The lovely folks at Babalu Blog (whom I totally support most of the time) are feeling unhappy that there was a Mass at Havana’s Cathedral for the health of Mr. Chavez, the objectively evil dictator of Venezuela.
Of course it would be great if the hierarchy in Cuba were gutsy and confrontational, like Archbishop Wojtyla was under the Communists. It would be great if they were openly celebrating Masses for Cuba’s martyrs. But a lot of modern US bishops, ones not subjected to Communist terror, haven’t been all that great at stepping forward, at least until recently. (Not too many years after being visited by the Pope, and not long after a lot of US bishops did their ad limina visit to Rome. It’s almost like the Pope has power to “strengthen your brethren.”)
But whether or not the heads of the Catholic Church in Cuba are cowards, fools, and open to bribes; or whether they are saints, confessors, and hardcore servants of the Gospel — either way, they’d have to say Mass or betray Jesus. This is what the Church does. Rich or poor, evil or good, She prays for them.
She prayed for Nero and Caligula and Domitian, for Pete’s sake.
Justin Martyr talked about the Church’s consistent prayers for Roman emperors, governors, and officials, even though he lived during a time of persecution and he would eventually be martyred along with most of his male and female philosophy students. St. Irenaeus talks about it in his book Against Heresies; and he was the student of a martyr, the successor to a martyr bishop of Lyons (who died among a good chunk of the city’s Christians), and would eventually be martyred himself. This isn’t something that just started last Tuesday at 11:41 AM.
Praying for your country’s earthly rulers is one of the standard Mass prayers, and it always has been. Just like we pray for all the dead, without specifying that we absolutely don’t pray for Stalin or Hitler or other people who objectively made life worse for the whole world.
Now, at the same time, the Church prays consistently for peace, for deliverance from persecution, and so forth. Some of these prayers ask for our enemies to be confounded and so forth, and certainly Christians are allowed to tell God their troubles in this respect. And yes, God has been known to do some nasty, nasty things to the enemies of His people, when He finally decides to lower the boom.
But we are explicitly commanded by Jesus to “pray for your enemies, do good to those who hurt you.” We also have to “forgive your enemies.” We can take a little sneaking satisfaction in His description of this as “heaping coals of fire upon their heads” — but we have to do the praying and forgiving and doing good parts, before we get to the coals of fire.
Come to think of it, Nero came to a bad end, Caligula came to a bad end, and Domitian got to live to see his clever new imperial system break into bits.
And then he came to a bad end.