Are We an Evil Empire?

Is the United States of America an evil empire? My opinion is that it may well be one at this moment. However, there have certainly been many evil empires in the almost twenty centuries following the life, teaching, crucifixion, and resurrection of Our Lord and Savior.

Only God knows when Jesus, having ascended into Heaven, will return to judge the living and the dead. Ultimately, rather than squandering our spiritual energies on end-of-the-world scenarios, we need to be focusing on our own salvation, that of our family members and the many people we interact with day by day who do not share our Catholic faith or have lapsed from it.

Most of the readers of The Catholic Thing are probably aware of the great writings of Robert Hugh Benson, the son of the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury. Among these, perhaps the most famous and the one recommended by recent popes, including the current Holy Father, is The Lord of the World.

Benson, a convert to Catholicism who became a great apologist for the faith, wrote many other books, including historical novels such as Come Rack! Come Rope! But The Lord of the World and The Dawn of All are unusual for imagining separate future (at the time of their writing, in the early 1900s) scenarios for the Church.

The first, The Lord of the World, tells the fictional story of the coming of the Antichrist, who brings on the end of the world, with the climax occurring in the Holy Land. The other, The Dawn of All, offers a more optimistic reading of a future where Catholicism is once again recognized throughout the world as the one true Church.

Although such works can remind us of the eternal stakes of world events in drawing nations and the individuals that make them up nearer or farther from an eternity in Heaven, they should not incite us to panic. It bears repeating in a troubling time like ours that, since the beginning of Christianity, there have been many evil empires. And such may be the case for many millennia into the future.

Nonetheless, our duty is always iron faithfulness and trust that God knows what he is about. If we remain in his grace, no matter what happens the Lord has a place in Heaven for us, because we will have been faithful to the teachings of his Church, and the gates of Hell cannot prevail against it.

"Deeds of the Antichrist" by Luca Signorelli, c. 1501 [Orvieto Cathedral]
“Deeds of the Antichrist” by Luca Signorelli, c. 1501 [Orvieto Cathedral]

A powerful source of grace and a support in the difficult times in which we live is Eucharistic prayer, not only for our own needs but for the many of our countrymen and women who have fallen into Satan’s hands. In addition to prayer and the sacraments, however, each of us should share the faith with our family, friends, and co-workers – and with joy.

Indeed, the first generations of Christians did just this in times not so very unlike our own. The anonymous second-century Christian who wrote the Letter to Diognetus gives us insight into how through our behavior we may ultimately crush the evil Empire that is present in our country today. As he put it, it’s not in the usual ways that Christians are different:

Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs.  They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. . . .With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

The true markers that separate a Christian from a non-Christian are extraordinary, but not in the way the world judges such things: “They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law.”

Of course, the world does not appreciate this effort to live virtuously and at peace: “Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. . . .For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. . .”

And yet for all that, the early Christians did not withdraw from life or shrink from the consequences of their beliefs, thereby providing us with a still relevant lesson:

Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body as all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, well awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.

Fr. C. John McCloskey (1953-2023) was a Church historian and Non-Resident Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute.