St Paul, in the second reading today, urges Christians to offer up prayers “for everyone”, but “especially for kings and those in authority”. It should be noted that when St Paul wrote these words to Timothy the Emperor at the time was Nero, one of the most cruel of the Roman emperors.
The reason he gives for urging Christians to pray for civil authorities is so that Christians can, in his words, “live religious and reverent lives in peace and quiet”. Christians simply seek the opportunity to live their lives according to their beliefs without interference or persecution from the State.
It has been often said that Christians are in the world but not of the world. We are citizens and wish to be good citizens. However, we know that our homeland is in heaven. Indeed, St Paul in another place speaks of us living in a tent here on earth, while our final house is in heaven. A tent is a temporary dwelling and it reflects the idea of being on a journey. Here is no final place for us.
So we live as sojourners in this life. Our eyes are fixed on our eternal homeland. We see all things in this life in the light of eternity. Here is no lasting place and we know that this world will one day come to an end. We Christians have a certain ambivalence towards the world around us. We live within our society and are willing to be active contributors to the good of society but at the same time we know that this life is not all there is. We know that in the end there is only one kingdom, the Kingdom of God. It is an everlasting kingdom. The kingdoms of this world are limited. They change, they pass into history.
We know that the Kingdom of God is a perfect kingdom and in that kingdom we will experience final joy and peace. The kingdoms of this world are imperfect. They can be respectful of and foster human freedom and the right to religious freedom, or they may not. We know that vast numbers of our fellow Catholics live in situations where their freedom is not respected, and indeed many live under serious persecution.
We thank God for the freedom we currently enjoy. However, there are signs that this freedom is being gradually denied us. We are entering a new phase in Australia that to be a Christian, and especially a Catholic, will mean various subtle and at times overt forms of persecution. This will now become our fate.
In response to the injunction of St Paul Christians have always prayed for their political leaders, even if they are far from being righteous and respectful towards us. Christians know that their lives can be impacted seriously by bad and antagonistic leaders.
Thus, we note that it is the custom that one of the petitions in the Prayers of Intercession at Mass makes mention of our leaders. St Paul says “to do this is right” and so we do it and will continue to do it.
In the current climate in Australia prayer for our political leaders is becoming a more serious matter. Politicians are making very important decisions which are shaping the social fabric of our society. This is no more exemplified than in the issue of the redefinition of marriage. Marriage and family are the bedrock to the quality of human life in society. To undermine marriage and family is to threaten the very life and future of our society.
Current laws surrounding marriage have been enacted in the past because society has understood that stable marriage provides the best environment for the generation and nurturing of children. In many ways society has felt obliged to do what it can to assist in ensuring that children, the next generation, have the best chance in life.
However, this is now changing. There are efforts to so change the definition of marriage which will mean that children are disadvantaged. The State can in fact allow and approve the raising of children who will not know who they are because at least one of their parents is unknown to them. They will not have the advantage of the complementary contribution of a mother and a father. This will be sanctioned by the State.
And there are other issues as well. For example, some State governments have been actively promoting the Safe Schools program. It is being implemented in hundreds of schools around Australia, often without parents knowing what is being taught to their children. It is a most insidious program of social engineering beginning with the youngest of children. It has already resulted in an explosion of children claiming gender disphoria. What can be a passing experience is being cemented into children’s lives. Many will suffer greatly from this cruel and wrong-headed intervention in their lives.
On another front just this week the Victorian government rushed a bill through parliament which radically limits the freedom of religious groups to employ people in their schools and organisations.
Greg Walsh wrote in the Australian that the effect of the law will be that religious organisations (and we think particularly of our Catholic schools) will lose "a substantial number of committed religious adherents as employees" and this "would jeopardise its ability to achieve its core objectives”. In other words, our Catholic institutions will cease to be able to be Catholic in all but name. We will be denied the right to employ people who will advance the specifically Catholic character of our schools and other institutions.
At a time when they were under the threat of persecution St Paul urged Christians to pray for their leaders. History has shown that eventually the very empire that had persecuted the Christians embraced the religion they at times harshly attacked. The Emperor Constantine became a convert to Christianity. The Roman Empire from then on became a vehicle for Christianity to contribute effectively to its social life and mores. Thus was Western civilisation created.
The faithful prayers of the Christians were answered. We should never underestimate the power of our prayers. We should never abandon hope for our future. We should never think that things are inevitable.
God reigns in heaven and God is victorious. The Kingdom of God will be finally revealed in all its glory and splendour. Now on our earthly pilgrimage we as Christians simply ask of those in leadership over us to be able "to live religious and reverent lives in peace and quiet".
Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday, September 18, 2016