by Rev. Jerry H, Pokorsky
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Jesus said to Nicodemus: "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their words were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.
The art of politics differs considerably from the art of religion.
The politician desires the power of office to “serve the common good” (one hopes) by representing the people. At worst, he desires to accumulate power and the perquisites of office. The politician is beholden to the people (or in some countries, to the men with the guns) to gain and retain office. His “Political package” must have popular appeal (or popular fear) or he loses office.
The man of religion, a priest or bishop or deacon, on the other hand, desires to be a mediator in the service of the His people. A priest is beholden to God and retains office by participating in God’s fatherhood as known through the teaching of Christ and His Church. Sometimes the “priestly package” of Church teaching has a wide popular appeal (such as ministering to the sick, the poor and the dispossessed). Other times, the appeal is quite narrow, the teaching unpopular. In recent generations, a good deal of Church teaching has become widely unpopular and increasingly considered “extreme.”
It is usually not complimentary to refer to someone as an “extremist.” Extremist views are not mainstream views. The views of “extremists” are often described as “over the top” or “pushing the envelope.” Extremists may insist for example, the earth is flat, or argue flying saucer conspiracy theories … or hold that contraception is evil. People are uncomfortable around extremists. Extremists often disrupt conversation with awkward comments and opinions at social events such as weddings and dinner parties. They may be prone to anger and suicide bombing.
Is it really possible to be an “extremist Catholic?”
Like anyone else, Catholics can be “extreme” or fanatical” by being pharisaical or uncharitable in otherwise correct moral judgments or in ugly condescension. Like the Pharisees who criticized the Lord for healing on the Sabbath, it is possible to be obsessed with one truth of the Faith to the exclusion of others. But such extreme behavior is not Catholic; it is a true violation of the integrity of authentic Catholic virtue.
Catholic teaching always demands more, and, in a certain sense, there is an important place for “extremism.” For example, it is better for a spouse to be “extremely faithful” rather than “moderately faithful.” It is better to be “extremely generous” rather than “moderately generous.” Christ desires much of us, even to the point of extremes: greater fidelity; more self-sacrifice; abundant generosity; and, as Blessed Teresa of Kolkata says, loving in the extreme “until it hurts.” Christ Himself, in this sense, was an extremist: “Greater love than this no man has than to give up his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:13)
Contrast this religious “extremism” to the extreme caution of politicians. In a dire warning to the politicians supporting the Church, a recent newspaper headline asserted, “GOP on losing side of birth control.” This result of the newspaper poll of voters refers of course to President Obama’s attempt to force Catholic institutions (under severe financial penalties for noncompliance) to pay for contraceptives in their employee health care plans. According to the poll, a strikingly large percentage of people “agree with Obama’s stance that his contraception mandate is about women’s health care.” The pollster advises, “Drop this baby right now. Drop it. This is not a winner.” (The pollster apparently did not catch the irony in his wording). Not only does “moderate” politics not mix well with religion, it does not mix well with good morality. The message of this pollster is taken from the Pontius Pilate political playbook: Politicians must be careful always to please the crowds, and it is easier to smear practicing Catholics as “extreme” than to engage them in rational debate.
In this week’s Gospel, we are minded that our religion is not about politics of the world; it is about Christ: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned… .” Hence, we need not please the crowds; we only need to please Christ. Perhaps this is extreme in the eyes of the world.
But after all, we ought to be fanatics about one thing: our salvation in Christ Who lives us.
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