Citizenship and Being Catholic

I like being an American, most of the time.

I know that my country is far from perfect, but I’d rather be here than anywhere else on Earth.

Living in Sauk Centre, a smallish central Minnesota town, probably helps. I really like it here.

But it’s no Brigadoon, unchanged and unaffected by the outside world.

We’ve even got pretty good Internet service — and clean air, except when someone upwind is stirring a manure pit. On the other hand, crimes happen. Last year the biggest problems were larceny and drug abuse, 68 and 53 offenses respectively.1

Being a good citizen includes not committing that sort of crime, but there’s more to it.

I’ll get back to citizenship, Catholic style, which does not mean trying to force everyone to act just like me.

Being Good Citizens, Wherever We Live

I drove on the right side of the road before I became a Catholic. I also wore pants instead of a kilt, seldom ate with chopsticks, spoke English with one of the American accents, and used “guess” as a verb.

Then I became a Catholic, and kept doing pretty much the same thing.

In a sense, becoming a Catholic made me ‘more of an American.’

Being a good citizen isn’t an option for Catholics. We must contribute to the good of society and take part in public life, wherever we are. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1915, 2239)

Being Catholic doesn’t mean being American, though: or Western.

Japan is a pretty good example. By the end of the 1500s, something like 130,000 folks in Japan were Catholics. Alessandro Valignano’s insistence on respect for Japanese culture and customs probably helped.

The new faith appealed to locals from one end of the economic spectrum to the other: peasants, traders, sailors, warriors, and courtesans.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that some daimyos apparently liked Christianity because getting baptized meant easier access to saltpeter, a vital part of gunpowder.

Then the San Felipe, headed from Manila to Acapulco, ran into a storm and anchored in Urado Bay. I gather that after Japanese authorities seized the cargo, the Spanish ship’s captain said Portuguese missionaries were setting Japan up for European conquest.

That got Toyotomi Hideyoshi‘s attention. He outlawed Catholicism, probably thinking that he was protecting his country from western imperialism.

Given a choice between abandoning our faith or death, some folks chose death. Six European Franciscan missionaries, three Japanese Jesuits and 17 Japanese laymen, three of them young boys, were crucified on February 5, 1597.2

Other Japanese Christians were deported, or went underground. Two and a half centuries later, the Meiji Restoration restored imperial rule — and religious freedom. Many of the Kakure Kirishitan rejoined the Catholic Church, and that’s another topic.

Emperors, Tyrants, and the Common Good

Japan’s imperial family goes back about 2,600 years. I’m impressed by that sort of continuity.

My civilization’s history is — different.

Back when Emperor Jimmu conquered Yamato, or thereabouts, Psamtik I re-unified Egypt, and the Neo-Assyrian Empire dissolved.

Meanwhile, Corinth was among the first Greek city-states to replace their traditional hereditary priest-kings with tyrants.

Eventually “tyrant” got unpleasant connotations and Rome’s Republic became an empire, which crumbled after about five centuries.

Then Charlemagne became Emperor of the Romans, starting the Carolingian dynasty. After another four dynasties, Saxons and Franks were emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. That lasted until 1809.

Henry VIII of England was, by act of Parliament, ‘imperial:’ but never an emperor.

A little over two centuries later, English colonists in North America got fed up with micromanagement, revolted, and set up a federal republic. A few more centuries, and we may try something else.

Meanwhile, back in Japan, Akihito is the world’s only emperor. It’s a largely ceremonial role at the moment, but that could change in the next millennium.

Japan’s cultural continuity impresses me, but I’m used to the Western habit of kicking over the traces every few centuries.

Happily, the Church doesn’t expect me to insist on a monarchy, democracy, or any other particular form of government.

As long as a local regime works for the common good, and the citizens are okay with how their country’s authorities work, Catholics can live with any system. (Catechism, 1901)

Concern for the “common good” involves balancing individual and community needs, having respect for folks, and that’s yet another topic. (Catechism, 19051912)

Unity, Diversity, and Christmas Trees

I like some traditions, like Jack-o’-lanterns.

Some, like Easter eggs, tie in with Christian holidays. The parish church on Sauk Centre’s south side, for example, brings a tree inside during the Christmas season.

The Christmas tree’s origins aren’t entirely certain — but northwestern Europeans liked trees: like Donar’s Oak.

We’re not the only folks who had sacred groves: deodar and Nang Tani are Asian varieties. Then there’s the sad tale of mistletoe and Höðr, and that’s yet again another topic.

Where was I? Faith, culture, Norse mythology. Right.

Catholic Church is καθολικός, universal: united and diverse, not tied to one era or region. I’m not forced into a particular cultural mold.3

I could receive the heart of our faith, the Eucharist, in any parish — and recognize what’s central in the Mass.

The essentials in our re-presentation of the Last Supper haven’t changed in two millennia. Details in how we celebrate vary, according to local culture; and This is okay. (Matthew 26:2628; Mark 14:2224; Luke 22:1720; Catechism, 11451149, 12021209, 13221419, 1668)

Catholic Tradition,4 with a capital T, is a “living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit.” (Catechism, 7778)

Desperately clinging to old habits and customs — is still another topic.

Citizenship, When to Say “No,” and Voting

Citizenship, Catholic style, includes taking an active part in public life; contributing to the good of society “in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom;” and submitting to legitimate authorities. (Catechism, 1915, 2239)

Submission to legitimate authority is not unthinking obedience.

Sometimes the local or regional boss tells us to do something that violates natural law.5 (Catechism, 2242)

Saying ‘no’ to England’s Henry VIII got Saints Thomas More and John Fisher killed. Nobody said this was going to be easy.

Interestingly, genocide is specifically mentioned as something we’re not supposed to do, and voting when we have that right is an obligation. (Catechism, 2240, 2313)

Elections and Freedom

America’s 2016 national elections are coming in November. The usual blather started in the last election cycle.

I’m not “political.”

I don’t claim that one party or candidate is always right and anyone who disagrees with me is in league with Satan.

Much as I’d like to ignore all the braying and trumpeting, though, I have to pay attention to candidates and issues. Voting responsibly is part of being a good citizen here.

One of the issues I’m concerned about is religious freedom: which does not mean forcing everyone to agree with me. As a Catholic, I must support religious freedom — for everybody. (Catechism, 21042109)

And that’s another topic, for another post.

More about life, love, and getting a grip:


1 State of Minnesota Department of Public Safety 2015 Uniform Crime Report, p. 147.

2We celebrate 日本二十六聖人, Nihon Nijūroku Seiji, Saints Paul Miki and his Companions, on February 6. February 5 was already the feast day of Saint Agatha of Sicily.

3 Background:

4 Definitions:

  • BIBLE: Sacred Scripture: the books which contain the truth of God’s Revelation and were composed by human authors inspired by the Holy Spirit (105). The Bible contains both the forty-six books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New Testament (120). See Old Testament; New Testament.”
  • MAGISTERIUM: The living, teaching office of the Church, whose task it is to give as authentic interpretation of the word of God, whether in its written form (Sacred Scripture), or in the form of Tradition. The Magisterium ensures the Church’s fidelity to the teaching of the Apostles in matters of faith and morals (85, 890, 2033).”
  • TRADITION: The living transmission of the message of the Gospel in the Church. The oral preaching of the Apostles, and the written message of salvation under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Bible), are conserved and handed on as the deposit of faith through the apostolic succession in the Church. Both the living Tradition and the written Scriptures have their common source in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ (7582). The theological, liturgical, disciplinary, and devotional traditions of the local churches both contain and can be distinguished from this apostolic Tradition (83).”

And see Catechism, 95, 113, 174, and 126.

5 Natural law is the set of ethical principles woven into reality. These principles do not change. How we apply them changes as our circumstances change. (Catechism, 1952, 19541960)

About Brian H. Gill

I’m a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I’m only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.

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6 Responses to Citizenship and Being Catholic

  1. Naomi Gill says:

    Missing word: “Desperately clinging old habits and customs”

    The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

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