Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
What does victory look like?
With the Stanley Cup Playoffs reaching their climax, Major League Baseball’s All-Star game right around the corner, and the Summer Olympics drawing near, it’s easy to imagine victory in a particular way.
But the feast days we celebrate this week — St. Irenaeus (June 28), Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29), and St. Thomas the Apostle (July 3) — can help reorient our imagination toward a Christian notion of victory. These saints did not always “win” in earthly terms. In fact, in earthly terms, they all decidedly lost — all were martyred. But they did always “bear witness” to the Gospel — the dying and rising of Jesus, and our opportunity to share in His life. That bearing witness was the key to their victory in ultimate terms, and it’s that ultimate victory in them that we celebrate this week.
That’s something to contemplate: do we imagine “victory” according to the pattern of Jesus’ life, or do we set Jesus aside and imagine it only in earthly terms?
A little reflection shows that the words and deeds of Jesus were not calculated to “win” in earthly terms. He said things that lost Him followers — think of the Bread of Life discourse in the Gospel of John. He did things that brought opposition from the powers-that-be — think of His eating with tax collectors and sinners, or the cleansing of the Temple. The final action of His earthly life was to die on the cross.
The pattern of Jesus’ victory should inform our approach to politics and culture. So often we find ourselves calculating a strategy to gain victory — by which we usually mean an increase of earthly power. There is definitely some good to that. But an increase of earthly power is not ultimately what drove the saints we celebrate this week, and it’s not ultimately what drove Jesus. You might summarize their approach this way: I did not always win in earthly terms. But I did always bear witness, and that’s how I won the ultimate victory.
What would it mean to make “bearing witness” the key to our definition of victory? To be sure, it might result in the loss of some political and cultural capital. But we might face those earthly losses and say, with the saints: “That’s OK. It was an occasion for us to bear witness — and that’s the path to victory in Christ.”
St. Paul says that Jesus Christ is the capstone of our faith. Living so close to the Gateway Arch we know what a capstone is. St. Paul did, too. That’s why he said: “through Him the whole structure is held together.” But if Christ is the capstone, that also means that without Him the whole structure falls apart. I’m concerned that out approach to political and cultural “victory” is often conceived and imagined apart from Jesus Christ. If that’s true, then our approach is destined to fall apart.
Sometimes we win in earthly terms. Sometimes we win by the cross. Our primary job is to give witness to the faith. We leave the outcome in God’s hands.
Let’s allow Christ to be the capstone of our definition of victory.