CHURCH, WHAT BUSINESS HAVE YOU IN POLITICS?
WEEKDAY HOMILY FOR TUESDAY OF 31ST WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR I ON NOVEMBER 5, 2019
BY FR EMMANUEL OCHIGBO
“Brothers and sisters: We, though many, are one Body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching…” Words of St. Paul to the Romans taken from today’s First Reading (Romans 12: 5-16AB)
Recently, I have been bombarded with questions that can be summarized in these words, “Father, is it right or wrong for the Church to be involved in politics?” “Father, does the Church no longer respect the principle of the separation of Church and State?” In response, I would say, before we even get into the question of whether the Church should be involved in politics or not, we should answer the question, “What is politics?” When we get the right answer to the question, “What is politics?” then, we will know that the real question should not be whether the Church should be involved in politics or not; the real question should be whether it is even possible for the Church not to be involved in politics. For if politics has to do with public affairs and the Church is part of the public, then the Church has it as a right, as an obligation, and as a duty to be involved in politics.
Perhaps, the confusion here comes from the fact that the Church is not partisan, the Church is not a political party, the Church does not have a political party, the Church does not sponsor any political party, and the Church does not sponsor any political candidate. However, the Church has a stand when it comes to issues that affect people’s lives. We are Christians; let us go back to our foundation. How was Jesus with politics? Was Jesus involved in politics? Did Jesus turn away his eyes when those in power abused their powers? Remember, at a point, Jesus was so upset with King Herod that in Luke 13: 32, he referred to him as a fox. He said, “Go and tell that fox…”
And so, it was never the intention of Jesus for the Church to be a sleeping giant; it was never the intention of Jesus for the Church to be a snoring giant. Jesus wants the Church to be awake. Jesus wants the Church to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Jesus does not want the Church to be like the Priest or the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus wants the Church to be like the Good Samaritan. You remember, when the man who was on his way between Jerusalem and Jericho was beaten by robbers and was dying in the pool of his own blood, the Levite and the Priest saw him, but they were so much focused on the Temple, they were so much focused on their religion that they did not want to have anything to do with politics, they did not want to have anything to do with the man that was dying. They wanted to go to the temple as clean as possible.
On the other hand, the good Samaritan came, and all he was interested in was the fact that a fellow human being was in distress, and he was involved, and he helped. That is what Jesus wants from the Church; to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves; to help those who are oppressed. Wherever there is injustice, wherever there is oppression, the Church is supposed to come to the rescue. The oppressed, in this case, may be a fellow Christian, a non-Christian, a non-religious person, an immigrant, an unborn child, whoever cannot stand for himself or herself. The Church is called not to be complacent, but to be involved and to help the helpless.
The other issue is the separation of Church and State, an expression, a principle that people tend to use now to intimidate the Church, as a way of telling the Church to keep quiet and get out of the conversation; they talk of the separation of Church and state. But let us get back to the origin, let us get back to the root of it. The expression, “separation of Church and State” was first used by President Thomas Jefferson in a private letter on the first of January, in 1802. When President Jefferson used this expression, what was his intention? Was it to protect the State or to protect the Church? He used that expression not to protect the State but to protect the Church. He knew the powers of the State; he feared the possibility of the State suppressing the Church in the future, and so to guard against that, he talked about a “wall” of separation that the State may not climb to interfere with religious freedom. He made it clear in that conversation that religious freedom cannot be given by the state, and it cannot be taken away by the state. Religious freedom is divine, and so the State must not interfere. On the other hand, it is the responsibility, the duty, and the obligation of the Church to be the conscience of the State.
In today’s first reading, writing to the Romans, St. Paul encourages us to identify our individual charisms, our individual gifts, and to make the best of them. If teaching is your calling, if teaching is your gift, do it to the best of your ability. Foundational to Greek Philosophy is, “Man, know thyself, and be true to thyself.” And by extension, I would say, Church, know thyself and be true to thyself! Church, if you have been called to be the conscience of the society, you must do that to the best of your ability fearing no intimidation.
My dearly beloved in Christ, when you come to Mass, what do you expect the priest to peach? How do you expect the priest to preach? Do you expect the priest to just come and talk about the weather and how gorgeous the sunset was the previous evening? If that is what you have come to the Church for, I have bad news for you: you have dialed the wrong number, you put in the wrong zip code. The Church is called to stand for the truth and to speak the truth even when it hurts.
Mind you, when I preach to you, it is not because I am perfect, it is not because I am able to do everything right, it is not because I have gotten it all figured out, it is not because I find it easy to do the will of God. Even Jesus, as a human being, did not find it easy to do the will of God. Remember, at a point, he said, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by, yet not my will but your will be done.”
I am not your enemy; you are not my enemy. We have one common enemy, and that is the devil. So we must come together and fight as a team to be on the side of the truth and to be sure that we gain this victory so that we can all make it to heaven.
My dearly beloved in Christ, Christianity is not meant to be locked up in the Church. If we are truly Christians, it must reflect in how we go to school, in how we marry, in how we do businesses, in our various professions, in how we do politics, in how we are born, even in how we die. Christianity is meant to reflect in all aspects of our lives. And remember what they say, “Christianity is not a part-time job; it is either you are in, or you are out.”