Celebrating our Faith during COVID-19
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By Bishop Larry Silva
October 25, 2020
[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu]
When I was a priest in the Oakland Diocese, there was a priest from San Jose who was very well known throughout the Bay Area for his dedication to issues of social justice, the late Monsignor Eugene Boyle. If there were racial tension in a city, the mayor would often call him to mediate between parties. If laborers were being treated unjustly, he would speak out for their rights and their dignity. But I once heard him say something that was most interesting. He said that he had worked with many activists and people dedicated to causes of social justice throughout the years, and he had great respect for many of them. But, he said, he feared those who had no grounding in spirituality or prayer of some sort, because he found that they became so focused on one cause that they demonized everyone who did not agree with them, and their means of achieving their ends were often the cause of some other injustice toward someone else.
We live in a very complex world, where there are many issues that need to be balanced one against the other. We want to take prudent precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, while we do not want to cause economic hardships to our citizens. We have the opportunities to advance our own wealth, yet we are called to be attentive to the widening gap between the rich and the poor. We have different ways of looking at the value of law enforcement, of the military, and of the purpose of public education. In all of this complexity – which is nothing new in the world, though it may take new forms – it is refreshing that Jesus boils down our guide in life and in our moral and social decisions to two pillars: love of God and love of neighbor, placing, we note, the love of God above all.
I think this was Monsignor Boyle’s point as well; if we do not nurture our love for God first of all, then our attempts to love our neighbor will become misguided and even counter-productive. If we are not attentive to the will of God above all, then the vacuum will be filled with much lesser gods, such as slogans, or our ancient desire that we ourselves be gods.
Lately it has become very clear that many people do not understand this basic principle on which our country was founded as “one nation under God,” subject to the “laws of nature and nature’s God.” We perhaps presume that bringing God into our discernment about issues will give undue dominance to a particular church, perhaps moving us toward a theocracy rather than a democracy. But if there is no fundamental set of values, no ultimate common goal, then we are going to continue to see a disintegration of our culture and our country rather than a building of “one nation.” So putting God’s will first in our discernment is not just important but vital if we are truly going to create structures that can support the widow, the orphan, and the alien, as God demands of his people as early as the Book of Exodus.
As we approach our election, today’s Gospel must be our best and most informative voters’ guide. No, it does not specify how we should vote or for whom, but it teaches us that our love of neighbor can very well be misguided if it is not first informed by our love of God.
As you know, the U.S. bishops had a debate last November as we were revising our voters’ guide, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. With all the important issues of immigration, the economy, racial justice and many others, some felt we should not put too much focus on the extremely important issue of abortion. The majority of bishops, however, agreed that abortion must be the “preeminent” issue among all the others, because without the right to life all others rights are meaningless. While I voted with the majority of bishops, I believe there is an issue that is even more “preeminent” than abortion, and that issue is keeping God as the foundation of our society. If we truly love God, then how could we ever support abortion or many of the other evils that are actually touted as goods? What Jesus teaches us today is that love of God must come first, and from that love will flow a more robust love of neighbor.
I have received many missives from many people during this election time telling me that if I am a good bishop I must tell people to vote for this candidate and not for that, to support this issue and not that. As a pastor, however, I felt it was my greatest responsibility to direct people to God and God’s will for our country and our communities. So I issued a prayer guide for voters, which is available on our diocesan website or on the Hawaii Catholic Herald website. I pray that we will model this extremely important message of Jesus today, that love of God and love of neighbor are the two greatest commandments, but that love of God is the first, and from that love will flow an authentic love of neighbor.