31st Sunday of Ordinary Time
A Pre-Election Homily
Oct. 30, 2016Collect
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.
“Almighty and merciful God, by your gift your faithful offer you right and praiseworthy service” (Collect).
The “right and praiseworthy service” that the faithful people of Jesus Christ offer to the Father is, 1st of all, the sacred liturgy, our public worship, thru the Mass and the other sacraments.
2d, it’s the service of our daily lives, our living as disciples of Jesus and children of the Father once we leave the sacred liturgy. Our service continues in what has been called the liturgy of life, in keeping with St. Paul’s exhortation to the Romans: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship” (12:1).
10 days before our elections, we need to consider how our exercise of democracy in this place at this time expresses “right and praiseworthy service” of God. Apologies to anyone who’s voted early. I’m sure most of us wish this whole thing would just go away! But of course, it won’t, and we have to deal with it, not only on Nov. 8 but for the next 4 years, and probably far beyond 4 years because of the consequences that will follow from Nov. 8’s decision.
I’ve been reading massive amounts of newsprint—or whatever you call it on your computer—from both the religious press and secular media about this year’s life-and-death issues and the implications for the religious freedom we pray for at every Mass. Brothers and sisters, it’s not looking pretty for religious believers.
Pope Francis has offered us some remarks worth attending to. 1) Almost everything we do is political because politics has to do with how people live together. So when we talk about moral issues, we’re necessarily being political. Along the same line, Abp. Chaput of Philadelphia said in a speech at Notre Dame on 9/15 that we “have a duty to leave the world better than we found it. One of the ways we do that, however imperfectly, is through politics.” 2) Pope Francis advises all of us to study the issues, to pray, and then to vote our consciences (CNS, 10/2). 3) Related to no. 2, pastors have an obligation to offer guidance to their flocks on how to vote; not for whom to vote, but how; i.e., what issues or concerns should be forming our consciences and guiding our decisions.
Every 4 years for the last 2 decades, the bishops of the U.S. have issued a long statement about 15 or 20 issues that should concern Catholics as they prepare to vote. The bishops of Illinois this year, mercifully, put out a much shorter message that was published on a half page of the Catholic Post on 9/25. It’s headed “Seven Key Themes of Catholic Social Teaching.” The Catholic teaching we’re talking about at election season, sisters and brothers, isn’t dogmatic theology; we’re not talking about the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Nor is it about Church practices, like celibacy or holy water. It’s about how we treat one another. In the words of St. John Paul II, it’s about the fundamental dignity of every human person; or in the words of Pope Francis, it’s about addressing our throwaway society—a society that is not only throwing away or destroying the creation that God has given us but also disposing of inconvenient human beings.
So what are the 7 key issues that our bishops identify? The life and dignity of the human person; care for God’s creation; family; human rights and responsibilities; care for the poor and vulnerable; dignity of work and rights of workers; and solidarity.
Clearly, no party is in complete agreement with Christian morality on all issues. Many bishops and commentators in the religious media have been reminding us that the public issues under debate, or that should be under debate, can be sorted into 2 types: those that are non-negotiable from a moral standpoint, policies that are either moral or immoral all the time; and those that require prudential judgment about what might be the best policy or how best to work toward a given purpose.
Practically speaking, what does that distinction between non-negotiables and debatable policies mean? Popes JPII, Benedict, and Francis and our bishops have taught consistently that certain specific actions are so offensive to human dignity that they are always wrong, regardless of circumstances. These actions include (but aren’t limited to) genocide, the abuse of minors, abortion, euthanasia or assisted suicide, embryonic stem cell research, and the deliberate targeting of non-combatants during war. Further, we are reminded that it is immoral and sinful to support or vote for candidates who advocate those actions, if there are other options for our votes.
There are other issues that are important but require prudence, wisdom, and political care to act upon. Racism is absolutely a moral evil; but how one goes about shaping a more just society, e.g., one in which blacks or Hispanics have no reason to be afraid of police officers, is up for lots of discussion, and different courses of action might address the evil.
Everyone has a right to food, shelter, clothing, and health care. But how do you see that everyone has reasonable access to them? What kind of public assistance is called for? What is a just wage for workers? How should we assist refugees?
We have to take care of God’s creation and bequeath a livable world to our children. But how are we to balance care for the environment with economic stability and employment concerns in our country and in the developing world?
There are no obvious answers to such questions, either politically or morally. We may in good conscience vote for and work for various policies to try to tackle them.
As you may have noted, our local newspaper refused in its 10/2 editorial to endorse either major candidate: “Nobody for President.” Numerous pundits and even some bishops, like Abp. Chaput and our neighbor Bishop Paprocki in Springfield, have called both major candidates for President so seriously flawed that people are wondering whether it would be moral to consider a minor candidate or to sit out the election. There’s a home about 10 blocks from here where a yard sign urges the passer-by, “Vote Willie Nelson for President.”
Some bishops agree that one may skip the presidential line on the ballot, but one is still obliged to vote for other offices, because public policy that affects all of us is shaped at many levels. Abp. Chaput said in that 9/15 speech that if good Christians “leave the public square, other people with much worse intentions won’t” leave that square. Therefore various bishops and commentators urge us to opt for what is often called “the lesser of 2 evils,” for we must necessarily have one or the other; not to choose is to choose. One commentator has opined that the barbarians are already in charge of our country, and our battle is to try to take back the public arena. Voting for a 3d-party candidate (if you can find one worthier than the 2 main ones) or writing in the name of someone else entirely is a way of making a statement about what the major parties have offered us, and that’s valid. If you do some homework, you can find a qualified person whose name you can write in; I don’t suggest Willie Nelson.
The most recent issue of the Catholic Post (10/23) includes an impassioned column pleading with us to reject any candidate or party platform that endorses the killing of the unborn or the sick or human embryos and calls for public funding of abortion. A homily far stronger than that column (and ⅓ longer than this homily) was preached in the cathedral of Phoenix 4 weeks ago, and you can find both text and YouTube online.
One party platform and its presidential candidate enthusiastically endorses the anti-life positions decried by that Post column and the Phoenix homily. That platform and candidate promise to select federal judges of like mind. The candidate has labeled people who aren’t on her side as “deplorables,” and said candidate’s aides call our Church “a middle ages dictatorship.” The platform promises no quarter to those who oppose the pagan agenda that it promotes regarding the unborn, homosexuality, and euthanasia; as far as they’re concerned, you and I are religious fanatics; we’re bigots; and in the name of “tolerance” and “non-discrimination,” our freedoms must be limited to private belief and harmless worship but cannot include acting on our consciences if our consciences aren’t in harmony with the prevailing mores of our secular culture—our pagan culture.
To what extent is our religious freedom in jeopardy? You already know about legal decisions affecting bakers, florists, and photographers compelled to give their unwilling service, and implied approval, to gay weddings; and pharmacists compelled to dispense abortion-inducing drugs. There have already been attempts to compel all medical students to learn how to perform abortions, and Catholic hospitals to provide them; and those attempts will be accelerated. There is already immense public pressure—even from Catholic parents—and at least one legal settlement backing up that pressure, for Catholic schools to go along with the pagan agenda regarding marriage and “reproductive rights.” Here in Illinois, religiously-based crisis pregnancy centers have gone to federal court in defense of their religious freedom and freedom of speech against a state law that requires them to give patients information about abortion services. If the past performance of the federal courts is any guide, watch out.
Massachusetts has enacted a law that prohibits discrimination against transgender people in public restrooms and locker rooms—as the Obama Administration tried with less success to do nationally a few months ago. In Massachusetts the law applies also to churches. And it prohibits the making of statements intended to discriminate or incite others to do so; in other words, it aims to prevent churches and pastors from offering opinions about sexuality that conflict with the government’s opinions. Which means I’d be in trouble for what I just said. We haven’t seen the end of this stuff, by any means.
Call them secularists, call them barbarians, or call them pagans—they will not relent, nor will they grant the tolerance they demand for their own viewpoints.
On 9/8 the U.S. Civil Rights Commission issued a long report—306 pages—with one sentence of great concern to religious leaders. It reads: “The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.” A lot of religious leaders, including our bishops, have asked President Obama to renounce that one sentence in the report. But the sentiments in that sentence harmonize with the platform—the political agenda—of one of our major presidential candidates and the party that supports that candidate.
So, sisters and brothers, in these days we owe to the Lord our “right and praiseworthy service” as we discern what direction we want our President, our Congress, and our state legislature to take us in. There’s a great deal at stake concerning human life and dignity, and our freedom to practice what we believe. We are accountable before God for our votes. As Pope Francis has advised, study the issues; pray; and vote your conscience.
May God bless and guide all of us.