“Ask a Priest: Is the U.S. Failing?”

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Q: I was listening to a theologian on EWTN Radio recently. He is of the persuasion that our country was an experiment from the very beginning and it is failing. This thought never occurred to me. Is there a debate among the intellectuals? He listed a number of names that have made statements along this line. Are you personally disturbed by this? I certainly am! How embarrassing that we are fighting like a bunch of teenagers on the right and left of politics. I am trying to keep my peace but it is hard! What say you? – P.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I’m not sure Ask a Priest has any special insights into the political status of America. A proper answer could fill a book.

The debate over whether America is failing isn’t new — think of the Civil War or the Depression-era 1930s or the tumultuous 1960s.

Political systems are always evolving, sometimes a work in progress, sometimes a work in decline.

Suffice it to say that the West has been doing something of a slow slide since the 15th or 16th centuries. The Reformation-led split within Christendom and the subsequent Enlightenment, with its overemphasis on science and reason and downplaying of faith, have left their share of wounds.

The Enlightenment shaped the thinking of the Founding Fathers profoundly, though certainly not always in a bad way. But like any humanly constructed polity, the U.S. has its strengths and weaknesses.

One of its strengths has been a population that doesn’t sit around waiting for things to crash and burn. Political and social reformers, many of them firmly rooted in religious convictions, have helped to revive the country at various times. A reform is needed now, too.

A quick suggestion would be to live your Catholic faith fully. We are called to bring the light of Christ into the world. It begins with each of us — it won’t begin with Congress or a new president or a federal court.

In short, it is better to focus on what you can do to preach the Gospel through your prayers, words and actions.

Jesus never outlined a political system for us to follow. Rather, he gave us principles about how we are to treat others.

Maybe now our real task is to give God what belongs to God.

For more reading you might look at two of Archbishop Charles Chaput’s books: Render Unto Caesar and Strangers in a Strange Land.

Let’s pray for the nation.

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