Proper Alignment in a Crazy World

In case you missed it, there was a presidential election earlier this month.  The outcome surprised almost everybody—certainly the “experts,” including theologians—and the aftermath has been decidedly traumatic.  What will happen over the next two to four years? Which policies will be reversed and which new ones will be established?  Like many Americans, I stayed up late watching the election returns.  The national media scrutinized every bit of available data.  I found myself learning more about counties in other states christ-kingthan I had known before.  Due to an unavoidably early work schedule, I went to sleep with the election undecided.  I woke to a new president-elect, a result very few anticipated.  Juggling that news with my regular routine, I ran across a reminder for this blog post’s deadline.  A glance at the liturgical calendar told me all I needed to know:  today is the Feast of Christ the King.

This knowledge made all the difference as the nation continues to struggle with the election’s aftermath.  Before, during, and after any human, earthly endeavor, Jesus Christ is Lord.  Stating this does not, despite the Marxist criticisms, relegate one to the realm of naïve spirituality and blithe indifference to the world’s problems.  No, God calls us simultaneously to the Church and thus into the world, too.  Vatican II states clearly: “God’s plan for the world is that men should work together to renew and constantly perfect the temporal order” (Apostolicam Actuositatem #7).  Politics is not some necessarily dirty, utilitarian struggle for hegemony.  Rather, political activity along with the whole gamut of economic, social, and aesthetic pursuits can and should foster and advance the good.  We need each other to come anywhere near accomplishing that goal.

Here we must always remember today’s feast.  Christ’s sovereign kingship transcends the created realm.  Our best accomplishments and worst failures occur therein.  St. John the Evangelist reminds us:  “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (1:5).  Therefore, regardless of who wins a presidential election or how shocked we are at such results, no human creation—political, social, or otherwise—enjoys ultimate status.  We cannot conflate Christ’s reign with our temporary politics.  We cannot become, as Rod Dreher puts it, a people who make politics their religion.  Christ is king, not us.

This reality holds true forever, of course, but we enjoy this reminder at the very end of the liturgical year.  Next Sunday begins Advent, and so once again we prepare for the arrival and birth of that very King we celebrate today. This feast appeared rather late, historically speaking.  Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in 1925.  As blogged earlier here, I think Pius XI’s pontificate offers remarkable resources, both spiritual and political, for our twenty-first century reality.  This plenitude concerns us especially today:

Pius XI himself recognized the shift [towards secular totalitarianism] in 1925 with his encyclical Quas Primas. Released on December 11, 1925, the encyclical established the Feast of Christ the King, now celebrated on the last Sunday of the liturgical year. In so doing Pius XI returned to his papal motto and asserted Christ’s spiritual and temporal authority (see #s 15 & 17). Christian faith is necessarily embodied, and thus the Church stands in the world, but free from control by the secular state (see #31). The laity especially stand to benefit from meditation upon Christ’s kingship. If Christ died for all, then, Pius concludes, “it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire” (#33). Christ must reign in our minds, wills, hearts, and bodies. Each faculty contributes to both spiritual sanctification and social justice, and serves, Pius XI prays, as evangelical examples to all non-Catholics. The peace that passes understanding, if authentic, moves beyond the individual to include others, not just Catholics but all peoples. After all, each person possesses intrinsic dignity given by God alone.

Christ’s kingship lays claim to our entire selves—and this includes our relationships with all others:  marital, parental, emotional, social, economic, political, etc.  Today’s readings spell this out in great detail:  David’s ascendency, Psalm 122’s celebration of royal Jerusalem, and then St. Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians that Christ

He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers;
all things were created through him and for him.
He is before all things,
and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
that in all things he himself might be preeminent.
For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile all things for him,
making peace by the blood of his cross
through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.

The Gospel passage from St. Luke (23:35-43) depicts this in the most graphic terms. From the cross Jesus promises the repentant criminal they both will enjoy paradise that very day.  Interestingly, the Extraordinary Form readings—the ones Pius XI worked with himself when he declared the Christ the King feast—take a different path with St. Matthew 24: 13-25.  After prophesying apocalyptic signs of His return, Christ reassures the disciples: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words will not pass away.” Following this presidential election, this passage might speak to some believing voters more immediately!  Exemplifying the well-known Catholic “both/and,” these readings together draw out fully the immanence and transcendence of Christ’s kingship.  In proclaiming the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis speaks to this balance:

We will entrust the life of the Church, all humanity, and the entire cosmos to the Lordship of Christ, asking him to pour out his mercy upon us like the morning dew, so that everyone may work together to build a brighter future. How much I desire that the year to come will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God! May the balm of mercy reach everyone, both believers and those far away, as a sign that the Kingdom of God is already present in our midst! (Misericordiae Vultus #5)

The Feast of Christ the King concludes the Year of Mercy, one in which we have sought to realize our spiritual convictions where we find ourselves.  This itself requires mercy, for we will make mistakes. Our sovereign Lord’s presence in the Church and the Eucharist repairs these errors.

God calls us to, and we should always seek, this proper alignment.  Then the wins and losses of our lives—personally and politically—regain proper perspective. After the inauguration the nation will see new endeavors and probably others continued from the previous administration. Just as with Obama, the Trump presidency will offer several opportunities to work with all people of good will to build and defend the common good.  Sometimes that pursuit will involve cooperating with government, sometimes perhaps not.  Regardless, we would do well to remember today’s solemn feast and readings and thereby recognize that only Christ reigns supreme. All other political claims are, ultimately, temporary.  To paraphrase St. Thomas More, we are the president’s loyal citizens—but God’s subjects first.

Jeffrey Marlett teaches theology and Catholic social teaching for Saint Joseph’s College Online Theology Programs. He blogs at Spiritual Diabetes.

Technocratic Model vs. An Integral and Integrated Vision

Chapter Three of Laudato Sí is entitled “The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis;” it could well be called “Original Sin, Reprise.” Once again, humans have participated with God in creating things with enormous potential for good, in this case all that falls under the term “modern technology,” then proceeded to spend an inordinate amount of time distorting that potential goodness.  We have done it now to the point that we worship (there is hardly another word for it) “an undifferentiated and one-dimensional technocratic paradigm” [italics his], increasing the tendency of the scientific method as “a technique of possession, mastery and transformation” (L.S. 107) to the point that this paradigm devastatingly dominates the world economy. “The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings” (L.S. 109).

As if that critique were not disturbing enough, the Holy Father goes on to strike at the very root of the distortion, “an inadequate presentation of Christian anthropology” that has resulted in an “anthropocentrism” of mastery over rather than stewardship of the rest of Creation (L.S. 115-6).  (Notice how deeply ingrained the distortion is: we tend to say “creation” when we mean “everything except us.” The paradigm of dominance is woven into our everyday language.) Pope Francis wisely highlights the interconnectedness of the reality, and hence of the distortion: we cannot heal our relationship with the rest of creation in isolation, nor heal our human relationships without addressing the former: healing, like violence, is of a package (L.S. 119).

The counterpart of the technocratic model in which we are living according to Pope Francis in Chapter 3 is the need for a humanism with an integral and integrated vision, as Pope Francis explains,

We urgently need a humanism capable of bringing together the different fields of knowledge, including economics, in the service of a more integral and integrating vision. (LS, 141)

This integral and integrated vision of reality is urgently need right now because modernity img_0856based its great progress in the separation of the subject form the object. For Roberto Goizueta, theology professor at Boston College, modernity gave birth to “the autonomous agent of his or her own life” who does not just live in history but makes history. In this way “history is a product of the human activity or praxis.” The consequences of this view are reflected in our own language: “The modern subject ‘makes’ a living, ‘makes’ love, and strives to ‘make something’ of himself or herself.” This “making” of everything creates a separation of the subject from the object that Goizueta sees as a “precondition for the subject to control the object in order to manipulate it.”

The separation of the subject from the object implicit in the understanding of human activity as praxis has lead us to great advances in modernity. However, what caught Goizueta’s attention is the fact that “human beings can control and transform their natural and social environments, as well as their own lives,” which also carries with it the ideology of progress characteristic of modernity.

Thus, for Goizueta, modernity gave birth to the human subject as “maker” of history, as alienated from the object and able to “control” and “work on” his or her environment.

Human action–praxis, grounded in the separation of the subject from the object as modernity understood in Goizueta’s view has also “laid the foundation for the devastation of the environment”

This devastation of the environment which foundation was laid on by the separation of the object from the subject and that brought great progress, today is in need of an integral and  integrated  vison or what Pope Francis calls integral ecology, an approach to ecology that insist that environmental and social problems are interconnected, as Pope Francis explains,

We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature. (LS, 139)

This integral and integrated approach to ecology described by Pope Francis implies an “economic ecology” which considers that   “the protection of the environment is in fact ‘an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it.’” (L.S. 141). A “social ecology” that understand that” the health of a society’s institutions has consequences for the environment and the quality of human life.” Because as Pope Benedict XVI in Caritas Veritate says, “Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment.” (51) Finally, this integral and integrated vision of ecology requires a “cultural ecology” that lead to accept that “Culture is more than what we have inherited from the past; it is also, and above all, a living, dynamic and participatory present reality, which cannot be excluded as we rethink the relationship between human beings and the environment” (L.S. 143).

Nelson Araque teaches History of Latino Catholics in the Ministry to Latino Catholics Certificate Program and Pamela Hedrick teaches Sacred Scripture and spirituality forSaint Joseph’s College Online.