The year has hardly begun, and in the United States we’re already well into our race to November’s presidential elections. The campaign follows us wherever we go. The media micro-analyze every candidate’s every word and gesture. And then the news stories make their way into our conversations at work and at home.
The papers and blogs and news networks—and even the political parties—count on us to get caught up in the drama. So they emphasize partisanship and cast the debates in terms of battle, the fiercer the better. They tell us we’re fighting a culture war.
And there’s some truth to that. Candidates today must take their stand on issues of dire social and moral consequence—the definition of the family, the sanctity of human life.
It’s important that we take part in the conversation. And it’s good for us to be passionate. But we also need to keep perspective. Those of us who have survived a few disappointing elections know that God can draw much good even from the worst outcomes. A sense of history can be helpful.
Still more than history we should turn to Scripture. St. Paul had no trouble speaking out against the evils of Greco-Roman culture, but he knew that the real war was more than cultural. “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). The real battle requires spiritual combat.
St. Paul was willing to fight that good fight (1 Timothy 6:12, 2 Timothy 4:7), but he also knew that he was on the winning side. So he fought with joy even though the war would not be won on earth in his lifetime. For it was God who had created the principalities (Colossians 1:16), and through the Paschal mystery he had already “disarmed” them (Colossians 2:15). Thus Paul could say that he was “sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
We’re still fighting the same battles. We can still know the same joy and confidence.
St. Paul knew that it was not “culture wars” that moved history. Liturgy moves history. That’s why the Book of Revelation shows us the prayers of the saints rising up like incense from golden bowls. That’s why St. John saw the souls of the martyrs crying out from beneath heaven’s altar. That’s why both Paul and John saw divine judgment as a chalice that brought blessing to the saints and wrath to their enemies.
We need to take a prayerful, active part in the events of this year — and it’s good for us to be passionate. Our passion, however, should always be tempered by charity and manifest in peace. That’s how St. Paul lived.
He lived the liturgy, and so should we. Lent begins at the end of this month, and it’s the ideal time to cultivate that temperance. Let’s take time now to foresee the spiritual dangers we’ll encounter in a year of social agitation. Maybe we’re tempted to say too much. Maybe we’re tempted to say too little. We can use Lent as a time to gain the strength and good habits we need to win souls (our own first)—and win elections, and win over cultures, too.
Please keep the St. Paul Center in mind in a special way. Election years are ordinarily difficult for nonprofit organizations, as some donors divert their usual giving for political purposes. Pray for us. And if you can give a little more, please do.
I am deeply grateful for all you do for us. I promise you my prayers.