Keeping Our Priorities Straight

By Chris Sparks

I am striving for sanctity, because in this way I will be useful to the Church. I make constant efforts in practicing virtue. I try faithfully to follow Jesus. And I deposit this whole series of daily virtues — silent, hidden, almost imperceptible, but made with great love — in the treasury of God's Church for the common benefit of souls. ... I know very well that I do not live for myself alone, but for the entire Church (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1505).

Sometimes, you gotta sit back and get a sense of proportion.

It’s been a hard year, and promises to continue to be a hard year for the remaining months left. But sometimes, you gotta sit back and fix your gaze on the essentials once again.

I was reminded of that forcefully when reading a commentary piece on the blog GetReligion about the Catholic vote (“Rust Belt religion: Do political reporters get that Catholics are the key voters in 2020?” 9/12/2020). The GetReligion piece made a point that cut right through the political partisanship and shocked me into again remembering that we live in a time of evangelical emergency.

The post referenced a set of four categories of Catholic voters, one the site has run repeatedly over the years, but for some reason, I hadn’t remembered it until I saw it again. Their categories are:

  1. Ex-Catholics
  2. Cultural Catholics/C&E (Christmas and Easter) Catholics
  3. Sunday morning American Catholics
  4. The “sweats the details” Catholic (not scrupulous, necessarily, but simply someone who makes Confession a regular part of their life, tries to make it to Mass during the week, and has probably actually read some portion of the Catechism of the Catholic Church)

Guess which group is smallest? Yes, number 4.

This was like getting hit over the head. We live in a time of a pastoral emergency when it comes to evangelization and catechesis in America, a time in which poorly catechized Catholics are ripping into other poorly catechized Catholics on social media for their politics; where our priorities are so badly out of whack that I can more reliably get a conversation going about politics amongst the Catholic brethren than I can about Christ.

If you are reading this website, likely you're in the “sweats the details” category. You probably already believe, already profess the faith, already pray, and have a relationship with God. And guess what? We need you to help us reach those in the other categories.

Never underestimate the simple power of sharing on social media an article, video, or some other truthful teaching about the faith. Never underestimate the importance of maintaining courtesy and Christian charity in our online lives (something I struggle with!), not just so that you’re properly loving the people whom you’re engaging with, but also because of all the silent multitudes who see what’s said, and scroll silently along.

God is Creator in an active, ongoing way, sustaining all of creation in existence from moment to moment. So, too, are we called to be Christians in an active, ongoing way, sanctifying our lives and the world around us by our love, our care, our practice of the Christian virtues, our reception of the Sacraments, and transmitting that life and love from God to the world. We are meant to be subcreators, co-redeemers, and sanctifiers of the world in collaboration with the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier, with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Jesus told St. Faustina, “I am giving you a share in the redemption of mankind. You are solace in My dying hour” (Diary, 310). We all have a share in the redemption of mankind. We all have a share in the mission of the message and devotion of Divine Mercy.

And you know what? That mission is more important than politics. The fact that practicing Catholics well-formed in their faith comprise far and away the smallest of those groups of Catholic voters is a scandal and a shame. Forget for a moment the issue of an election year. Rather, think on the fact that we’ve shed so many Catholics in America and in Europe, and now those of us who are still in the Church are fighting more with each other over any number of issues than we are evangelizing the world.

We are sent not to fight our brethren, but to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to all nations. Now, yes, certainly there are times when we must take a stand or else risk scandal to the world. There certainly have been crimes that need to be confronted and ended within the Church. Reform has and remains badly necessary in many parts of the Church, and for want of reform, many Catholics have fallen away.

But that reform ought to be a side effect of our living relationship with Jesus Christ. If our reforms and our labors in the vineyard are a side effect of our relationship with Jesus, they’ll be fruitful. Everything will change. But if we’ve come to prefer power, getting our way, or anything other than Jesus over Jesus, then we’re simply sowing the seeds of our own destruction.

We are called first and foremost to pray and to live “Jesus, I trust in You.” We are to live in Christ and His Church, abiding in the Sacraments, in the Word of God, in prayer, and in works of mercy. These things are primary. We know what the Church alive in the Holy Spirit looks like: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

Our primary concern should entail the New Evangelization, about renewing the life of the branches, for the Vine is unwithering and unfading, but the branches are breaking away. We need to “seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil” (Mt 6:33-34).

We need to be more interested in our relationship with Jesus Christ than we are in our relationship with money, earthly power, or earthly pleasure.

We need to care more about loving our neighbor than we are in which political party, candidate, or policy they support.

We need to care more about Jesus, living in communion with Him, and inviting others to share in that communion than we are about imposing our will on our community and country.

Put Jesus first, and everything else falls into place. Put other things first, and everything falls apart.

Pray for me, that I may practice what I preach. I’ll pray for you.

Chris Sparks serves as senior book editor for the Marian Fathers. He is the author of the Marian Press book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.

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