The Exception

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I believe that bishops should limit themselves to commentary on society from a distinctly theological point of view. It is what they can offer, what they are called to do.  I have been thinking about our difficult situation, and hope this observation meets this requirement.

Human society is a balancing act of liberty and solidarity, the individual and the whole. Each has a Scriptural warrant. Even in its broken state, our volition has a relation to our being ‘in the image of God’ (Reinhold Niebuhr was an important voice emphasizing this in the last century). But we are social beings as well, and are meant to be ‘our brother’s keeper.’  Politics is the struggle to find the right admixture. We need a fire department together; people may smoke, even though we know it is bad for their health. 

However we are also historical beings, creatures of time and place. We cannot totally extract categories like ‘freedom’ and ‘community’ from the moment in which we find ourselves. So, for example, in World War II my parents dealt with rationing, since wartime is what we might call a ‘limit situation,’ extraordinary, when the bets are to a large extent off and abstractions alone do not suffice.

Some have refused the wearing of masks with Patrick Henry-like cries, ‘give me liberty.’ This certainly has an American ring! But a classic limit situation for the prior claim to individual liberty is…a pandemic. The reason is simple: the virus is not interested in individuality. The virus knows no political party,  and it is the virus that is our opponent, politicians notwithstanding.  It is in this sense that mask and distance have been, from the beginning of this crisis, acts of charity toward our neighbor. 

Complete the Race (II Timothy 4:17)

At the end of our vacation we find ourselves in Chicago for its Marathon weekend (the fastest, I have read this morning, perhaps because it is cool and relatively level). Marathons offer many good things. You can see world-class athletes from places like Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a feel of fiesta with signs by family members, getups by some for-fun runners, and food for sale.

But as I looked out my hotel window at 7:30 a.m., I watched the race of competitors who have lost legs or their use. Wheeling vehicles by arm for 26 miles means serious fitness and determination.

Those competitors were to me, this morning, a symbol of the Church too. For each is wounded. The larger family cheers them on. Each by grace has risen up to run the race. Ahead is the goal, the prize, the welcome home. We find the companionship of Jesus the Lord, there, and along the route too.