I was baptized a Catholic as an infant. That means no matter what my nationality or residence or circumstance, I’m already considered a citizen of heaven. That being said, my heavenly home may still be a ways off yet. So, for now, I’m also a Catholic who happens to have had the good fortune to be an American citizen.
I appreciate the words of our third president, Thomas Jefferson, who said “The God who gave us life gave us liberty.” It was evident to our nation’s founders that the tenets that guide a person’s conscience are rooted in truth and freedom that come from outside of ourselves.
Political pundits might prefer to categorize Christians into Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and the like. I suggest a broader view, reconnecting with the primary gospel truth regarding true Christian citizenship. For Catholics, November is the month of saints and souls. And it is a happy coincidence that it falls within the election cycle in the United States. This brief season in the Church’s liturgical calendar makes the case for our true citizenship: We, the baptized, are citizens of heaven.
St. Paul writes:
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself. Therefore… stand firm in the Lord, beloved. (Philippians 3:20-21 – 4:1.)
Note the present tense of Paul’s words. Our citizenship IS in heaven. This is not just a bold hypothesis on the part of Paul. He is following his Master, taking his lead from Jesus: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1.)”
Predating Paul, Jesus prayed for his disciples (and future followers) before he died, coaching them in this holy citizenship:
[Father, ] I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours…
I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth. I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. (John 17:9, 15-18.)
Archbishop Charles Chaput has written 5 elements of our public witness and Catholic citizenship. I’ll just list add the first two here:
1. “Catholic” is a word that has real meaning. We don’t control or invent that meaning as individuals. We inherit it from the Gospel and the experience of the Church over the centuries. If we choose to call ourselves Catholic, then that word has consequences for what we believe and how we act. We can’t truthfully call ourselves “Catholic” and then behave as if we’re not.
2. Being a Catholic is a bit like being married. We have a relationship with the Church and with Jesus Christ that’s similar to being a spouse. If a man says he loves his wife, his wife will want to see the evidence in his fidelity. The same applies to our relationship with God. If we say we’re Catholic, we need to show that by our love for the Church and our fidelity to what she teaches and believes. Otherwise we’re just fooling ourselves. God certainly won’t be fooled.
Read it all here.
See what the US Bishops say about forming our own consciences to be faithful citizens. We should be actively involved in the political process. So learn the issues in your community, state, and what matters to all of us as US citizens. Get informed and get out to vote on November 6.
We are citizens of heaven and that carries a dignity and a responsibility beyond our allegiance to the country listed on our passport. Whatever our political persuasions, let us first be grounded in our dignity as a Christians, and let that move us to action in this world as citizens of heaven.
May we imitate Jesus, as St. Paul did… standing firm in the Lord.