The only people who ever really change the world are saints. Each of us can be one of them. But we need to want it, and then follow the path that comes with it.
It doesn't matter what we claim to believe if we're unwilling to act on our beliefs.
When Jesus tells the Pharisees and Herodians in the Gospel of Matthew (22:21) to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's," he sets the framework for how we should think about religion and the state even today. Caesar does have rights. We owe civil authority our respect and appropriate obedience. But that obedience is limited by what belongs to God. Caesar is not God. Only God is God, and the state is subordinate and accountable to God for its treatment of human persons, all of whom were created by God. Our job as believers is to figure out what things belong to Caesar, and what things belong to God -- and then put those things in right order in our own lives, and in our relations with others.
I like clarity, and there's a reason why. I think modern life, including life in the Church, suffers from a phony unwillingness to offend that poses as prudence and good manners, but too often turns out to be cowardice. Human beings owe each other respect and appropriate courtesy. But we also owe each other the truth -- which means candor.
We need to remember that tolerance is not a Christian virtue. Charity, justice, mercy, prudence, honesty -- these are Christian virtues. And obviously, in a diverse community, tolerance is an important working principle. But it's never an end itself. In fact, tolerating grave evil within a society is itself a form of serious evil.
First, all political leaders draw their authority from God. We owe no leader any submission or cooperation in the pursuit of grave evil. In fact, we have the duty to change bad laws and resist grave evil in our public life, both by our words and our non-violent actions. The truest respect we can show to civil authority is the witness of our Catholic faith and our moral convictions, without excuses or apologies.
The Church in the United States has done a poor job of forming the faith and conscience of Catholics for more than 40 years. And now we're harvesting the results -- in the public square, in our families and in the confusion of our personal lives.
The problem with mistakes in our past is that they compound themselves geometrically into the future unless we face them and fix them.
One of the defining things that set early Christians apart from the pagan culture around them was their respect for human life; and specifically their rejection of abortion and infanticide. We can't be Catholic and be evasive or indulgent about the killing of unborn life. We can't claim to be "Catholic" and "pro-choice" at the same time without owning the responsibility for where the choice leads -- to a dead unborn child. We can't talk piously about programs to reduce the abortion body count without also working vigorously to change the laws that make the killing possible. If we're Catholic, then we believe in the sanctity of developing human life. And if we don't really believe in the humanity of the unborn child from the moment life begins, then we should stop lying to ourselves and others, and even to God, by claiming we're something we're not.
But we don't "help" anyone by allowing or funding an intimate, lethal act of violence. We can't build a just society with the blood of unborn children. The right to life is the foundation of every other human right -- and if we ignore it, sooner or later every other right becomes politically contingent.
Anyone who hasn't noticed the despair in the world should probably go back to sleep. The word "hope" on a campaign poster may give us a little thrill of righteousness, but the world will still be a wreck when the drug wears off. We can only attain hope through truth. And what that means is this: From the moment Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life," the most important political statement anyone can make is "Jesus Christ is Lord."
We serve Caesar best by serving God first. We honor our nation best by living our Catholic faith honestly and vigorously, and bringing it without apology into the public square and its debates. We're citizens of heaven first. But just as God so loved the world that he sent his only son, so the glory and irony of the Christian life is this: The more faithfully we love God, the more truly we serve the world.
(Ed. Note: to repeat the second sentence above) "It doesn't matter what we claim to believe if we're unwilling to act on our beliefs."