TIME faith

Ferguson: A Faithful Way Forward

Michael Brown Funeral Ferguson
Guests raise their hands as they wait in line to enter the funeral of Michael Brown at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis on Aug. 25, 2014. Scott Olson—Getty Images

The role of faith in this national healing process is crucial.

Monday’s funeral mourning the death and celebrating the life of Michael Brown represents a profound chance for the Ferguson community and the nation at large to begin the healing process and to move forward from the horrific events surrounding the August 11th killing of the unarmed teenager. The role of faith in this national healing process is crucial. Our legal processes and political solutions can give some answers and provide some solace, but these alone cannot heal our people and allow our nation to move forward.

Faith teaches us how important it is to encounter the suffering of others. In the Bible, the first two questions that God addresses to humanity are: “where are you?” and “where is your brother?” Today God asks the same of us. We must seek out and find our brothers and sisters in Ferguson. Though we can never completely grasp it, we must encounter their suffering. We must listen to their stories. And we must try to share in their pain. Pope Francis says this “culture of encounter” will even give us the ability to weep with those who suffer.

Though some will want to move immediately into political, policy or even moral solutions, this approach is wrongheaded. No law, no government program and no sermon will alone end the violence and bring complete healing to Ferguson and to the nation. So we must resist the temptation to thrust ourselves into these situations and declare ourselves the messiahs with the answers. Rather, we must be companions for the long journey towards healing. The era of the “voice for the voiceless” is over. Everyone has a voice, and we must encounter it.

During his ministry, Jesus of Nazareth encountered many people begging for healing. While in Jericho, two blind men called out to him asking for mercy and for the gift of sight. Though the crowd tried to silence them, the men didn’t waver and cried out, “Lord, open our eyes!” Scripture tells us that Jesus was then moved with compassion for them and gave them their sight.

What truth do we discover in Ferguson when we encounter the suffering there and our own blind spots are removed?

We first see that the outward violence that has plagued Ferguson since Brown’s killing didn’t begin on the streets that afternoon. Rather, it’s the fruit of the invisible violence that plagues our communities everyday. It’s the violence of institutions that fail to serve its people. It’s the violence that afflicts the poor and makes us indifferent to others’ suffering. It’s the violence of inaction in the face of failing schools, decaying cities and economic disparities. It’s the violence that sows distrust between people and communities because the color of their skin. This violence isn’t as evident as the gunshot that killed Michael Brown, but it’s just as deadly.

Nearly six years after the election of Barack Obama, we must acknowledge that racism is still very much alive in our nation and even in our churches. In fact, when we end the carnival of naiveté around this issue and remove the masks, we will see the truth: individual and structural racism is tearing at the very fabric of our nation. It’s cloaked in seemingly different and even benign issues such as tax codes, school zonings and the allocation of federal resources.

We too experience this racism in our own lives and in our own hearts—even in perhaps the smallest of ways. No one is truly beyond it. It’s a broken part of us that is twisted up in our own lives, our own histories and our own failings. But when we acknowledge its presence in our own lives and in our communities, we can join with the Psalmist and cry out: “forgive us, Lord, for we have sinned!”

This first step of encounter and acknowledgment can begin the journey of reconciliation for our communities and our nation. Desmond Tutu said it well: “true reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. …It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing.”

Today, we must be those men of Jericho. We must cry out and ask God to remove the masks that blind us. The road of encountering human suffering and the invisible and institutional violence that precedes it is uncomfortable, but it isn’t sterile. It will allow us to see the grittiness of the truth and to experience the gift of reconciliation and healing that will bind the wounds that divide us and allow us to move forward as a nation.

Christopher Hale is a senior fellow at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He helped lead national Catholic outreach for President Obama’s re-election campaign. You can follow him on Twitter @chrisjollyhale.

TIME faith

Pope Promotes Peace, Not Pacifism, in Iraq

Pope Francis
Pope Francis attends his weekly general audience in the Paul VI hall, at the Vatican on Aug. 20, 2014. Riccardo De Luca—AP

Pope Francis and the Catholic Church are not pacifists

Many were surprised with Pope Francis’s remarks earlier this week suggesting that he was open to military intervention to stop the ISIS’s potentially genocidal campaign in Iraq.

While it’s important to note that he didn’t outright endorse the recent American airstrikes in Iraq, Francis’s remarks that “it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor” do seem to mark a shift from the pope’s response to the Syrian crisis last September. On that occasion, he held a worldwide vigil in the hopes of stopping the violence and postponing American intervention in the region. He then famously joined his words with those of Pope Paul VI: “war never again! Never again war!”

But for those who know the intricacies of Catholic moral teaching, Francis’s openness to military intervention in Iraq makes perfect sense. For 1500 years, the Church has promoted the teaching of St. Augustine: that there can be no true peace without justice. This ancient teaching has crystallized into the Church’s modern day just war principle, which holds that nations only ought to enter into military campaigns against unjust aggressors as a last resort and only in limited scope and circumstances.

Under that paradigm, does the current situation in Iraq merit such a military response? Pope Francis isn’t ruling it out. Now contrary to the absurd claim by Vox’s Max Fisher, Pope Francis isn’t calling for the tenth crusade against the Middle Eastern people. Instead, he’s proposing a clear-eyed response to a critical crisis.

Despite what some might think, Pope Francis and the Catholic Church are not pacifists. To promote some kind of laissez-faire pacifism in Iraq is to be quiet and indifferent to the victims of the ISIS’s campaign of violence. To the contrary, the peace that Francis and the Church are calling for at times requires military intervention.

This nuance has played out interestingly over the past fifty years. Though the Vatican unequivocally opposed President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 and was skeptical of American involvement in Vietnam, the Church did support American intervention in Iraq in 1991.

As President Obama and the United States contemplate the road forward in this current crisis, Pope Francis and the Church cannot offer American political and military leaders specific strategic solutions, but only broad stroke moral principles. What the Church does know is that authentic peace isn’t easy and is only reserved for societies who actively work for justice.

Despite the differences that will likely emerge in the details of President Obama’s and Pope Francis’s vision for American involvement in Iraq, both men will likely agree that peace—not pacifism—is the way forward in the region.

Christopher Hale is a senior fellow at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He helped lead national Catholic outreach for President Obama’s re-election campaign. You can follow him on Twitter @chrisjollyhale.

TIME Religion

After Hobby Lobby: A Single-Payer Health Care Solution?

Perhaps both sides could agree it may be a way forward

Now that the initial shouting and—at times—vitriol from both sides has subsided after Monday’s Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, it’s time to take a sober look at what the ruling says about the future of health care reform in the United States. The majority’s ruling was an imperfect solution to a complicated case involving the reach of religious liberty to exempt organizations from providing certain medical benefits that they find morally objectionable to their employees. The fact that these medical benefits were almost exclusively offered to women makes this decision all the more difficult to accept for some.

But at its core, the case reveals something else as well. It brings to the forefront something we’ve all known for sometime: that Obamacare—for all the good it’s done in increasing access to quality and affordable healthcare—is a messy law. It asks employees to be at the whim of its employers’ objectives and mission for what health care benefits they receive. It also asks employers to at times reject its deepest convictions in order to provide certain benefits to its employees.

This isn’t sustainable. A person’s access to quality healthcare shouldn’t depend on who their boss is. And an employer shouldn’t be heavily fined if they don’t compromise their religious convictions in providing healthcare for their staff.

President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is a monumental first step in achieving a just and equitable American health care system that seeks first to serve those on the margins of society. But as we look towards the future, it’s necessary to consider major alterations or even alternatives to Obamacare to continue to advance healthcare reform.

For those of us who value both universal access to quality healthcare and the strong American tradition of protecting religious liberty, there might be a solution in a single-payer system.

A single-payer system overturns an unsound principle of Obamacare: relying too heavily on private organizations to deliver the public good of healthcare. When you require private organizations to enforce what the government believes ought to be public policy, you open yourself to a myriad of legal and ethical qualms. How can you expect organizations as diverse as Hobby Lobby, the Little Sisters of the Poor and the American Atheists to agree on what health care benefits are appropriate for their employees?

Amidst all the fuss this week over the Supreme Court ruling, both sides actually agreed on one thing: they disliked the accommodation provided by the Obama Administration for religious organizations. Religious groups argue the exemption is too narrow and doesn’t protect the autonomy of some organizations to practice their convictions. Women’s groups argue that the current accommodation unfairly denies women working for religious groups access to birth control, which is a basic benefit in any healthcare plan.

A single-payer public health care option eliminates such complications. No matter who your boss is or what business you work for, you get access to the healthcare you need. And employers will not be forced to compromise their religious beliefs while providing the public good of healthcare.

And let’s be clear, if you have something that is both supported by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Planned Parenthood, you might be onto a plan that proves the angel Gabriel right: nothing is impossible with God.

Fred Rotondaro is the chair of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Christopher Hale is a senior fellow at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He helped lead national Catholic outreach for President Obama’s re-election campaign.
TIME Religion

Why Tea Party Catholicism Is a No Go

JORDAN-VATICAN-RELIGION-POPE
Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, President of Caritas Internationalis, looks on during a visit to the Regina Pacis Centre (Our Lady of Peace Church) in Amman, Jordan on May 18, 2014. Khalil Mazraawi—AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis and the Catholic Church increasingly have little patience with libertarian economic thought: this will clearly pose a problem to some lawmakers in Washington.

Is Tea Party Catholicism dead as a legitimate political stance within the Catholic Church? That’s what Pope Francis’s close Honduran cardinal-advisor Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga is arguing.

During his keynote address at a June 3rd forum hosted by The Catholic University of America’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, Rodriguez—defending Pope Francis’s economic teachings—derided the current economic system for being built on what he called the “new idol of libertarianism.” “The libertarianism de-regulation of the markets and financial market is much to the disadvantage of the poor,” he said. “This economy kills.”

Rodriguez’s blunt assessment of today’s economic system was echoed by American Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington. Speaking directly to “Catholics and believers in our country who are challenged by the pope’s words about income distribution, protection of worker’s rights, and the role of governments in regulating the economy both nationally and internationally,” Cupich reminded them that Francis’s teaching was not his alone, but was “tethered to a rich tradition.” In particular, Cupich referenced Benedict XVI’s 2009 groundbreaking social justice encyclical Caritas in Veritate.

Rodriguez and Cupich’s words are especially provocative within the United States, where the marriage between economic libertarianism and religious values have been hotly debated in recent times. Just last year, the Acton Institute’s Samuel Gregg published Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy, and Human Flourishing. Drawing heavily on the writings of the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll, the controversial book argued that the faith’s social tradition has a deep respect for libertarian governing values. It was roundly rejected by Catholic progressives in the United States, most notably the National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters.

At time goes on, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Francis and the Church have little patience with libertarian economic thought. This will clearly pose a problem to lawmakers in Washington.

Catholic politician Paul Ryan first comes to mind. The Wisconsin Congressman had at one time been an ardent follower of Ayn Rand, the stalwart Libertarian author and activist. Ryan claimed to disavow her in 2012 because her philosophy was rooted in atheism. That didn’t seem to affect his politics though.

For four consecutive years the chairman of the House Budget Committee has proposed budgets that have been criticized by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as morally deficient. Ryan’s budget cuts crucial programs that serve the poorest and most marginalized people in our nation, while providing unnecessary tax breaks for the wealthiest of Americans.

Paul Ryan pushed back in April 2012, arguing in a speech at Georgetown University that his budget and governing philosophy was rooted in Catholic teaching. Ryan came under criticism from a large number of Catholic academics for misrepresenting Catholic teaching in explaining his budgetary policies. The criticism peaked that summer, when Catholic women religious from across the nation under the leadership of Sister Simone Campbell toured the country to protest the Ryan budget. Since the “Nuns on the Bus” tour in 2012 and the election of Pope Francis in 2013, Ryan has increasingly struggled to argue that his budget is acceptable under Catholic social teaching.

Now is a great opportunity for the potential 2016 presidential candidate to pivot. In an essay last December, BuzzFeed’s McKay Robbins argued that Paul Ryan experienced a political conversion after the election of Pope Francis. The first half of 2014 suggests that such claims are either exaggerated or premature.

Fortunately it isn’t too late for the 44-year-old lawmaker to change course. But there is only one tenable way forward. It’s time for Paul Ryan to follow the Catholic Church and reject the carnival dance of the Tea Party. When the mask falls and the truth appears, we will see that this is a movement that twists reality and hurts the poor and suffering.

Let’s hope the words of Pope Francis will ring in his ears: “I would like to make an appeal to those in possession of greater resources, to public authorities and to all people of good will who are working for social justice: never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity.”

Christopher Hale is a senior fellow at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He helped lead national Catholic outreach for President Obama’s re-election campaign. You can follow him on Twitter @chrisjollyhale.

TIME Religion

Boehner’s Got a Catholic Problem on Immigration Reform

Catholic leaders are calling on House Speaker John Boehner to act swiftly on immigration reform

Three years ago Speaker of the House John Boehner received an honorary degree from the Catholic University of America, a prestigious religious institution that was founded and is still largely governed by the bishops of the United States. But the times have clearly changed.

Last week, the same bishops paid a visit to Capitol Hill to put more pressure on Speaker Boehner to pass comprehensive immigration reform this summer. This comes on the heels of a trip earlier this spring by the same bishops to the border town of Nogales, Arizona.

There Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley said that the bishops came on behalf of the Church in the United States “to be a neighbor and to find a neighbor in each of the suffering people who risk their lives and at times lose their lives in the desert.” Following his homily, Cardinal O’Malley and his brother bishops made a poignant gesture by reaching across the border fence to distribute communion to Mexicans on the other side.

Last week’s Mass and Capitol Hill visits were led by Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski. In his homily, Wenski had pointed words for lawmakers: “[o]ur immigration system is a stain on the soul of our nation. As a moral matter, it must be changed. We must pray that our elected officials recognize this and have the courage to reform it.”

Courage is exactly what the Speaker of the House needs right now. Nearly a year ago, the United States Senate passed a sweeping immigration reform bill. Boehner has said he won’t bring the bill to the House floor unless a majority of his Republican colleagues support it. But with nearly all Democrats supporting the bill, it’s clear that it would pass if it were brought to the floor for a vote. It’s widely known that Boehner personally supports immigration reform. In fact, earlier this year, he even went as far as to mock his fellow House Republicans who were afraid to take up the issues.

Make no mistake: Boehner’s opposition to the bill is purely political. He’s afraid that bringing up immigration reform will hurt his party in the fall elections and even hamper his own chances to be re-elected Speaker of the House. But recent polling suggests the former is unlikely.

If Speaker Boehner continues to balk on this crucial issue, he’ll face the uncomfortable reality of being in a public dispute with his Church. Educated by Jesuit and Marianist priests in Cincinnati, this is no small deal to the fifth Catholic elected United States Speaker of the House.

A national coalition of Catholic leaders calling on Speaker Boehner to act put it well: “[the current situation] is immoral and shameful. The eyes of our God — who hungers for justice and commands us to welcome the stranger and bind the wounds of those left by the side of the road — are on us. …As Catholics who share your commitment to the sanctity of life in the womb, we must not be complicit in the suffering of migrants dying in the shadows.

Speaker Boehner now must decide between the social teaching of his faith and the political agenda of a fringe element of his party. He doesn’t face this decision alone, however. If he stands up against the Tea Party and for the Gospel on this critical issue, he’ll find a Church who is willing to walk with him the entire way. That’s a team worth being on: after all, it is faith—not politics—that saves us in the end.

Christopher Hale is a senior fellow at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He helped lead national Catholic outreach for President Obama’s re-election campaign. You can follow him on Twitter @chrisjollyhale.

TIME Religion

Why Pope Francis May Be the Best Politician in the World

Bethlehem Pope Francis
Pope Francis arrived in Bethlehem's Manger Square in an open vehicle where over 10,000 Christian pilgrims were packed on May 25, 2014 in the West Bank. Heidi Levine—SIPA

To reduce the Pope's upcoming Palestinian-Israeli prayer summit to an act of mere symbolism fails to understand the role religion can play in addressing political crises

It’s hard to argue that Pope Francis is not the world’s best politician after his trip this past weekend to the Holy Land. In fifty-five hours, the 77-year-old Bishop of Rome visited three countries, gave fifteen addresses, planted two trees and held a groundbreaking 45-minute press conference. With a weekend full of blockbuster moments, it might be a bit audacious to say one stood out above the rest. But if there is one that will have a lasting impact on the region, it was Pope Francis’s Sunday surprise.

While celebrating an open-air Mass in Bethlehem, Francis unexpectedly invited Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the Vatican for a June meeting of prayer and dialogue. Within an hour, both had accepted.

Francis’s successful overture was especially remarkable considering the failed efforts by the United States earlier this spring to get both sides to the table to begin negotiated peace talks. However, this could be the boost that Secretary of State John Kerry needed to revive this peace process, which has been largely dormant for the past four years.

But almost immediately, commentators have tried to downplay the meeting. Daniel Levy told The New York Times that the meeting would “mean nothing in big-picture terms.” David Horovitz, the editor of the Times of Israel, added that “[i]t would be naïve to think the sight of Peres, Abbas and the pope doing anything together is going to change the world.” He did acknowledge, however, that the meeting would help the “effort to foster a different mind-set among Israelis and Palestinians.”

But to reduce June’s meeting to an act of mere symbolism fails to understand the role religion can and should play in addressing difficult political and ethnic issues. Throughout world history, religious prophets have creatively navigated tense situations to advance peace and justice. Within the past century, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and St. John Paul II showed us that religious witness can win a war without raising a hand.

Even as recently as last September, Pope Francis and the Catholic Church flexed their spiritual muscles in the wake of possible American military intervention in Syria. When an invasion seemed imminent, Francis called on the Church to have a global day of prayer and fasting. During a vigil held in St. Peter’s Square, Francis asked: “[i]s it possible to change direction? Can we get out of this spiral of sorrow and death? Can we learn once again to walk and live in the ways of peace?”

Critics argued then that the Church’s response of fasting and prayer would do nothing to alter the situation in Syria. But they were wrong. The international community negotiated a disarmament plan for Syria’s chemical weapons, and the United States was able to avoid a third significant overseas military campaign in twelve years.

Did prayer really makes the difference? It’s hard to say. Violence still engulfs Syria, and the progress towards peace is difficult. But time and again when political actors fail to make progress on society’s most contentious issues, religion has made all the difference.

If Pope Francis’s prayer meeting is the initial catalyst to restart the Middle East peace talks and we can somehow end the perpetual violence that plagues the region, then we will know the angel Gabriel was right: “nothing is impossible with God.”

Christopher Hale is a senior fellow at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He helped lead national Catholic outreach for President Obama’s re-election campaign. You can follow him on Twitter @chrisjollyhale.

TIME Religion

Pope Francis’ Trip to the Holy Land Will Bring Attention to Global War on Christians

Pope Francis’s trip to the Holy Land offers a chance to lift up the realities of persecution and violence against Christians in the region.

As Pope Francis heads to the Holy Land this weekend to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Paul VI’s historic 1964 trip, he does so amidst increasing violence against the dwindling Christian population in the region.

There are even growing concerns for the pope’s safety himself after news emerged earlier this month that Jewish extremists graffitied Vatican-owned property with vitriolic taunts, including “Death to Arabs and Christians and all those who hate Israel!”

It’s clear that Francis’s trip offers a chance to lift up the realities of persecution and violence against Christians in the region. But it also provides the world an opportunity to more fully grasp what Boston Globe religion reporter John Allen calls the “global war on Christians.”

It seems that popular culture in the West is only nominally aware of this global epidemic. According to the Vatican, over 100,000 Christians are murdered by some relation to their faith every year. And just last week, a Sudanese woman was sentenced to death for marrying a Christian.

To be fair, Western media does cover these individual events, particularly if a large number of people are killed. But they have yet to cover in depth the generalized mayhem and violence against the Christian people globally. The violence goes beyond the Middle East. Christian persecution is just as prominent in India, Indonesia and Kenya among other nations. It’s hard to imagine how we can be so silent and indifferent in the face of such global violence against vulnerable populations.

Francis has spoken out loudly on this issue before. On December 26th—the Feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr—Francis lambasted countries that allow violence against religious minorities to flourish in their borders. But he also reminded the faithful that in martyrdom “violence is conquered by love, death by life.”

This witness of martyrdom is indeed powerful. It shows that there are things indeed worth dying for. But that witness is only powerful if it is known. In his papacy, Francis has been able to shift the media focus on the forgotten people of the world, particularly immigrants, the poor, the young, the elderly and the sick. This week, he’ll turn the media’s attentions towards another group: those who are persecuted for their faith.

Let’s hope the West is affected by his message and awakens to the uncomfortable reality that it is actually Christians who are the most persecuted group in contemporary society.

Christopher Hale is a senior fellow at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He helped lead national Catholic outreach for President Obama’s re-election campaign. You can follow him on Twitter@chrisjollyhale.

TIME

John XXIII and John Paul II, the Catholic Church’s Modern Saints

When Pope Francis canonizes former popes John XXIII and John Paul II, let's not forget their true contributions amid the political labels

This upcoming Sunday’s canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II by Pope Francis have been covered by the media in a somewhat predictable fashion. The exhausted narrative goes like this: in an attempt to please various political factions within the Church and society, the current bishop of Rome has made a politically savvy decision to proclaim both the ‘liberal’ John XXIII and the ‘conservative’ John Paul II saints.

To reduce the future saints to contemporary political labels both ignores the important nuances that defined their lives and distorts what Francis and the Church is doing in recognizing the saints that God has made in Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli and Karol Józef Wojtyła.

It’s important to remember that sanctity isn’t perfection. Every saint is also a sinner with a mix of virtues and vices. But in the saint, we can clearly see joy and holiness radiate through them. In their very lives, they communicate God to a skeptical world in a way many cannot. As Benedict XVI reminds us, the “[t]he saints were able to make the great journey of human existence in the way that Christ had done before them, because they were brimming with great hope.”

The particular sanctity of John XXIII and John Paul II is tied up intrinsically with the Second Vatican Council. In opening the Council in 1962, Pope John said he wanted to “throw open the doors of the Church and let the fresh air of the Spirit blow through.” If John opened the doors of the Church, then John Paul II was the one who most dramatically walked through those doors. During his 26-year pontificate, the first non-Italian pope since the Renaissance logged over 750,000 travel miles in 104 foreign trips, more than all previous popes combined.

By canonizing two of the most popular modern saints, Pope Francis is adding a newer element to the expectations of a saintly life: engagement with the world. This too is at the heart of Francis’s own identity. A member of the Society of Jesuit, Francis’s Jesuit order asks its men to “find God in all things.” One of the earliest leaders of the Jesuits, Father Jeromino Nadal said it well: “we are not monks; the world is our house!”

It’s clear: the two pope’s societal engagement—not supposed political ideologies—should be the markers of Sunday’s festivities. The Catholic Church of John XXIII, John Paul II and now of Francis is a Church that encounters the world. The opening lines to the Second Vatican Council’s most famous document communicates this reality: “[t]he joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.”

The modern saints will be men and women who exist in the gritty reality of life. Within the context of his humanity, they will have to communicate in both word and deed the timeless truths of the faith: that God never tires of loving his people, and that all men, women and children are redeemed and made holy by God’s love in Jesus Christ.

The canonization of two popes shouldn’t make us naïve us though. The call to holiness isn’t just for clergy. It’s universal. As Caryll Houselander put it: “when the years move on and we look back, we find that it is not the social reformer or the economist or even the church leader who has done tremendous things for the human race, but the silly saints in their rags and tatters, with their empty pockets and their impossible dreams.”

But perhaps more important than what the saints have accomplished is how they have woken us up from our slumbers. They open our eyes and remind us that Jesus Christ is all around us, only if we have the eyes to see him. Mostly we do not recognize him. We live our lives blind, numb to the reality that the Son of God comes to us a hundred times a day.

But as this great celebration of these two holy men approaches, the Church gives us a chance to reawaken ourselves during this Easter Season and sense again that God isn’t dead, but alive. He’s alive in our brothers and sisters and—yes—in our very flesh.

Now that is good news indeed.

Christopher Hale is a senior fellow at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

TIME Religion

The Radical Easter Proclamation

A young worshiper kisses a statue of Christ hanging on the cross during Holy Week festivities on April 18, 2014 in Paraty, Brazil.
A young worshiper kisses a statue of Christ hanging on the cross during Holy Week festivities on April 18, 2014 in Paraty, Brazil. Mario Tama—Getty Images

The Easter proclamation is perhaps the strangest and most radical message ever given: “Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.” The words have become so commonplace that we’ve perhaps forgotten how weird and how wonderful they truly are. Along with that, there have been attempts by religious scholars in the past two centuries to reduce this resurrection message into a mythical story or a mere statement of God’s faithfulness to his people.

But as we come again to the great and climatic feast of our Christian faith, it’s time again to reconsider those wondrous words as if for the first time:

Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

The disciples’ first reactions to this news were remarkable. You can feel their excitement jump off every page of the New Testament. The Gospel writers give an eyewitness account of what happened. Every detail mattered to them. Remember, as John tells us, the disciples were not expecting Jesus to be resurrected. After all, he was brutally executed by the Roman regime and buried in a grave. This wasn’t some hack job; this was a professional execution by the most powerful government in the ancient world.

But after an encounter with the resurrected Jesus, Peter goes back to downtown Jerusalem and—filled with a new spirit—gives the first great Christian sermon. He tells the crowds the startling news that the Nazorean who was executed and buried had been raised from the dead. It’s important to note that this wasn’t some vague claim about God’s faithfulness or about a future hope for immortality. Peter’s Easter faith wasn’t an abstraction. It was the result of a lived experience with Jesus of Nazareth. He had experienced for himself that complex drama about the goodness of creation, the pain of sin and brokenness and the power of God’s redeeming love.

Recall that Peter himself was crucified in Rome years later under the regime of Nero. He didn’t die for defending a faith in mythical and philosophical claim, but for defending a faith in a historical person and event.

For the followers of Jesus, the historical resurrection of Jesus from the dead changed everything. The excitement of the early Church even bordered on arrogance. Paul’s holy taunt embodies this: “O death where is your sting! O hell, where is your victory!” While the disciples’ journey with the resurrected Jesus transformed their lives, it sometimes appears to not have the same effect on today’s Christians. As Pope Francis has recently complained, “there are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.”

When Mary Magdalene encountered the empty tomb, she ran to tell the others the news. Today’s Christians must imitate Mary’s posture. We too must make haste to share the impossibly good news that God has raised Jesus Christ from the dead, and that through his great love, our lives and our society can be given a new horizon and a decisive direction.

The growing temptation to make Christianity a bourgeois faith that is reduced to mere ethics and platitudes must be rejected. That isn’t a faith that will change our lives or have any effect on society. It’s a faith without a future.

This Easter invites Christians to again to re-center our faith on the person of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead. We mustn’t forget the story of our people: that God pitched a tent among us and shared our human lot in Jesus Christ. To the poor, Jesus proclaimed the good news of salvation, to prisoners, freedom and to those in sorrow, joy. In his death, our death was destroyed, and in his resurrection, our lives were restored. And that we might live no longer for ourselves, he gave us a Holy Spirit to serve others and to renew the face the earth. In spite of our continual failings as individuals and as a society, God has never grown tired of loving us.

This Easter story isn’t simply for us, but also for the transformation of our families, our communities, our Church, our country and the entire world. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead gives us a chance to reimagine and reconstruct human life and society once again.

It allows us to become collaborators in God’s great dreams for a world where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven and where every man, woman and child experiences the salvation that Christ won for us in his death and resurrection.

Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! This is our faith, and this is the faith of the Church. Two millennia later, and it is still good news indeed.

Christopher Hale is a senior fellow at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He helped lead national Catholic outreach for President Obama’s re-election campaign. You can follow him on Twitter@chrisjollyhale.

TIME Religion

Why Focus On The Cross?

Good Friday
Tina Marie Photography/Getty Images/Flickr RF

As Christians around the world mark Good Friday today, they do so in changing times. In an increasingly diverse Christian environment, there is much ambivalence towards what is seen as a strange celebration of Jesus’s execution on the cross by the Roman authorities. Critics remind us that Easter—not Good Friday—is the centerpiece of the Christian story. As St. Augustine famously said: “We are Easter people, and ‘alleluia’ is our song!”

Their concerns are fair. We must not become Christians whose lives are devoid of Easter hope. But we also must not become Christians who ignore the cross of Christ, because to ignore his cross is to be blind to the sufferings all around us and to the brokenness that is present in our own hearts.

We mustn’t be naïve: the pain is everywhere. We are constantly bombarded with the sufferings of modern society by a media that seems to present it to us with a perverse enjoyment. The suffering play out on our television screens, in our communities, in our homes and most especially in our lives and in our own hearts. Yet too often we aren’t moved by it. As Pope Francis lamented last summer, we are society that has forgotten how to weep.

Perhaps we’ve forgotten how to weep because the cross of violence and pain that most afflicts us today is somewhat hidden. It’s the pain caused by the invisible violence of a government that again and again fails to serve its people, of an immigration system that denies millions of aspiring Americans their dignity, of schools without books and homes without heat in the winter. It’s the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relationships between communities and nations, that allows for a slow decay of culture and makes us indifferent. Though not as noticeable as a bomb or a gunshot, these realities are just as deadly.

But the cross isn’t just present in society. It exists just as profoundly in our own lives. Good Friday allows us to admit our own destructiveness, our own vanity and our own failures. Too often we have built our lives on the misfortunes of others. Too often we have preached peace and justice for the world, but have practiced hate and indifference in our own homes and communities. And too often we have ignored the suffering of our families, our friends and our neighbors because of how busy we imagine ourselves to be.

Acknowledging the cross of Jesus allows us to address these realities of the human condition. When we end the carnival dance and remove our masks, we will see the truth: something is not right in ourselves, in society and in the Church. Perhaps we will even see that evil and sin are real, and are staining every part of us and the world we live in. Then with the Psalmist, we can cry out: “forgive us, Lord, for we have sinned!”

But the cross doesn’t just stand as a distant critic. It gives us a sense of who God really is. In Jesus, God enters into the fullness of human dysfunction. In the story of Jesus’s passion and death, we see all of human brokenness on display: greed, violence, hatred, injustice and disloyalty. But we also see that Jesus enters into all of it, and redeems all of it. He goes all the way down to bring all of us up. No one is left behind.

This is the compelling story of Christianity. It isn’t simply a spiritual tradition devoid of meaning. It isn’t a spa therapy that helps us reduce our stress. At the core, it is a human encounter with a person who endured temptation, suffering and death on a cross to redeem the entirety of the human race. A Christian faith with just banners and balloons and without a cross is boring and superficial. It provides no meaning to people beyond childhood. It doesn’t give us a sense of how to deal with darkness, pain and suffering. This is where the drama of life occurs, and this is where the faith matters.

It’s pretty clear: Easter without the cross is superficial, just as the cross without the Easter is unnecessarily gloomy. We need both. Today, the Church invites to undertake the paschal mystery of Jesus, a journey that includes the cross. The road is uncomfortable, but it isn’t sterile. With Jesus, we can change, turn around and be converted. And with his cross, our Easter joy can be complete.

Christopher Hale is a senior fellow at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He helped lead national Catholic outreach for President Obama’s re-election campaign. You can follow him on Twitter@chrisjollyhale.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46,448 other followers