The Mask Mandate: A Powerful Opportunity for Spiritual Growth
I learned through social media that some Catholics are rejecting the mask mandates as part of a political fight, especially during Christmas. They say we must resist them and any authority in the Church who supports them so that we may save our country. The message is simple: disobey civil and ecclesial authorities in the name of fighting communism.
I am not pro-communist. It fails everywhere it existed or exists because it lacks spirituality. The very thing that Marx created to be its engine — the destruction of all structures including the Church — is the very disease that eats communism from the inside out.
How can I say this? Because Karl Marx’s teachings were preceded by centuries by Christian ideas describing what is now called communism.
Acts of the Apostles
The earliest document is, of course, the Acts of the Apostles which describes a system where everyone held everything in common in the name of living the Gospel as a community. It is the same system religious orders embrace. Members of religious communities that practices this structure and who earn a salary, we’ll say as a psychiatrist at a local hospital, will turn the check over or have the check made out to the community for the benefit of the whole community. He owns nothing, it is all owned by the community. If he wants something for his own use, beyond a monthly stipend he may receive, he has to ask the community for it.
What makes these different from the Communist Manifesto is they are all about doing what is best for all instead of what is best for us. Communism is built on doing what is best for the proleteriat against the bourgeousie.
Granted, capitalism often morphs into doing what is best for me. That only means that capitalism and communism are not systems that are fully compatible with Christianity. Christianity can strongly influence both.
Christianity is about self-sacrifice for the good of others
Christian practice is to do what is best for God and neighbor by sacrificing for the best of another. It is a prerequisite for salvation according to Jesus. (Mt 25:35–45). It is united in the common good. I certainly do not want to live in a system where I am paying one hundred percent of my salary in tax however, neither do I want to live in a system where I pay no taxes either. I want to pay my fair share that is beneficial to all.
Christianity requires a spirituality that seeks to do what is best for all. If we are not living it, we may be going to church every Sunday but that does not make us Christian. These Catholics fighting communism take upon themselves to do what they decided is right in God’s name. They chose to disobey the government and the church.
I don’t want my world my way
I learned some time ago that the greatest cause of evil is the attitude of “I want my world my way.” It drives social media and is the cause of cancel culture. If someone says something I don’t like in my world, then the person must be driven into submission and silence. Such people do not exist in my world my way.
The attitude says I can reject someone who contradicts what I feel is right even if the person is an ecclesial or political leader. These words may be done in the name of Christ but they are no more Christian than the words of Judas. In fact, they come from Judas. Why? Judas rebelled against Jesus because he was not conforming to his concept of what a Messiah should be like. He betrays him. This act is his undoing because in his pride he fails to understand the humility of accepting Christ on his terms.
We do not want to adopt the attitude of my government right or wrong. That attitude supported dangerous wars that should not have been our mission. Neither do we want to adopt the attitude of me right or wrong.
Don’t win the battle and lose the war.
We do live in a Republic and we have the right to act in ways that make our concerns known but until we can find a successful path in our disputes we must not battle directly. In the Navy, we had the expression that explained it well. “Do not win the battle and lose the war.” In other words, I can, in the name of Christ and of fighting communism, refuse to follow the mask mandates and the coronavirus shutdown. However, am I going to win in the long run that way? No, in fact I may lose greatly.
I need rather to turn my obedience to ecclesial and political authority into promoting the cause for Christ as opposed to against communism.
He Leadeth Me
The best example I have heard of this can be found in the book He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter Czizek, SJ. Swept up in the anti-Catholic arrests of Catholic priests during the Stalin years, he was sentenced to slave labor in the GULAGS after a forced false confession that he was a spy for the Vatican. There he discovered the powerful form of protest: He used the Soviet’s system to glorify the God they despised. He did not fight against the Soviets, he lived for Christ.
He chose to do his work as a prisoner not in submission to the Soviet Union but in love of God. Ordered to build houses in Siberia where the Soviets planned to create communities, he chose to do his best work because that is what God demanded of him. Other prisoners told him to do poor work as protest against the Soviets but he disagreed and did the best he could in service to Christ. He also tells of secretly celebrating Mass with other priests also imprisoned and hearing the confessions of other prisoners—in the GULAGS! He used the Soviet’s own system to glorify the God they rejected and he discovered true happiness in conforming his will to God’s will even in the GULAG system. He out-marxed Marx.
Fortunately, we do not live in such a system. However, those who choose to impose their will in the face of political and ecclesial authorities are doing the exact opposite.
Whereas those who take this time to obey the rules not in the name of serving the governor but in service to God will grow in their ability to understand God’s will in their lives.
In my parish in Massachusetts, we are required to follow the mask and limited capacity mandates. I also teach people that Jesus is not going to protect us from the virus just because we go to church. Grace, I explain, builds on nature, so Jesus is not going to override the natural process just for us. I explain that we use the mandates as a spirituality and a prayer. We are not obeying the governor, we are obeying Christ in our service to the governor as taught by Fr. Walter Czizek, SJ and St. Paul. (Romans 13:1)
What those rebel Catholics do not understand is there are bigger forces at work right now, bigger than all the other forces they are fighting. If we conform our will to those divine forces patiently then it will not be our will that will be done, but God’s in our lives. That cannot happen if we live the attitude of my world, my way.