The Convivial Christ

Jesus was not an ideologue. He did not push a political program. When Pilate confronted him about his agenda, Jesus responded, “My kingdom is not of this world.”  Jesus recognized the legitimacy of government. (“Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.”)  He simply took no overt stand in favor or against the various political factions of his day.

Instead of promoting a political agenda, Christ pursued the hearts of men. His strategy was not electioneering, propaganda or campaigns. It was friendship, food, and drink, breaking bread with “sinners.”  He said, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:29)

How was his “wisdom vindicated by her deeds?”   Christ’s method was vindicated because it worked.  Instead of confronting Zacchaeus with a political pitch, he said, “Zacchaeus come down! I’m going to your house today.” (Luke 19:5) It was as if Christ had said, “Let’s go get a cup of coffee, shall we?”  Zacchaeus’s response to Jesus’ generosity was repentance and faith.

Jesus’ friendliness was more than an evangelistic strategy. It was a sign of the heavenly life to come. Jesus describes himself as Israel’s bridegroom. In view of the upcoming “wedding,” the guests of the bridegroom do not fast. They celebrate. (Mark 2:19) Jesus’ eating, drinking, and celebrating was a sign of the coming Wedding Feast of the Lamb. (Revelation 19:7)

Christ’s friendship lies at the heart of the Christian faith. “I no longer call you servants, but friends,” Jesus said. (John 15:15) To the paralytic, Jesus said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 5:20)  Likewise, Peter confessed his friendship with Christ. (John 21:15)  It is a friendship Jesus wants to extend to the whole Church, and especially to the poor. (Luke 14:12; Luke 16:9) According to Cardinal Schoenborn, the whole Christian ethic is summed up in the ideal of friendship. (Commencement Address, Thomas Aquinas College, 2002)

Today, our country is very divided politically and ideologically. According to the Pew Research Forum, Americans are more polarized today than they have been in twenty years. Democrats are more consistently liberal. Republicans are more consistently conservative. There is less and less common ground between them, and more and more acrimony. Online dating websites report that politics now trumps religion as the biggest “deal breaker” for future relationships. People are more willing to date across religious lines than political ones.

It is tempting to find solutions to social problems in ideology.  The ideologue rests smug and secure in the knowledge that he is on the “right side.” He identifies justice with an abstract state of affairs, a political program, or a body of legislation.  He easily demonizes his opponents. They are on the “wrong side.” He does not have to win their friendship. He has to defeat them politically.

But Catholic tradition tells us that justice can never be identified with a political program. That is because justice is a virtue, a habit, than inheres in the will of individuals. It is the habit of doing right by one’s fellows. It is the habit of concerning oneself with the common good, not simply in political electioneering, but in concrete acts of generosity and good will.  You can have a deep theoretical concern with justice, but still be very unjust.  Karl Marx spent his days studying political economy, but his children died of starvation.  Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote treatises on education, but handed all his children off to orphanages.

St. Thomas tells us that the first baby steps towards justice are found in friendliness. “It behooves man,” Thomas writes,” to be maintained in a becoming order towards other men . . . this virtue is called friendliness.” (Summa theologica, II.II.114.1)  It’s not the whole of justice. It’s just a necessary first step, but it is still necessary.  If we look to Christ, we would have to conclude that friendliness and kindness are more immediately important than striving for the best political policy.

Pope John Paul II recognized the dangers of ideological blocs. In his encyclical Solicitudo Rei Socialis, he identified the human heart as the more important locus of division and reconciliation:

It is important to note therefore that a world which is divided into blocs, sustained by rigid ideologies . . . can only be a world subject to structures of sin . . . rooted in personal sin, and thus always linked to the concrete acts of individuals who introduce these structures, consolidate them and make them difficult to remove.

Politics and ideology are inevitable. We cannot legislate without some theoretical understanding of the common good. But our ultimate good transcends politics.  It is telling that Jesus did not leave us with a manifesto. He left us with the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Christian faith. How appropriate is St. Thomas’s hymn O Sacrum Convivium! “O Sacred Banquet in which Christ is received!” By it we are renewed in the convivial Christ.

5 thoughts on “The Convivial Christ

  1. chris dorf - April 11, 2017

    M. Anders,
    I find your writing style and coherent exposition of concepts refreshing. Raised Catholic and having attended a Franciscan High School, my teen years were spent defending myself from older siblings whom were ‘born again’ as Baptists and became virulently anti-Catholic.
    The one suggestion I would offer is that when using object lessons such as you did here with Rousseau and Marx, you also include people whom represent the Conservative side, as I am from Wisconsin and see a Paul Ryan, a Catholic, ignore the plight of the ‘health care-less’ and victims of the class system perpetrated by the economic and political systems that they espouse rooted in their ideology.
    I really enjoy your work in explanation/apologetics.

  2. Tracy L Cain - January 6, 2017

    Thank you for all of your thoughtful commentary!

  3. Ron Kaiser - August 13, 2016

    Dr Anders, I was driving home today and although I don’t know if it was live radio or not, I was happy to hear you on my way home tonight. I catch you as much as I’m able at my lunch hour when I listen to call to communion, but today heard you on the drive home.
    All that aside, I really felt I wanted to email you to thank you for the work you put into knowing the faith and the efforts to impart that to others. I really try to soak up as much of your knowledge at possible, despite the fact that I am really just a simple guy who can read the sentences of St Thomas, but certainly can’t put a few sentences together without starting to thank God for St Martin DePorres and looking for some other work to do. Lol
    Dr. I just want to encourage you, thank you and Praise God for so many graces in regards to understanding my protestant friends backgrounds, ecclesial doctrines and other useful information about salvation and the gift of the Church through your program.
    I am babbling already because I sincerely want to impart to you the gratitude in my heart, and my hopes for health, peace, joy and eternal bliss for you and yours,
    God Bless you Dr Anders,
    Pray for your poor brother,
    Ron Kaiser

  4. Michael - June 26, 2016

    Dr. Anders, thank you for your work!

    My first degrees were in politics, political thought, and the history and development of political thought. As a result, I concern myself a great deal with who picks up the different torches of political ideologies over time. Hilaire Belloc rightly pointed out in “The Catholic and the War” that the Catholic Church has no inherent preference to the forms of government, be they monarchy, oligarchy, or democracy.

    It is entirely possible that a good, holy, and Christian monarch might support the Church, advance the ennobling of the citizenry, and in essence be a good king leading a good nation, like King St. Louis IX. On the other hand, in the very same nation, one can have a poor monarch, slighting the Church, skewing the conception of right and wrong held by the citizenry, and pursuing unprincipled ends, like Phillip the Fair.

    Whereas in politics, the Church does not have a direct, inherent problem with most forms of government, it is important not to confuse political systems with economic systems. This is a big deal.

    Where some political systems overtly dictate even the most minor economic decisions, there is a very real disagreement as to the basic definition and purpose of a political system. One school of thought holds that it is government’s role to determine who gets what, how much, and when. These tend to be what Hannah Arendt would identify as “Totalitarian”. The other school of thought grants a more limited scope of authority to the government and is what generally is referred to by people rhetorically.

    This last disagreement is where a large number of well meaning people get caught up. Pope St. John Paul II was right when he wrote that the Catholic Church is neither capitalist nor socialist. People draw an improper conclusion however from that statement.

    Socialism, as fully articulated in “The Communist Manifesto” in 1848 has as its chief aim the elimination of private property, essential to the institution of the family, a divine organization. This was intended as necessary to abolish Christianity (a lie in Marxist perspective) as a whole, because wherever there was Catholic family, the true socialist revolution could not come to its ultimate fruition.

    A specific, documented, intended aim of socialism is the abolition of the Church, destruction of the family, and the placement of the state political organ of man in its place. The concept of subsidiarity in the Catechism is null in socialism. As a result, this philosophy is mutually exclusive with Christianity.

    Capitalism, by contrast, does not mandate anything of the sort. In fact, there is no one “creator” of capitalism. Sure, Adam Smith wrote “Wealth of Nations”, where he observed empirical events and postulated some concepts, but Edmund Burke came to the same conclusions as a faithful Catholic. St. Albert the Great came up with the idea of price theory, maybe he could be blamed for “greed”. Hayek and von Mises were the leaders in the Austrian School, but they were late comers.

    Capitalism does not have a specific aim of the destruction of the Church, family, happiness, etc. In fact, it seems so chaotic and amorphous in some respects that people naturally place limits upon it in order to institute their sense of moral fair-play; thankfully.

    The Catechism does have specific provision for the ownership of private property. Capitalism agrees with this, Socialism decries this as inherently evil.

    The Catechism observes the broken state of man due to original sin and makes accommodation for the reality. Capitalism sees flawed mankind and functions as the most capable engine of the production of material well-being for humanity in its history with these flaws. Socialism denies sin, denies the fallen state of man, denies God, claims that God is the opiate of the masses, and sets man in God’s place then starves man to death, impoverishes him, tends to murder him, and does so in the name of achieving equality.

    Capitalism can be cold, cruel, heartless, greedy, and in serious need of a leash, but the government is free to leash it in accord with the conscience of its people.

    The socialist government is the state, the citizens have no recourse as they might against an impious company or other capitalist interest. Socialism does not recognize coldness, cruelty, heartlessness, or greed as those are only pejorative terms which can be applied to those acting against the interests of the revolution and the authority of the state.

    There is no 3rd person (GOD) observing and making judgment in accord with divine instruction because it recognizes no God as one of its basic premises in the dialectic. This is outlined in its founding documents, reinforced by its chief proponents, illustrated every time it is instituted, and put out into the public sphere by a slip of the tongue, pen, or keypad when a bright-eyed young socialist accidentally slips and tells the intellectually honest truth.

    Socialism is the inheritor of the Enlightenment (Least accurate Era name ever!) fallacies built into Modernism. The dark luminaries like Bentham, Mill, Hume, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Hegel were its fore-bearers. It is, by its nature, counter to Christ. It is bad council to suggest that well meaning Catholics can pick up and eat from this corrupt fruit and gain sustenance.

    Pope Leo XIII, thanks be to God, cleared up a lot of the differences between social concern and socialism. One is a basic tenant of Catholic moral theology and the other is a specific, delineated, school of political/economic thought which is counter to God and His Church in every meaningful way.

    The Venerable Fulton Sheen spoke a number of times regarding socialism, and not glowing about its many virtues.

    “Builders, carpenters, workers in material and wood, websters and fullers, makers of anything cannot become an expert with a teacher; physicians are trained by physicians. The art of scripture is the only art which is claimed by all.” -St. Jerome, “Ad Paulinum”, epist 5

    I don’t claim to be Dr. Anders’ equal in his field of study. What I know, however, I know well. Politics is often claimed, like scripture, by amateurs that ignore the foundations and context of political thought, a lot like Bart Ehrman writing textual criticisms about scripture.

    Similarly, it is false compassion, illogical, and an appeal to ignorance to claim that socialism is alright with the Church. A number of us make a study of politics, including its shady, dark, seedy side. A lot of good people do not want to deal with this side. In fairness, I would like to not have received my political education at times because it can tempt a person with despair.

    My point is this: a Catholic can be a capitalist, but a Catholic cannot, in technical terms, be a socialist.


    1. Paul Poulin - January 24, 2017

      I’m not even sure what false compassion is. Is it anything like false humility? At my age there is less and less every day of which I am certain. “The poor you will always have with you….” I read that somewhere. I fall, with no shame, into the list of “builders, carpenters, workers in material…” as I was not blessed with a powerful intellect, great good looks? yes, brains? …not so much! My awesome parents spent a lot of their hard earned money to send me to parochial school. A good thing for me, AND for my siblings. In my senior year of H.S. the tuition was $400. This year (2017) at that same school the tuition is $16,000. Politics and economics have changed a little since then. Is usury still a sin? The economy of the entire planet is based on it. Please advise. Thank you Dr. Anders for sharing your intellect with us. I thoroughly enjoy listening to you on EWTN. I have had Jack Chick tracts shoved in my face over the years as I have attempted to explain my faith to anti-Catholics. Your poise and care in explaining the faith is a lesson for me that I still need to learn. Please keep up the good, good work….I echo Ron Kaiser’s eloquent sentiments below.

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