Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Catholics: Protagonists and Not Just Voters

There is a widespread cynicism about this year's presidential election. For many people, the choices seem dismal. If you felt downcast before watching the first presidential debate, you'd probably only feel more that way after watching it. Mr. Trump was certain to mention his concern for workers in Ohio and Michigan and his love for the state of North Carolina. What a great coincidence that those are all swing states within his reach. Similarly, Mrs. Clinton made sure she mentioned being a grandmother in her first two sentences and painfully attempted to convince people of her middle class roots by describing her father's work as a drape maker.  While there are most definitely stalwart supporters of both of these candidates, many people feel discouraged and dismayed that these are our choices.

When we vote, we make a moral decision. For Catholics, this can be a struggle. No Catholic with a well-formed conscience could pretend that Mrs. Clinton's support of abortion and her advocacy for Planned Parenthood are just "one issue among many issues." To do so would be basically to conclude that the Fifth Commandment (Thou Shalt not kill) is not really such an important commandment.  This reality angers a lot of Catholic Democrats because it seems like the Church is saying you can never vote for a Democrat (since almost all nationally run Democrats are pro-abortion). Of course, if Catholic Democrats took their obligation seriously, they would stand up to their party and put up Pro-life Democrats. 

On the other hand, Catholics who take seriously the Gospel of Life, and who could never support Mrs. Clinton's pro-abortion platform, are hard pressed to feel giddy about voting for Mr. Trump. His demeanor, rhetoric, and his cavalier attitude regarding the rounding up and deportation of persons who have entered the US illegally hardly reflects the Gospel message of welcoming the stranger and loving the poor. If Catholic Republicans took their obligations seriously, they would stand up to their party and not allow candidates to run on a platform of anger and vitriol.

But, this is where we are. We have two candidates whom many faithful Catholics feel to be miserable choices. Many faithful Catholics may dislike one of the candidates more than the other, but take no joy in casting a vote for either candidate. To be clear, how we vote is a serious matter. We have an obligation as Catholics to vote in a manner consistent with the Gospel.  But for many of us, we live the rest of the campaign season dispirited by the fact that our vote is less a vote "for" as it is a vote "against." While not dismissing the seriousness of our vote and the import of having good leaders, I want to offer a word of balance. (Again, all of this is said with the understanding that we are required to vote according to the demands placed upon us by the Gospel.)  

Today, a friend of mine is undergoing surgery. She is donating part of her liver so that someone else can live. The other day some students from the Boston University Catholic Center went out and fed the homeless. It is true that Catholics need to do a better job influencing the political system, but our vote every four years is not the only--or primary--way in which we change the world. Sometimes during election season--due to the 24 hour coverage--we are led to believe that everything hinges on our vote and our vote is the most important thing in the world. We are led to believe that one of these two people hold the key to the meaning of life. Because they are the last two standing, we are led to believe that one of them must be good and the other evil.

Yes, our vote is important, but we regular Catholics exercise so much more power than just our every four year vote. A woman is donating part of her liver today. That is so much greater than a vote. People didn't go hungry last Sunday night because Catholic students fed them. That is so much greater than a vote. Catholic parents are raising their children to love God, to worship God, and to become saints. That is so much greater than a vote. Today a Catholic will help someone go to Confession and receive forgiveness of their sins. That is so much greater than a vote. Today a Catholic will reach out to someone who is lonely. That is so much greater than a vote.

I'm not dismissing the importance of voting (and of voting according to the Gospel). But, I also want to dispel the lie that that is the most important thing we ever do. We must be called to something far greater than casting a vote for the lesser of two evils. Somehow election season seems to reduce us to this mentality. We think that we are defined by Trump and Hillary. But, we are so much greater than that. As Catholics, we are called to something greater. We are not cogs in the electoral system. We are meant to be the true protagonists of history.  

This morning, while I was praying, I was re-reading a book on the Beatitudes and this quote struck me:  "At a time when Christians are committed with renewed concern to the destiny of men and society, they need to give special attention to the Sermon on the Mount if they would avoid drifting along like straws in the current of history, a history which they should be redirecting, so as to shape it to God's plan" (The Pursuit of Happiness--God's Way: Living the Beatitudes. Servais Pinckaers).

I found that quote so helpful. So many Catholics feel right now like straw floating in the current of history, our options narrowed down to two.  But this is not so. We should be redirecting history according to God's plan. Who we vote for is important and we will be held accountable for our vote. But, voters are not all we are. We are not just mere voters. We are the protagonists of history. When we become holy, when we grow in virtue, when we repent of our sins, when we live the beatitudes and practice the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, when we worship God, live by Faith, act in Charity, when we do all of these things we are no longer straw. We become instruments of the Holy Spirit, instruments used by God to change the world.

The lie is that we are merely voters. The lie is that our life is defined by the choosing of one of two candidates. But such an outlook reduces who we really are. As Christians, we are called to live the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon, however, is not merely a moral command. God sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts and works these things in us. 

I offer a simple proposal today. We should all read Chapters 5 thru 7 of St. Matthew's Gospel. Don't read it and think about Trump and Hillary. Read it and think, "This is Jesus speaking to me." The way the world is changed is by allowing Jesus to change us. Don't be just a voter. That would be demeaning and boring. Be a disciple. Be a protagonist.

1 comment:

  1. In Massachusetts, the electoral college will go to Hillary anyway so my vote for either candidate really doesn't matter.