By Father John Bayer
Special to The Texas Catholic
America is truly a land of opportunity. Our country is a “melting pot” of ethnic, linguistic and religious realities, a pluralistic society in which there are innumerable opportunities for growth and mutual enrichment. Our love for freedom — in thought, speech, choice and religion – gives us a vibrant public square, where such diverse people have the opportunity to debate and learn great things from and with each other.
And yet, sometimes we take little advantage of our opportunities. Diverse and free, we can in fact appear intent on their opposites: that is, on pouring out the melted pot and enslaving ourselves. We hide our true selves or cultivate prejudices against others. Free speech wastes itself on vulgarity; thought chains itself to ideology or loses itself completely in frenetic glances at the nearest gadget or distraction; free choices are made under the lash of vice; and freedom of religion, instead of being an occasion for dialogue, ends up as a means by which we turn off reasoned conversation and hide from each other.
How can we help? What can we do as Catholics to transform our culture and realize the noble aspirations of our country? I think the single most important thing we can do is to be ourselves. It is such a sad and painful truth that many Catholics — whether as voters, consumers, civic and economic leaders or politicians — continue to contribute to some of the most dramatic disappointments in our culture. Whether through fear, ignorance, lack of formation or something else, we support laws and attitudes that violate the dignity of the human person; ignore the gift of the created order and the norms it lays down for our moral and economic life; and undermine the solidarity we share as children of God, a union that runs deeper than realities of citizenship, race or economic status.
Such painful contradictions do not have to be. We do not have to compromise our Catholic faith in order to live in a pluralistic and free society. On the contrary, we believe in Jesus Christ, the Logos — the Word, Mind or Design of God — through whom all things come to be (Jn 1:1-18). We have, therefore, a precious confidence which few others have: we believe in the harmony of all things in the loving and rational will of the one creator and father of all. And precisely on account of this faith we know that it is in fact possible to work with others in order to seek the truth in love. We do not have to hide or be embarrassed by our faith and its demands. We have only to learn and embody it with authenticity. So, “be transformed by the renewal of your minds” (Rom 12:2). If we can manage that, we will find ourselves conspicuously wise and attractive among our peers in the world. Our greater union with the Logos at the heart of all reality will render us more capable of navigating reality, more capable of assisting our country, by reason and charity, to set itself more firmly on the bedrock of truth and love.
For 2,000 years our faith, wherever it is truly known and lived, has shown itself to be convincing, attractive and life-giving. In spite of our individual sins, the collective life of the Body of Christ reveals the overwhelming power of Christ to heal, transfigure and divinize. Let us become conduits of his power! Zechariah describes movingly what will happen next: “In those days 10 men of every nationality, speaking different tongues, shall take hold, yes, take hold of every Jew by the edge of his garment and say, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’” (Zechariah 8:23).
The Bible has a beautiful image for a pluralistic and free culture once it has been transformed in Christ: it will become a new city, the New Jerusalem (cf. Revelation 21), the locus of God’s presence with its gates open to all the nations of the world as they each bring their own gifts to be integrated into the life of the Lamb and in him to endure forever: “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb. The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and to it the kings of the earth will bring their treasure. During the day its gates will never be shut, and there will be no night here.” (Rev 21:22-24).
Let us help our country. Let us be ourselves.
Father John Bayer, O.Cist., is a theologian and monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving. His column will appear occasionally in The Texas Catholic.