I’ve always liked the TV game show Jeopardy, and if I don’t have an evening meeting or appointment, I’ll try to tune in for the Final Jeopardy question during the show’s last five minutes to see if I can answer it; I’ll know the correct answer probably about one-third of the time. One night last week the category was something like Famous Books in American History, and the clue was: “In one edition of the preface to this book, it said ‘We hope that within a few years, this book will no longer be necessary.’” I knew right away the answer was The Green Book, because I had seen the 2018 movie by that name. In the days of legal racial segregation and discrimination, The Green Book was a travel guide for blacks telling them which hotels, restaurants, and stores in the United States, especially in the South, would serve them, and which ones would refuse to do so.
Treating blacks and other minorities as inferior persons and second-class citizens was an inexcusable sin and an ugly chapter in American history. On one occasion in the 1950s a black family traveling in the South stopped at a roadside park and their two little girls noticed a swing set on the playground. They didn’t see, and weren’t able to understand, the sign that said “whites only.” Their father sadly but patiently explained why they couldn’t play on the swings; this was the girls’ first encounter with racism, and they burst into tears. So their dad—probably in the way his parents had explained it to him—pulled his daughters in close, hugged them, and said, “Listen, you little girls are somebody. In fact, you are so important and so valuable to God, and so powerful, that it takes the governor of this state, and the lieutenant governor, and the whole state police force to keep you off those swings” (William J. Bausch, Once Upon A Gospel, p. 295). Those girls never forgot this event, and by the time they grew up and had children of their own, the Civil Rights Legislation had passed, and all the “whites only” signs were thrown away. All those Americans who worked for racial equality—both blacks and whites—understood their crusade in moral terms, and rightly so. God is always on the side of the victims of injustice—so if we want to be on God’s side, justice must be a priority for us.
Some people insist the Church should stay out of politics, and they complain when political issues are mentioned in the pulpit. However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “It is a part of the Church’s mission to pass moral judgments even in matters related to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it” (n. 2246). Moreover, Jesus Himself—though He insisted His mission was not political, but religious and spiritual—never hesitated to rebuke, correct, and oppose the political and religious leaders of His day when they were in the wrong. His parable (Luke 18:1-8) about the dishonest judge is an example. If Jesus had been trying to curry favor with the establishment, He would have made the judge an honest and admirable figure, quick to render justice for the humble widow who was lacking influence and connections. Instead, Jesus said, the judge finally only did the right thing out of fear. Our Lord’s point is that, in accord with God’s design, true justice will sooner or later be done, despite the opposition of the powerful and important people of this world, and we must be steadfast in our prayers, efforts, and desire for this outcome. We are called to work for justice—through our own persistence in prayer, as demonstrated in the Gospel; by assisting others in their efforts on behalf of God’s people, as shown by Aaron and Hur (Exodus 17:8-13) when they lifted up Moses’ arms in his ministry of prayer; and by proclaiming God’s truth, as described by St. Paul (2 Timothy 3:14-4:2) when he charged Timothy to keep on bearing witness to Christ and the Gospel, whether it was convenient or inconvenient.
It is true that Jesus has already conquered sin and death by His resurrection on Easter Sunday. In other words, using the analogy of a football game, the final result is determined; we just have to run out the clock as gracefully as possible. Though the end of the world may still be centuries away, evil is already in its death throes; it may look like the devil is gaining the upper hand, but he is destined to be overwhelmed by God’s grace and the Church’s coming victory. Our culture of death will be swept away, and all unjust laws and abuses of power will be overturned. The triumph of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary is certain—but that doesn’t mean any individual believer is guaranteed to the on the winning side. We must do our part each day to choose God, live by His values, and help usher in His Kingdom.
In practical terms, this means holding onto our moral and religious values and defending the teachings of Church, even when society tries to push us in the other direction. It means using the opportunities we’re given to speak of Jesus and share His Gospel with those who are searching for meaning and purpose in life. It means being generous to the Church and to worthwhile charities as an expression of our gratitude for God’s blessings. It means treating everyone with respect, especially those who are unpopular or disrespected by our society. Above all, it means opposing the culture of death—in our homes, out in public, and especially in the voting booth.
If life were like a Jeopardy game, we would all have to answer successfully the final question to make in into Heaven. The clue of that final, all-important question might be, “Persistently showing respect and compassion to others, acting with commitment and integrity, and courageously defending human life while resisting wickedness and injustice.” The correct answer, of course, would be “How does God want us to prove our love for Him?” Few, if any of us, will ever appear on the actual TV game show—but all of us will one day appear before God to render an account of how we spent our time on earth. How happy and blessed we will be if we have loved, identified with, and defended those who could not defend themselves.