The 2012 national election is over, and the winners are those who support the legalized killing of innocent human beings, the destruction of traditional marriage, and the gross limitation of religious freedom. The victors include atheists and believers, and sadly among those believers are many who claim to be Catholics.
It is not even possible to rationalize the result by arguing that the winners voted to revitalize the economy and create jobs, given the abject failure of the incumbent’s economic policies. The best that can be said is that they bought into the promise that as bad as the economy may be, the giant welfare state promised by the incumbent will somehow be financially sustainable, allowing some manner of economic benefit from the government in the future, even if abortion, same sex marriage, and an attack on religious freedom was a price to be paid for that result.
At bottom, the election is a reminder of what we already knew: Our society has in no small part become defiantly secular, even if a majority of the population claims to be Christian. In truth, a substantial number are no longer informed by the Judeo-Christian moral tradition. Their morality is improvised from day to day, situation to situation. A sentimental hodgepodge which is less and less able to distinguish right from wrong.
So the immediate question is what should Catholics do about this?
It would be imprudent- political and social suicide- for Catholics to disconnect from the political process. That is precisely what the enemies of religion want. The good things that have been accomplished in protecting life and marriage, as well as freedom of religion happened in large part because good and just people were elected to public office.
However, while the political process can be a means to the end, it is not the end. If the 2012 election demonstrates anything it is that good and just public officials who will protect the dignity of all human beings will not be elected by a substantially secular and relativist electorate which has substantially lost sight of justice and inalienable human rights for all human beings, even if they clothe themselves in the rhetoric of a welfare state protective of the poor.
As it always has been, the true goal is evangelization, and the proclamation of justice in the public square is at the core of the Church’s mission to evangelize the world, and to bring all creation to union with the Creator. That is what creates a just society oriented to the Divine Plan.
The Church, as it has done through the centuries, reminds those in the public arena that there are truths on which peaceful, just, and productive societies must be based, truths which are greater than the material world, and without which societies collapse into anarchy and despotism. This is an unwelcome message for the state which, left unchecked, always seeks more power and more wealth to protect that power, and which has no interest in the transcendent.
But, as Pope Benedict XVI seems to never tire in telling us, the Church understands that governments cannot properly fulfill their social and political obligations, if they act only within a system closed in on itself and cut off from the supernatural and the transcendental, and thus closed off to the fullness of truth. The truth which is indispensible to mankind most certainly includes science and human ingenuity and creativity, but it must have much more. That “much more” is the Church’s message of human dignity and the divine plan, which must be brought into the public conversation of our society. Rejected or not, it is the duty of the Church and it members to preach this message to every government and every society, and it is the duty of the state to allow the Church and its faithful members access to the public arena for that purpose.
Pope Benedict in an address in 2010 to missionaries described it in this manner:
It is a weighty mission, that of evangelization, especially in our time in which humanity suffers from a certain lack of reflection and wisdom and a humanism is spreading that excludes God …The Church present and active on the geographical and anthropological frontiers bears a message that has been passed down through history, in which she proclaims inalienable human values, with the proclamation and witness of God’s saving plan made visible and operative in Christ. Preaching the Gospel is the call of God’s children to freedom, to the construction of an ever more just and solidary society, and to our preparation for eternal life.
We can add that the nation that excludes the “message that has been passed down through history,” will ultimately destroy itself.
Furthermore, and importantly, the pope also told those missionaries that evangelization is not without persecution:
Whoever participates in Christ’s mission must inevitably face tribulation, conflict and suffering, because they will come up against the resistance and the powers of this world.
This statement is noteworthy in a time when western democracies, including the United States, continue on a course of increased centralization and growing governmental power. History teaches that the state will always seek to increase its power over its citizens and the institutions which mediate between them and it. History also teaches that as the state’s power grows it becomes more jealous of that power, and more hostile toward any person or entity which might be a check on it or interfere with its control over its subjects. This jealousy is especially focused on the Church. This means that freedom of religion in some way, at some level, and to some degree is at best tolerated by the state, but always seen as something to be controlled or manipulated, and so is always at risk.
(Perhaps the American bishops are finally learning this lesson. After decades of unconditional support of a more powerful and expansive federal government, the American bishops now find themselves in court, forced to fight that same government over the mandate of the federal Department of Health and Human Services compelling Catholic employers to pay for abortion and contraception for their employees. The sad truth is that the bishops’ unwavering support for the unlimited welfare state has produced the unlimited abortion license that destroys both life and freedom.)
Every faithful Catholic has a duty to take part in the great mission to evangelize the world and lead it back through Jesus Christ, to the Creator, beginning with one’s own community. That duty is not optional. And past failure is not disqualifying. All saints have pasts, and all sinners have futures. The imperfect but sincere pilgrim has respect and credibility. The lukewarm hypocrite has neither.
If we are to have a society that respects religious freedom and one that is just and protective of the inalienable human rights of all human beings, Catholics must live their faith. Catholics must be better Catholics. To paraphrase then Cardinal Ratzinger when he addressed his fellow cardinals before they secluded themselves to elect a new pope, we need to grow up and have an adult faith.
We also need to confront the hard issues in our society. Jesus commanded us to provide for the poor, and we should. But our society is not imploding because we don’t feed, clothe, and shelter the poor, or provide them with medical care. We do. No questions asked. We even give them cell phones. Further, you will not be attacked by the media and the secular elites for working in a shelter for the homeless or a food bank.
The hard issues are the life issues: life and marriage, both personally and socially. It’s hard to stay married, and hard to be open to creation. But it was hard for our ancestors too. It’s hard to be mocked when you defend the permanence of the marriage bond and the destructive results of contraception, or endure the ridicule from the pro aborts who will demonize you in the media and to your face as a bible thumping, woman hating kook if you speak up about the evil of abortion. It’s also hard to defend marriage as only between a man and a woman because you will be attacked by a radical and wealthy minority supported by a sentimental public, who will bully you, call you a bigot, and try to have you prosecuted as a criminal. But St. Paul tells us that being a fool for Christ is required conduct.
Actually such derision and contempt — the inevitable “tribulation, conflict and suffering” to which the pope referred- is as it has always been for those who speak the truth. Those who hate the truth will hate you and seek to do you harm. Those who hated Him, He said, will hate you too.
So while we need to stay involved in the political arena, politics is only a single (and frequently unreliable) means. But if we are to create a just society that protects the life and the dignity of all human beings, a more perfect union, we need to find the faith and the courage to get on with our duty to evangelize the world. We need to get on with being Catholic!