It would seem attractive about now to find some random topic to talk about: maybe the weather, perhaps this year’s harvest, how about Husker football, possibly the Dow Jones, or, even better... let’s chat about whether my wife was justified in listening to Christmas music and watching Hallmark Christmas movies before our children even had the chance to say “Trick or Treat.”
But to talk about these topics would be to skirt around the place where we find ourselves. If I learned anything from my former spiritual director, Father Will Prospero (may he rest in eternal peace), it is to stick to the facts of your life.
This means it’s time to talk about the place where we find ourselves, the place that is the current facts of our life: in the midst of a historic presidential election that remains a mess.
A vast number of Americans have declared a winner and touted the fact that Americans have spoken through the electoral process.
Another vast number of Americans have questioned this declaration and claim our democratic republic is being undermined.
One candidate has made his victory speech.
The other candidate has contested the results and embroiled the outcome in litigation.
Before I say anything further though, a disclaimer is appropriate. As I mentioned last week, all too often when the institutional Church—its bishops, priests, or representatives—speak up on politics and anything remotely related to the presidential election, too many people presume that the institutional Church is trying to say something in favor of one candidate over another, to pick sides in a political campaign contest. One only need pull out their decoder ring and read in between the lines to see that the Church is—wink, wink, nod, nod—telling you how to vote on this or that candidate.
This presumption leads to allegations that cannot exist at the same time and in the same way. On one hand, some will allege the Church is acting pro-Biden. On the other hand, some will allege the Church is acting pro-Trump.
But this presumption misses the greater point: the Church is not engaged in the work of endorsing any particular candidate for public office, whether that candidate is running for city dog catcher, state legislature, or the presidency. The Church is involved in the work of articulating the principles of Catholic social teaching, with the hope of adequately equipping each and every Catholic as a Christian disciple to take those principles and apply them to any number of life circumstances, including decisions as to who should serve as the President of the United States of America.
Another way to put this is that Holy Mother Church trusts the laity to properly form their conscience with the truths given to us by Jesus Christ, and then apply them to their lives. This does not mean that people can willfully ignore the fundamental truths of our faith or twist them to serve their own malicious desires—this is what is called sin.
So, with that said, where do we find ourselves? What does it mean to be a faithful citizen at this point in our nation’s political history?
One thing it means is to disavow the ways of the world. The world is all too easily mired in rancor, hatred, and division. One need only spend about 30 seconds on a political social media post to verify the truth of this claim. But these movements are not of the Spirit of God. A Christian rises above these elements of our circumstances and intervenes with goodness, truth, and beauty.
Another thing it means is to reject any desire to exploit the vulnerabilities of others. Too often in politics, there is a tendency to exploit a moment of weakness in our political opponent. When we see them down, we want to kick them down further—add insult to injury. But this is not Christian discipleship. When Christ sees us in our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, He chooses the path of compassion. He takes on our situation—if we allow Him to—and heals it and raises us up.
It also means checking the motives of our heart by stopping to pray. All too often, under the most normal circumstances of life, the base desires of our heart can easily persuade us to act in a way that is not noble. When situations get more tense and intense, it becomes all the more easy to allow the corrupt elements of our heart to control our actions. It is through prayer where we can stop and ponder whether the movements of my own heart are consistent with the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ. This time of prayer checks us and keeps us honest, so to speak.
All of this seems quite impractical as we consider our current turmoil (after all it doesn’t solve whether Joe Biden is our president-elect or whether Donald Trump will succeed through litigation), but the point of it is to say that above all things we are called to live charity in hard, decisive moments like the one we are currently experiencing. It means nothing to win or lose a battle, let alone a political one, if we have no charity.