In his great work, The City of God, Saint Augustine describes two cities that exist throughout human history–the City of God and the City of Man. The City of Man is characterized by self-love and pride while the City of God shows forth humility and love of God. These two cities continue their journey through human history. In the end the City of God will reach fulfillment in the Kingdom of God. The City of Man will know the destruction of judgment.
The City of God as represented in the life of the Church on earth has a mission to fulfill while the present age lasts. In its conflict with the City of Man, the City of God continues its life under the might and protection of God. Its primary task is not to change human culture, though some positive change is possible through the Church’s influence, but to cultivate its own life until the end. Though disaster after disaster pile up in this world, the Church ever holds to its hope in the eventual complete victory of the Lord. It is faced not only with the opposition of the world but also the opposition of some calling themselves Christians who really belong to the City of Man.
In its contention with the world the Church does several things in its effective combat. They include the preaching of the Word, the administration of the Sacraments, the cultivation of community life among its members, the sharing of the life-giving Gospel with those outside, and the witness of the Church to certain issues of greatest concern to its moral life and witness. The last of the listed items is not the most important among the Church’s tasks. No matter what the Church does, the world will always be the world. The Christian community must be alert to the possibility that it will succumb to the world’s urgings.
A library could be filled with the literature that critiques modern American society. It is good to know what is wrong in our nation. But, as or more important is the church’s response. The church should perform its mission as Christ Himself described it. This is the solution to the world’s darkness. We must be what we were intended to be. We are not a political party or a social agency or a government department or a charity. Our mission is defined by the tradition that begins with the Lord’s instructions to His disciples.
We can know the joy of God’s final victory in the mission we perform now. It begins with our salvation in Jesus Christ–the justification of the sinner–and continues with this, never leaving it behind, in our work for the Lord. We are a society set against the world as we worship the true God and perform His mission in the world.
The Lord is and will be victor. Of this we should have no doubt. Do not despair.
Michael G. Tavella
Saint John the Evangelist
December 27, 2023