Wednesday Witness: Whom Do I Follow?

Along with many of you, I am frustrated with all the conflicting information circulating about the coronavirus pandemic, and particularly, with the mixed signals from our government leaders about what is deemed safe (big-box retailers, for example) and what is not (public Masses). I have great hope that this issue will be resolved soon, and we will again be able to worship in freedom, peace and safety.

In the meantime, however, I have made peace with the situation we are in and am doing my best to pray for and support our church and civic leaders. It’s not always easy, but I thought I’d share my thinking, in hopes that it helps someone else along the way.

Trust In Whom?

Put no trust in princes, in children of Adam powerless to save. – Psalm 146:3

Many years back, I raised this question to a men’s group I was part of: Are we Catholic Americans, or American Catholics? In other words, which of these aspects of my life is fundamental: Am I an American, first and foremost, who happens to be Catholic, or a Catholic, first and foremost, who happens to live in the US?

At the time, I was of the mindset that being an American was fundamental—that the freedoms I enjoy as a US citizen were what permitted me to practice my Catholic faith, and so I must defend those freedoms even when they conflicted with my religious beliefs. I was not yet mature enough in my thinking to understand that the freedoms enshrined in our Constitution are God-given and inherent in me, as a person made in God’s image, and do not change with citizenship, geography or government.

Today, my faith is fundamental to my identity. It is true that Donald Trump is my president; in the same way, Tim Walz is my governor. I don’t always agree with either of them. But Jesus Christ is my Lord and savior, and the head of a worldwide Church. He has promised He will be with His Church for all time; He has given us shepherds to guide us, and He has assured us that whatever He allows to happen is for our good. He faced betrayal, torture and death on a cross; His human nature was fearful, but submitted in total obedience to His Father’s will, and He was glorified. And He calls me to the same thing:

Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” – Luke 9:23-24

Generally, I only want to follow my civil or religious leaders when I understand and agree with their decisions, but the Church reminds us that their authority is God-given. Might I sometimes be called to resist? Certainly. But I am always called to suffer for the kingdom. The idea of “losing on principle” is not popular in a win-at-all-costs culture—but I know if we are faithful and obedient to Christ and His Church, in the long run, victory is already ours.

Faith and Science

“Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 159 (from Dei Filius)

Many of you know that one of my favorite topics to discuss is the relationship between faith and science. The present-day tendency to see the two as opposed to one another is a serious stumbling block to many on the road to faith in God and life in the Church. The Church has always taught that our universe was created by a rational mind, and that it operates in an understandable way that tells us something about the Creator.

We believe that faith and science are both real and reasonable. At the same time, we recognize the limits to scientific knowledge and that science is a process. In fact, we are fond of pointing this out when science appears to reach a conclusion that is not supported by revelation or Church teachings. But if I believe both these things, I ought to believe that A) science has something to tell us about the coronavirus outbreak we are in, and B) understanding what that something is may take time.

So I am called to patience. I am not a virologist, epidemiologist, or any other sort of scientist or doctor. I have a brain and some basic knowledge of these topics, so I have opinions—but again, I need to trust that God’s hand is in this and give His plan time to unfold.

Which bring me to a third point…

Benefit of the Doubt

All profitable correction comes from a calm and peaceful mind. – St. Francis de Sales

As Christians, we are also called to recognize our own weakness and so to be patient with those around us, assuming the best of them unless and until we are proven wrong—and then to forgive them anyway. But I tend to fret and stew, trying to guess the motivations of others, assuming the worst and playing out conflicts in my mind that never come to pass.

So I was convicted when I saw this language in the archbishop’s letter to the faithful from last Friday:

We know that many of you share our frustration and disappointment about the executive order’s treatment of religious gatherings. We ask that you continue to pray for an end to the pandemic and for our civic leaders, and that you presume the good will of those charged with these important and difficult decisions. Let us ask the Lord to help us cultivate patience, serenity, and peace of soul during our continued Eucharistic fast—believing that God will bring many graces from our sacrifices. – Archbishop Bernard Hebda

“Presume the goodwill” of our leaders, who seem to be unreasonably singling out religious institutions by keeping our churches closed? Why should I?

Because I am a disciple of Christ, whose mission is mercy.

If I believe that God’s hand is on our church, state and nation; if I believe that he has given authority to our clergy and civil officials; if I believe that science is credible and is also a process; and if I believe that we are called to give people the benefit of the doubt and forgive 70 times seven times, then I am called to long-suffering, loving patience.

Hopefully, for just a little longer—but Jesus sets a pretty high bar, there upon the cross.

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