Ask Not What Your Country Can Do for You

 photo: Roger Selverstene

I had the opportunity to attend mass at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle in Washington DC not long ago.  The funeral mass of President John F Kennedy took place within this historic cathedral, and the curb outside the cathedral is where the famous picture of John Kennedy Jr. saluting his father’s casket was taken.

There are many memorable aspects to JFK’s Presidency, including the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban Missile crisis, Kennedy’s challenge to land a man on the moon, Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech during the Civil Rights March on Washington, and of course the famous words from JFK’s inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

After recalling these famous words while I was waiting for the mass to start, I must admit that I was a bit startled to later in the mass hear one of the prayer requests during the Prayer of the Faithful. (For those of you not familiar with a Catholic mass, about halfway through the mass, a series of prayer intentions are offered that essentially address the needs of the Church, the salvation of the world, and those burdened by difficulties.)

The special prayer request read to all in attendance that day was,  “To pray for an increase in government programs to help those in need.”

Before I share my thoughts on this intention, let me be clear that this post is not meant to be political in any way.  Whether you support an increase in government programs or not, I hope you find that intention to be as alarming as I did.

This prayer request is alarming because it essentially breeds personal complacency.  The request implies that it is someone else’s job to care for the poor (in this case, the government) and that as Christians, we should pay our taxes so the government can do the work that Jesus clearly called each of us as individuals to do.  It does nothing to inspire service by the members of the Church community, which is one of the primary roles of the Christian church.

As A W Tozer, a famous Christian theologian said, “Complacency is the deadly foe of all spiritual growth.”

Instead of asking the congregation to pray for an increase in government programs, how about a prayer request that asks, “For all members of the Christian community to hear and respond to God’s call to help those less fortunate.”

Or in other words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”