I am the leader and facilitator of a small group Bible study that is associated with our diocesan young adult’s group. As such, I was reading and reflecting on the readings for this Sunday’s Mass (in the Ordinary Form). In the First Reading, First from the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples (not just the Apostles, but presumably all the leaders of the Church) were afraid of Saul and for good reason. These men ordained St. Stephen as a deacon and then witnessed his martyrdom by stoning. Saul was there and, while he did not throw any stones at the Protomartyr, he held the cloaks of those who did and give his tacit approval. St. Luke records that Saul was vicious in persecuting the nascent Church and dragged many Christians to prison. It is likely that some of those whom he arrested were eventually martyred as well. The disciples thought that he was not truly converted but that he was trying to infiltrate them so he could arrest more Christians and apprehend them: the leaders of the movement.
Barnabas, was not one of the Twelve but is nevertheless considered an Apostle. He was apparently trusted well enough by the Apostles that he could vouch for Saul. Barnabas encourages Saul to share his experiences in Damascus. Although he was not one of the original Twelve, Paul is known as St. Paul the Apostle. (Ironically, Paul became such an important personage in the Church that he is commemorated with a Solemnity along with St. Peter, the first pope, and along with him is one of three saints whose names must be mentioned in the First Intercessions of the Roman Canon. Meanwhile, Barnabas, who vouched for him to the Apostles, is relegated to second tier status in the Second Intercessions, along with St. Mathias, who was one the Twelve, albeit not originally.) All of the Apostles witnessed the Risen Christ. It is because the Risen Christ appeared to Saul, even after His Ascension, that Saul is accepted by the rest of the Apostles and is eventually recognized as an Apostle himself.
The reflection study that I wrote for the passage was “Has there ever been a circumstance in which we let a person’s reputation or past life, cause doubt about his conversion or whether he is a “good Catholic/Christian?” We did not end up using it (my co-leader had a better one) but it did get me thinking…and it convicted me.
Trump = Saul?
The answer to that question for me is yes, and most glaringly so, in regards to the President. I was strongly critical of voting for and supporting Trump on the grounds of his previous life and his reputation as a philandering scoundrel. I asked how we, as Catholic Christians, could throw our support behind a man as the “good” candidate who had behaved in that way and gave no indication that he repented. (Indeed, had said on occasion that he did not believe he had nothing for which he had to ask God’s forgiveness.) I asked how we could trust a man who said he was “very pro-choice” to enact pro-life policy and fight abortion.
The Apostles did not trust Saul because of his past. Imagine what might have happened if they had not listened to Barnabas and rejected Saul? Saul became Paul and went on to write most of the New Testament and almost single-handedly spread the Gospel to the non-Jewish nations (Gentiles). He did very great work for the Lord. Paul was always united to Him, of course, as Our Lord states in the Gospel, “Whoever remains in me and I in him, will bear much fruit because without me, you can do nothing.”
By His Fruits
And that I think is the key. Ultimately, whether Donald Trump is a good President from a spiritual faith standpoint will be determined by the fruit that he, his administration and his policies bear. Right now, that is a mixed bag. Yes, we have had some good things. The Church in America now has some breathing room by the restoration of basic religious liberty protections eroded by an administration that steadily—and not so slowly—was attempting to crush her. We have a President who says he is committed to protecting authentic marriage (even if his lifestyle is part of the problem). We have had pro-life victories (albeit small ones) with the appointment of a pro-life Supreme Court justice and the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy.
At the same time however, the federal budget STILL funded Planned Parenthood. It also seems like Trump, like many Republicans, is so determined to fight off radical Leftists that he sinks to their level and does not measure his speech, leading to further polarization between the two sides. And while every nation has a legitimate right to defend (and even, if necessary, close) its borders, the eagerness to exercise that right and the rhetoric in defense of that exercise threatens to make us forget the humanity of “illegals” and to even lump legal immigrants with illegal ones simply based on the culture of the country from which they come and how they looks.
Thus, ultimately it comes down to the fruits. However, this Sunday’s readings have shown me how uncharitable I had been toward Trump and how I must change my approach toward the President. He should be judged, but based on what he is doing now, not what he did in the past. The President has been compared to others in Scripture and Church history: Cyrus, Constantine, even Jehu…but what if the most important comparison is to one Saul of Tarsus, an enemy of Christ who became one of His greatest Apostles?