2 Nov 2008
“Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober.” (1 Thess 5:6) (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo
Back in the early 17th century, the Puritan John Endicott called the Massachusetts Bay Colony “the Bulwark against the Kingdom of the Anti-Christ.” The Puritans set out to establish a heavenly kingdom here in Massachusetts in opposition to all they saw as evidence of the Anti-Christ everywhere else in the world. It obviously didn’t work out as well as Mr. Endicott expected. Massachusetts isn’t, should we say, as religiously adamant as some of the other states in the Union. We’re so ensconced as a predominantly secular blue-state that neither Obama nor McCain are bothering to advertise here before Tuesday’s hotly contested election. For example, this past Monday I had to serve my jury-duty out in Orange. After the same video I saw three years ago about how the judicial process works and how important our role as jurors was going to be, the court officer in charge of the jury pool tuned the television in to a station that happened to be airing Pat Robertson’s 700 Club.
I’m sitting in the back of the room with my newspaper, and Verna Rolski’s son who used to come to Mass here until he moved to New Salem. He now has a two year old son of his own. We joked about Pat Robertson’s past condemnation of the purple Tella-tubby as being the spokesman to children for the homosexual agenda in our country. We reminisced how the same guy blamed the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America as God’s punishment for American tolerance of homosexuality. Then at jury-duty, while watching my first-ever episode of the 700 Club, Pat Robertson was once again that very day talking about the homosexual agenda playing out in this election. I wondered to myself if he ever talks about anything else.
Then one lady up by the television couldn’t take it anymore. She asked if anyone would care if she changed the station. She didn’t care what we watched; she just couldn’t watch Pat Robertson any longer. Not a soul objected, and we in that jury-pool represented a cross-section of Franklin County’s population. Everyone seemed much more at ease watching Regis try to carve a jack-o-lantern than to learn how to become the “Bulwark against the kingdom of the Anti-Christ.”
Much closer to our own time than to that of the Puritans, back in the 1950’s when areas in the south were still segregated, the Rev. Billy Graham announced that he would not preach to such audiences. Many Christians were profoundly disturbed by his interference in matters they viewed beyond the realm of a religious preacher. As a preacher, it was felt, he should concentrate on heavenly matters and leave real world problems to real world people. Church and society were two completely different worlds, but Billy Graham would have none of that. He would not preach of heaven to people who refused to see that God’s message was also meant for this world. In this sense, his theology is not far removed from the Puritan John Endicott some 300 years earlier.
Religion is a part of society, and religious people affect society, and not just by how we vote. That’s a fact hard to argue against. The question that really matters though is whether our influence helps or hurts society. But even if we can’t know in real-time if our influence is constructive or not, religion and the religious have to try and make a difference anyway. St. Paul tells the Christians of his day that they have to be alert and prepared so that they’re not caught off-guard by events surrounding them. His example to them is that others may be saying “peace and security” as disaster is about to break forth. In our day and age, the easy comparison is to all of the financial leaders who kept saying their companies were doing just fine, and then a few days later they were bankrupt. Did you hear the story about the account applying for a job not too long ago at one such now bankrupt financial firm? The CEO asked a number of them what 2 + 2 was. Every one of the accountants answer 4, but one guy said, “What do you want it to be boss?” He’s the one who got the job. He was ready to tell the boss what he wanted to hear. He was ready to yell “peace and security” as disaster was about to fall.
St. Paul says we have to watch out for the same pretensions with our faith. We never know when it’s going to be called upon because events can change so quickly and unexpectedly. We never know when our faith is going to make a difference. We never even get to know if the difference we make is going to be for good or bad. Are we going to change our society like Billy Graham did with his opposition to segregation or are we going to just have our channel changed like with Pat Robertson in the jury room? The need for our faith will come upon us suddenly, says Paul, without a lot of time for preparation. We can’t be surprised by that suddenness, however. We won’t have the luxury. Therefore, we have to always be ready. 70 years ago this week, for example, the Nazis carried-out “Crystal Night” in Germany. They went on a rampage against Jews, their homes and businesses. There was so much shattered glass in the streets that night that it looked like crystal. We know what followed. The church and Christians needed to be ready then, immediately, in order to make a difference. When they were taken by surprise, they lost the chance to act as church and as Christians must.
In our time of economic turmoil, people need the constancy of church. Throughout the years of conspicuous consumption when the theme seemed to have been if you want it get it, the church, we right here, have been warning about too much emphasis upon stuff instead of people. In a time of blue-states and red-states where many citizens, whoever wins on Tuesday, will not see that person as their President, we have to preach healing, tolerance and respect. Religion’s influence on the state and society is not limited to opposing abortion and same-sex marriages. In a more profound way, like Billy Graham not tolerating segregation, we have to stand ready to be an example of what society can be, what society should be. To be ready, as St. Paul encourages us today, for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)