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THE BISHOP'S VOICE: The kingship of Christ

08/18/2017 | Comments

In many respects, the laity are more active in the Church and better organized today than a generation ago.  Within secular society, lay Christians have become prominent in the fields of culture, politics and the economy. But what is distinctively Catholic about that prominence?  Where do we see Catholic values making a difference? – or Catholics themselves evangelizing and sanctifying a broken world, as the Second Vatican Council envisioned?

Where do we see Catholic values making a difference? — or Catholics themselves evangelizing and sanctifying a broken world, as the Second Vatican Council envisioned?

Christ is a king, and for his followers, the anointing after Baptism symbolizes their insertion into his kingly role.  This is a kingship of Messianic justice, a dream stretching back to David, himself the shepherd-king, and to the idealized Solomon of Psalm 72. By initiation into the Church, the laity are inserted into that messianic kingship, with its royal liberty.  The laity thus enjoy a principal role in the universal task of justice. 

By their competence and by their activity, elevated by grace, they work together to ensure that the goods created through labor, technical skill, and civil culture may serve the utility of all peoples, according to the plan of the Creator.  They work to assure a more suitable distribution of these goods, promoting progress in human and Christian liberty. They unite their forces so that, when the institutions and conditions of the world are an inducement to sin, these may be remedied and conformed to the norms of justice, favoring rather than hindering the practice of virtue (see Lumen Gentium [LG] 36).

In applying themselves to this task of justice, the laity “should learn to distinguish carefully between the rights and duties which they have as belonging to the Church and those which fall to them as members of the human society” (LG 36).  Moreover, after learning to distinguish, the laity should “strive to unite the two harmoniously” (LG 36).  The earthy city, rightly concerned with secular affairs, is governed by its own principles.  But not even in temporal matters may any human activity be withdrawn from God’s dominion.

In the modern democratic republics of the west, the first obligation of the kingly role of the Christian is to cultivate the virtue that makes democratic society possible.  A republic must be a community of virtue, for only a virtuous people can be free and just.  Without virtuous citizens, the culture, politics and economy of a democratic society become vicious and destructive. The kingly role of the Christian above all demands the formation of character, in which a transcendent reference for civic enterprise is recognized, in which the virtues of justice and charity are nurtured, and in which both a respect for the dignity of the person and responsible care for the common good are continually practiced. 

A principal element of the kingly role of lay Christians is the exercise of political office, for in this exercise a Christian will have a direct influence on the justice or equity of legislation, administration, or adjudication (see Gaudium et Spes [GS] 75). Moreover, the Christian community has a right to expect that civic and political leaders who call themselves Christian will act on Christian values, and not discard these values for the sake of expediency.

A principal goal of the lay apostolate is to “impregnate culture and human works with a moral value” (LG 36), “to cultivate a properly informed conscience and to impress the divine law on the affairs of the earthly city” (GS 43). While there may be concern in a pluralistic society that Christians seek “to impose their morality” in the civic and political arena, that concern itself possesses a notable blind spot. The civic and political arena is not somehow value-free before Christians begin to exert influence; it always embodies value and it at all times remains open to value.

In the United States, the Establishment Clause of the Bill of Rights does not disestablish religion only to establish secularism or irreligion in its place. The attempt to be value-free unwittingly represents a value in itself and contradicts its own terms. All legislation, administration and adjudication embody specific morality; the question then is not whether, but whose. Christians, and Catholics among them, have as much a right as any other group of citizens to promote their values through civic and political process. Moreover, we must do so in the conviction that these values are not sectarian imposition, but indeed the universal values of the natural law. 

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