Converting American Politics on Word of God Sunday
For the sake of the country and our souls, Catholics must embrace Word of God Sunday (which falls on Jan. 24 this year) as an opportunity to dedicate our lives to discipleship of Jesus Christ and be led by him to transform the political order.
In the wake of mob violence that overwhelmed the U.S. Capitol on the feast of the Epiphany, President Donald Trump departed the presidential office in disgrace and impeached for a second time. The attempted insurrection in the U.S. Capitol could easily have turned a national humiliation into national catastrophe with worldwide consequences. The newly inaugurated President Joe Biden recognized the critical danger to American political cohesion when he appealed to Americans to "end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural vs. urban, conservative vs. liberal," by opening up their souls instead of hardening their hearts.
The Capitol Hill riots must become a watershed moment for all Americans to deeply examine their consciences and repent of the road we have traveled. We have got to the point where the constant fueling of partisan hatred and outrage has now actually motivated people to engage in sedition and insurrection against our own elected government in the course of its constitutional duty.
Certainly Trump’s own fiery angry words before the march on the Capitol lit the match — but the fuel behind the mob’s passions was years in the making. None of this would have been possible without an American politics where the hatred and demonization of our family members, friends and neighbors over politics — including outright calls to physical violence — was normalized for partisan fundraising and get-out-the-vote tactics for years upon years.
Social media has now not only amplified this rhetoric that turns our neighbor into an existential threat, but has monetized it. Traditional media, starving for eyes that equaled ad revenue, also stoked the outrage that played mercilessly on people’s “fight” or “flight” instincts. American society cannot afford a politics based on hatred of neighbor — and what played out on Jan. 6 not only led to the deaths of several Americans and injured dozens of police, but also put allied nations at risk from geopolitical adversaries that will be emboldened by America’s perceived division and weakness.
Catholics must become the vanguard of an American politics renewed by love of neighbor, which is the source of any authentic patriotism. This upcoming Word of God Sunday is a critical opportunity for Catholics to open their Bibles and renew their personal encounter the one and only Savior this country needs: the Lord Jesus Christ. We all must recommit to know, love, and follow Jesus as his disciples, and we cannot know Jesus Christ, even in the Holy Eucharist, if we do not open our Bibles and meet him daily in the Gospel. This must be the starting point of both our own spiritual renewal and our civic life.
It is a wide-open secret that Catholics — like other Christians in the U.S. — have made an idol of politics. Both the Republican and Democratic parties would look very different if Catholics actively and openly challenged them with their prophetic witness. Had we done so, we could have rebuked both Democrats and Republicans who had treated persons as “the other,” an existential threat, and not our neighbor to whom the Lord Jesus has strictly commanded us to love and do good, even when our neighbor persecutes us.
For the sake of our souls and the country, we Catholics must embrace Word of God Sunday as an opportunity to dedicate our lives to discipleship, which is living with and following Jesus, taking up our Cross daily. If Jesus Christ is to be Lord and Savior — and not a U.S. president or political party or political ideology — then we must open our Bibles so that Jesus Christ may speak to us year-round, interpreting all of Scripture through himself as he did with the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
Recognizing Jesus Christ as Lord in our hearts through this daily encounter in Scripture will make us disciples who transform and heal American political life on a different basis: love and beatitude. The Sermon on the Mount is the blueprint for how those who belong to the Kingdom of God should manifest their citizenship here on earth. And this encounter with the Word of God will fortify us against temptations to muffle our prophetic voices for the sake of partisan advantage, or entertain the delusion that virtue can enlist vice in its service and remain undamaged by the transaction.
Jesus summarized the law as, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” These commands to love from Jesus in the Gospel are not the helpful guidelines of a good, wise spiritual leader or guru. They are divine commands meant to be obeyed strictly, and not frittered away by haggling and interpreting them into irrelevance. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” Jesus makes clear.
All of us American Catholics should make this Word of God Sunday on Jan. 24 a starting point for our own personal conversion, keeping the commandments of Christ, and resetting our country’s politics on love of neighbor. As Pope Francis makes clear, Christ’s Word, has the power to bring about this conversion.
“Because his word has the power to change our lives and to lead us out of darkness into the light.”