It’s an election year in the United States, which means that we’re still eight months away from voting and people are already exhausted from all the campaigning and fighting! November 8 can’t come soon enough! And yet, I think there’s a lot of work to be done before that day comes. Election day may be far off, but there is a lot that we can and should be doing as Catholics today to prepare.
1. The Gospel is political
For some, the thought of politics gives a stomach ache. Many would prefer to ignore discussion or arguments, and even more would prefer that the Church not get involved with politics. And I agree, if by “politics” we mean partisan endorsements or campaigning. That’s illegal. But if by politics we mean voicing our opinion, shaping the conversation, and working to build a better world… then the Church absolutely needs to be involved in politics. In that sense, the Gospel is inherently political. In 1971, the United States bishops even went as far as to say, “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel” (emphasis mine). In other words, one cannot fully live the Gospel unless one acts on behalf of justice.
2. We need to prepare
This is no easy task, however, and we can’t simply show up at the polls one day and act on behalf of justice (although, just showing up at the polls would be better than 45% of Americans who did not vote in 2012.) Who do we vote for? What do we vote for? Why do we vote for this or that? Questions like these take lots of preparation for Catholics. We are not a Church that defines the way someone should vote. There is not a “Catholic ticket” of issues because the Church does not set forth policies; it sets for values. This is an important distinction. The Church says, “Care for creation,” or “respect life,” but it does not say whether to support Carbon taxes or emission limits. There might be a good reason for both. Or neither. For every issue, there are many ways to respond with the Gospel, not just the two that the main parties support, and certainly not one perfectly correct one. Being active in our world and participating in the development of our communities, states, and nations—something that is required by Catholic Social Teaching—requires that we be informed enough in our faith and in what’s going on in the world to choose what best fits our conscience. This takes time.
3. We are all the body of Christ
The reason this takes time is because we don’t live in a vacuum. We live as a community, and although we may wish otherwise, we are not uniform in mind and spirit. We face disagreement and opposition all around us, even in our own parishes. This is not a bad thing: the Spirit speaks to different people in different ways, and there might just be something to learn from or to teach to our brother and sister in the pew next to us. This can, however, make it a very difficult thing. How do we talk with one another? Often, we tell “them” that they’re wrong and that they should believe the truth, by which we mean the opinion we hold. This happens even among the best Catholics; Facebook can be a breading ground for name-calling, religious superiority over others, and divisive smears. This is not productive and we as Catholics need to be held to a higher standard. Listening is a skill. Tolerance is a virtue. Respect is a requirement. It’s all well and good to say that we respect the human dignity of all people as a political stance, but another thing to recognize that the person who disagrees with us is still the body of Christ, and to uphold their human dignity with our words and actions.
These are just a few of the things I discuss in this brief video about being Catholic in a political world. If you have any questions or would like to discuss something further, leave a comment here or on my Facebook page.
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