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It’s time to stop fretting and get on with our lives

It’s easy to become obsessed by the dramas of troublesome politics when that’s not our job, writes Brandon McGinley in his Letter from America

Are you a bishop or cardinal of the Catholic Church? Are you a Member of the Parliament of Scotland, the United Kingdom, or the European Union? Are you (it’s unlikely, I know, for a reader of this newspaper, but let me cover my bases) a member of the United States Congress?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then I’m afraid that the various dramas afflicting our political and ecclesial institutions—synods and scandals and separatism and Brexit and impeachment and so on—are your responsibility. They might not be your fault, but it is your duty to be an informed and active participant in resolving institutional crises for the common good.

Now, for the rest of us, let me make a simple plea: get on with your lives.

 

Drama

In an age shaped by democratic ideals and connected by social media, it can be hard to let go of the day-to-day dramas of Washington and London and Brussels and Rome.

We feel a duty not just to be informed but to participate in the fray from our phones or computers, doing our part as citizens and as Christians by giving our personal view of the latest outrages—outrages that have been, invariably, filtered through several layers of bias before they reach us, usually distilled into an easy narrative palatable to our prejudices.

The effect is corrosive enough in civil politics, which is increasingly colonising our time and passion and attention, filling the role traditionally (and naturally) filled by Faith. Party preferences are our churches and form our identities; checking and commenting on the news are our daily prayers, our acts of communion; the ideology of our team is our orthodoxy, the truths around which we organise our view of the world.

 

Obsessions

But, for Catholics, obsession with the day-to-day news out of the Vatican can be even more dangerous. Whether it’s the Amazon Synod or papal interviews and audiences or the shuffling of curial personnel, it’s just as easy to get tied up into anxious knots over Roman intrigue as Brexit or impeachment. We have to ask ourselves, though, as we should from time to time about everything we occupy ourselves with: why? To what end?

At least in civil politics we can say that it’s our duty to monitor a government that is theoretically, in a famous American formulation, ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people.’ (I think that political-theatre-as-reality-television and cliché-filled Facebook rants aren’t exactly the high watermark for the virtues that sustain a democratic society, but no one asked me.) In the Church, though, the spirit of democracy is foreign, and for good reason: the hierarchical order of the Church manifests the hierarchical order of Heaven.

One of the priests in my parish recently delivered a powerful message in a homily: the vocation of the laity with regard to the administration of the Church is to fast and to pray for Her and for the hierarchy who is responsible for Her earthly business—and not necessarily to raise our voices.

 

Opinions

Of course, if we have real knowledge of a crime or scandal, we have an obligation to report it to the proper ecclesial and, if applicable, civil authorities. But we do not have a responsibility to monitor, and to form and disseminate opinions about, every piece of questionable news that emanates from the Eternal City.

Until relatively recently, this kind of obsession would have been impossible. Before mass media, the average Catholic would have known the name of the pope (if that) and little else from the Holy See.

While we don’t need to cultivate a medieval ignorance of Church governance, nor embrace a naïve optimism that everything will be just fine, we can take a detached and sceptical view of the news we see and hear. And we can choose to focus our attention on what the Church really needs from Her faithful: prayer, sacrifice and holiness.

 

Judgement

As my priest pointed out, the laity will not be judged by Christ on the administration of His Church. We will be judged, though, on how we responded to the duties of our state in life: our families, our friends, our prayer life.

This, not St Peter’s Square, is the spiritual battlefield for the laity. This is where we prove our mettle by submitting ourselves to Christ’s will and grace. And we serve the Church best by serving Christ best, right where we are.

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