In “Sign of Contradiction” by Pope John Paul II, he speaks of the three “munera” (offices, functions, duties) of Christ: to teach, to sanctify, and to rule. “Christ is alive in the Church as prophet, priest and king, thanks to the share in these functions enjoyed by the whole people of God” (Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium 10-12; 31).
As prophet we are called to witness to the truth according to our own vocation. He emphasizes that people have a right to the truth, and many forces seek to deny it to us. He speaks about how the world will often manipulate the truth by disseminating some aspects and suppressing others (He said this in 1976; I wonder what he would say now). If we are going to proclaim the truth effectively in this complex world, Jesus’ advice that we be “cunning as serpents and innocent as doves” (See Matt 10:16) is as relevant as ever.
I have spoken a great deal about exercising the priestly function, offering our work and ourselves to the Father united with Jesus’ gift of Self. Also, we consecrate the world by praying for it and by work that develops creation so that it better helps people and show His glory.
The regal function requires special attention. How are Christians called to exercise leadership in the world without “forcing our religion on others” (an accusation frequently and often carelessly made)?
All laws and all governments are forcing certain practices on people based on some idea of what is right and what is wrong. People with little sense of history and philosophy often presume their basic ideas of right and wrong objective and obvious to everyone (and have always been), so that they can boldly assert and expect everyone else to recognize them, as well as condemn people in the past for not practicing them. They then believe that other ideas are biased and irrational, and if they are put forward by a Christian, they are religious beliefs and have no place in public policy. However, many of their ideas were not accepted or even heard of for much of human history. A strong case can be made that many of the moral beliefs that are now taken for granted would not be with us if it were not for the work of Christians. The notion that the life of a peasant is sacred in the same way as the life of an aristocrat or even the emperor would have seemed like madness in most of the ancient world. It was the Judeo – Christian tradition that made possible what was later incorporated into the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, and they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights … include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Christianity gets much criticism for not immediately abolishing slavery, as if it should have been obvious from the beginning. However, the notion that slavery was wrong pretty much did not exist until it percolated up from Christian thought. Of course, overturning millennia of human practice did not happen quickly or easily. It required many years of persuasion, but they could not persuade everyone. A pivotal moment in persuasion was when “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was written by the Christian woman Harriet Beecher Stowe. It aroused empathy for slaves, showed the horror of their situation, and shifted the conversation. It was not definitive, however. In the Civil War, they overpowered the forces that were pro-choice on slave holding, and those who profited from the slave industry lost power. Perhaps when slavery was abolished it became possible for more people to believe that society could work without this “peculiar institution.”
I have much more to say, but it will have to wait. How will history look back on Christians today? I hope it will show us tirelessly pushing to protect the lives, the dignity, and the rights of all people. We shall see.