people in a “perverse generation”? We are tempted to lose hope. We are tempted to complain, question, and blame. I am just as tempted to discouragement and judgment as anyone else. But that is not what we are called to. We are called to be lights in a dark world, which means to continue to spread the joy of God’s love, His peace and His justice. These are given to us as gifts through prayer and the sacraments — they don’t belong to us. And because they don’t belong to us, we need to take extra care that they are used they way they should be used. Y’all, it just makes sense: if there is a group of people going through the world destroying, breaking hearts, and being selfish, then there should be another group that follows behind them bringing order, mending hearts, and being self-less.
“Which of you wishing to construct a tower
does not first sit down and calculate the cost
to see if there is enough for its completion?
Otherwise, after laying the foundation
and finding himself unable to finish the work
the onlookers should laugh at him and say,
‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’
Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down
and decide whether with ten thousand troops
he can successfully oppose another king
advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops?”
The interesting note about the tower is that in the ancient world, a man who owned a vineyard would often construct a tower in the middle of it in order to watch for thieves who would try to harvest it at night. You had to police your own property in the ancient world. And Jesus compares this to being his disciple. We need to spend a great deal of planning, effort and vigilance so that thieves will not come and steal what makes us a Christian: our faith, love, hope, joy, peace and prayer.
Jesus also compares being his disciple to being attacked by an overwhelmingly superior force. Aren’t you excited? Two very radical images: 1) being Jesus’s disciple is like protecting your soul from thieves and 2) engaging in combat with a superior army. Yay, right? So if you are feeling this way, then perhaps you are feeling exactly what you are supposed to be feeling. The writer, C.S. Lewis, often compared the true Christian life with being a small force behind enemy lines. It doesn’t matter if we are outnumbered and outgunned. What matters is that we are faithful and that we do not allow the cynical, faithless, complaining world to turn us into cynical, faithless complaining people. Otherwise, what good are we? Will we allow the demons to succeed? Will we allow our vineyard to be robbed; our swords and shields taken away by Satan?
Would you like a good image from history about how God can turn around the situation of a nation in ten short years? The worst Christian persecution in Roman history was during the reign of Diocletian. About ten short years later, Constantine came along and declared the Edict of Milan, which proclaimed tolerance for the Christian faith. In another generation, Christianity was the official religion of the empire where there was once rampant paganism.
Want another example? After the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to St. Juan Diego, 8 million Aztecs converted to Catholicism in a span of 7 years, beginning with 1531.
The symbol for our faith is not a smiley face, it’s a cross. Christian life is hard. But it is not without consolation, not without meaning, and not without a reward that is so brilliant that it is inconceivable to the human mind. So don’t let the world or its fallen master get you down. Be a “light amidst a crooked and perverse generation.” That’s what our Baptism called us to be, and by God—with the strength that He supplies—that is what we’ll be!