With Malice Towards None....

03-15-2015Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

"Beware the Ides of March", so wrote William Shakespeare in his play Julius Caesar. The ides of March (the 15th) is generally considered the day that Julius Caesar was assassinated and the Roman Republic turned into the Roman Empire. Simply put this happened because there were some in Rome that believed the country could be better ruled by an Emperor than by the People and the Senate. (If you go to Rome today you will see SPQR, Senatus Populusque Romanus, the Senate and the People of Rome stamped everywhere. Even after the Emperor took over they continued to use that phrase to make the people think their government was still a government of the people or a Republic.) The republican form of government tried people's patience with its never-ending political gridlock and so the thinking went that an Emperor could solve that problem. There is a good lesson in there for us.

The temptation to have an Emperor or Imperial rule seems to be perennial. The ancient Israelites begged God for a King, instead of being governed by the priests or the Judges. Liberty as it is lived in a republican form of government is at times messy, forming a consensus is difficult and resisting the urge to impose one-way demands patience. Wouldn't it be simpler if one person had the power to make all the decisions rather than committees and votes that are too easily swayed by political expediency or corruption? Our temptation today is not so much imperial as it is technocratic: rule by technocrats who can govern us with precision, ensuring absolute equality and bureaucratic perfection.

But maintaining a healthy functioning republic with its goal of ordered liberty can be done as our history so clearly demonstrates. After the Civil War the country was torn assunder and unifying the country would take time but it did happen. And it happened because the acrimony and hostility of the war was put aside in favor of peace and mutual understanding.

This past week was the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln's second Inaugural Address (March 4, 1865), probably the finest written speech in US history. Well worth our time to read it or reread it. As I reread the Address I wondered if any US President could give the same speech today, not because of all the biblical references and appeals to God but because our system of government has become so politicized to the point of partisan domination. Today as I hear our elected officials talk it's always either "you are with me or you are against me". It is one thing to staunchly defend first principles as Lincoln did with abolishing slavery and another to draw battle lines unnecessarily. There is little willingness to compromise and rarely do we hear elected officials say things like: "we are working on a common goal, we have differences but we can put them aside for the good of the country". Opponents are demonized, acrimonious language is used and gridlock paralyzes the nation. And of course God forbid you bring God into the discussion or even first principles or what should be normative moral behavior…

Here are some of President Lincoln's refreshing words:

But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side …With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

President Lincoln in those words sets out how he intended to treat the defeated Confederacy. It was his own party, the Republicans that had fought to end slavery but afterwards they wanted to severely punish their opponents. Lincoln would have none of it and instead wanted to the restore the Confederate states to their proper place in the Union. He was gracious in victory. Today we see too many sore winners. "Elections have consequences" and all that. We ourselves have to be careful not to add to the problem by being just as politically partisan.

Still despite how things are today, I find great hope in words that President Lincoln wrote for his own private reflection:

In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party — and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose.

So even if the Ides of March bring darkness I will still trust that God knows what He is doing even if I do not. In the end despite human frailties, sinfulness and corruption God has a way of making his plan come to full effect. The Crucifixion of Christ demonstrates that. I just want to be on the winning side, which is always God's side. May we have the wisdom to choose rightly.

Love, Fr. John B.

The temptation to have an Emperor or Imperial rule seems to be perennial. The ancient Israelites begged God for a King, instead of being governed by the priests or the Judges. Liberty as it is lived in a republican form of government is at times messy, forming a consensus is difficult and resisting the urge to impose one-way demands patience. Wouldn't it be simpler if one person had the power to make all the decisions rather than committees and votes that are too easily swayed by political expediency or corruption? Our temptation today is not so much imperial as it is technocratic: rule by technocrats who can govern us with precision, ensuring absolute equality and bureaucratic perfection.

But maintaining a healthy functioning republic with its goal of ordered liberty can be done as our history so clearly demonstrates. After the Civil War the country was torn assunder and unifying the country would take time but it did happen. And it happened because the acrimony and hostility of the war was put aside in favor of peace and mutual understanding.

This past week was the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln's second Inaugural Address (March 4, 1865), probably the finest written speech in US history. Well worth our time to read it or reread it. As I reread the Address I wondered if any US President could give the same speech today, not because of all the biblical references and appeals to God but because our system of government has become so politicized to the point of partisan domination. Today as I hear our elected officials talk it's always either "you are with me or you are against me". It is one thing to staunchly defend first principles as Lincoln did with abolishing slavery and another to draw battle lines unnecessarily. There is little willingness to compromise and rarely do we hear elected officials say things like: "we are working on a common goal, we have differences but we can put them aside for the good of the country". Opponents are demonized, acrimonious language is used and gridlock paralyzes the nation. And of course God forbid you bring God into the discussion or even first principles or what should be normative moral behavior…

Here are some of President Lincoln's refreshing words:

But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side …With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

President Lincoln in those words sets out how he intended to treat the defeated Confederacy. It was his own party, the Republicans that had fought to end slavery but afterwards they wanted to severely punish their opponents. Lincoln would have none of it and instead wanted to the restore the Confederate states to their proper place in the Union. He was gracious in victory. Today we see too many sore winners. "Elections have consequences" and all that. We ourselves have to be careful not to add to the problem by being just as politically partisan.

Still despite how things are today, I find great hope in words that President Lincoln wrote for his own private reflection:

In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party — and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose.

So even if the Ides of March bring darkness I will still trust that God knows what He is doing even if I do not. In the end despite human frailties, sinfulness and corruption God has a way of making his plan come to full effect. The Crucifixion of Christ demonstrates that. I just want to be on the winning side, which is always God's side. May we have the wisdom to choose rightly.

Love, Fr. John B.

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