"He hates poor people!"
"He’s on the wrong side of the marriage issue!"
Many people today, including many Christians, feel very badly about certain people in authority.
In today’s first reading (1 Tim. 2:1-8), St. Paul asks us to pray for them.
First of all, then,
I ask that supplications, prayers,
petitions, and thanksgivings
be offered for everyone,
for kings and for all in authority,
that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life
in all devotion and dignity.
This is good and pleasing to God our savior,
who wills everyone to be saved
and to come to knowledge of the truth.
We may have reason to dislike certain people, including people in authority, and they may indeed be unjust or immoral to some extent.
Yet St. Paul’s admonition applies. After all, consider the people in authority at the time this was written: corrupt, oppressive, decadent pagans – and above them all, the infamous Emperor Nero.
St. Peter echoes St. Paul’s thought in one of his own epistles:
Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution,
whether it be to the emperor as supreme,
or to governors as sent by him
to punish those who do wrong
and to praise those who do right.
For it is God's will that by doing right
you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.
Live as free men,
yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil;
but live as servants of God.
Honor all men.
Love the brotherhood.
Honor the emperor.
1 Pet 2:13-17
As we know, this same emperor would have both St. Peter and St. Paul slaughtered.
If the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul counseled their contemporaries to honor and pray for the murderous tyrants of their day, how can we fail to pray for the people in authority over us, even those we oppose?
The Apostles’ rationale is twofold:
First, it was important for Christians to be seen as good citizens. This facilitates our Christian witness.
Most people are not revolutionaries: they just want to live their lives and so they appreciate stability and look askance upon those who threaten it. That is why the pagan spin machine tried to depict Christians as wild-eyed, immoral troublemakers and why it was important to “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men” by good citizenship.
Good citizens listen to good citizens and usually close their minds to those tarred as dangerous.
Second, peace and stability enable Christians to “lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity:” allowing not only freedom of worship but also greater opportunities to spread the Gospel.
We must be careful, of course, not to go too far. Throughout history there have been examples of religious people and religious leaders who bind themselves too closely to the structures and personages of civil power, to the detriment of the faith and of the faithful.
Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. Indeed, the Gospel itself has intrinsically revolutionary aspects. It is important to be good citizens in the places we inhabit, but our real citizenship is in heaven. We may work within “the system,” but our understanding of truth and justice cannot be limited by it. Our quest for truth and justice may lead us into ad hoc political alliances (for or against this or that person), but these alliances must never take priority over our commitment to Christ and to the truth.
We cannot ignore the world as it is, for it is through this world that we must walk and in this world that we must accomplish the work Christ has given us to do, yet we must not let out minds or hearts be limited by this world, its politics or its prejudices.
Thus as we strive always to do the things that are right and godly, we must always remember to pray: pray for ourselves, pray for the world in which we live, and pray for the people and leaders within it, no matter how wrong or ungodly they may be.