Affairs of the State

The time has come in the United States for mid-term elections. It’s a time of some sanguine hope and mostly smug discontent. Oh well, it’ll come and go, as they say. Lewis has some advise for us to consider. In a 1948 letter to a friend he suggests that, “men of this age think too much about the state of the nations and the situation of the world.”

Do you agree? He continues by elaborating on what Jesus said about love of neighbor. “We are not kings, we are not senators,” Lewis says. “Let us beware lest, while we torture ourselves in vain about the fate of Europe, we neglect too either Verona or Oxford.” Lewis was in Oxford and in correspondence with Don Giovanni Calabria in Verona (more on him in the paragraph and links below). The point is certainly Gospel friendly and one that supports the Early Church catacombs as well–the Christian life is about Jesus as central, nothing else. “In the poor man who knocks at my door,” Lewis writes, “in my ailing mother, in the young man who seeks my advice, the Lord Himself is present: therefore let us wash His feet.”

There is a dilemma today, if you want to label it that way. The dilemma is knowing too much due to our “omnipresence” online. Then, you might ask, “Who is my neighbor?” If we can be wired in to receive all sorts of news, how do we respond? There is no easy answer to this “newer” question. However, knowledge of the world’s activity ought not to divorce us from knowing and caring for the locale where God has placed us. That’s not isolationism, as the politicians call it with a country’s reach or lack of one, it is the Gospel of Jesus that our primary care and principle concern is grounded, rooted in our community.

When we muddle in the picture of largess nature, we omit the details that should not matter in accordance with the affairs of the state. Lewis is not suggesting we have no concern. Certainly Europe was facing immense crisis in the 1940s, to say it lightly. But we should guard ourselves against caring more for the affairs of the state than the state of affairs. For, as Lewis writes to Calabria in a 1953 letter:

I feel that very grave dangers hang over us. This result from the apostasy of the great part of Europe from the Christian faith. Hence a worse state than the one we were in before we received the Faith. For no one returns from Christianity to the same state he was before Christianity but into a worse state: the difference between a pagan and an apostate is the difference between an unmarried woman and an adulteress. For faith perfects nature but faith lost corrupts nature.

How telling is this of Europe and the United States today! Let us see the affairs of the state in its proper fete, for bizarre it certainly resembles, and let us know that our fate resides with the heartbeat of Jesus’ work: the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the neighbor.

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Don Giovanni Calabria (1873-1954) was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1988. He founded the Congregation of the Poor Servants of Divine Providence, working with the poor and orphaned. He started a friendship through correspondence with Lewis, writing each other in Latin. Why? It is said that Calabria didn’t know English, and after being inspired by “The Screwtape Letters” decided to write Lewis in 1947, in Latin. This began a series of letters back and forth until the priest’s death. You can read the letters in “The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis”. They have also been isolated in several editions.