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Editorial: Should Catholics Even Bother with Politics?

By Deacon Keith Fournier
January 13th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The men and women I met this evening confirmed my decision to recommit myself to helping lay Catholic men and women come to understand the treasury of the teaching of the Catholic Church on faithful citizenship and social responsibility, which includes political participation.Then, to do everything I can to encourage morally coherent people run for public office and help to get them elected. 

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - I write from the Washington DC area after having just concluded  the first in a series of talks on Catholics and political participation for the Institute of Catholic Culture.

There was a large crowd. Many people stayed afterwards for ongoing conversation. They were eager to grow in understanding the implications of being a faithful Catholic citizen. What was crystal clear to me by the end of the evening was that we have the resources to prepare the kind of future political candidates this nation desperately needs in public office. 

Many of my readers have been asking the question, should we even bother with Politics? My answer is a clear - Yes!  Please, do not think I have one ounce of me naiveté left in me after all these years. I do not! However, I am convinced that Catholics, above all others, have an obligation to stay involved. To those to whom much is given, much is required. 

In his introduction to The Screwtape Letters, a brilliant work exposing the unseen spiritual warfare taking place around us through a series of letters between two demons - the older Screwtape, an instructor and the younger student Wormwood - CS Lewis wrote: 

"There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight."

In a sense, this is true of politics. Like many of you, I am still in recovery after the last electoral cycle, trying to make sense out of what is happening to this nation which we love. The temptation, so clearly present in our circles, is to fall into two separate approaches, both of which can lead to error.

One is to completely retreat from that area of culture and social responsibility referred to as politics. The other, is to pursue the path of the modern zealot or utopian and believe that politics alone can actually effect enduring change in the hearts of people and thus in the broader culture.
 
To paraphrase Lewis, The devils, so clearly active in the current political climate, "hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight."

In 1947, Lewis addressed the decline of his beloved Britain in an insightful book entitled "The Abolition of man: How Education Develops Man's Sense of Morality." He warned of the subjective and relativistic trends in the British educational system of the time. He reasserted the timeless moral truths of Christianity as the solution. 

He called for a return to the Christian vision of the human person and the cultivation of virtues as the path to true human flourishing and freedom.  He defined what he called "the chest" in this work as the "higher emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments or character."

He wrote that without this "chest", men and women devolve into self-idolatry, losing their human dignity and true freedom. They become slaves to disordered appetites.

Sound familiar?

The West is in a moral mess, just as Lewis warned. With its decline we face the eclipse of true freedom. Lewis' words in that book are timely: "And all the time - such is the tragicomedy of our situation - we continue to clamor for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more 'drive,' or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or 'creativity.'

"In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful."

We are living under what Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, properly called a "Dictatorship of Relativism" in the West. Relativism is a philosophy which says there are no truths. The culture stumbles, drunken on the false notion of freedom divorced from norms to guide the exercise of human choice and govern our behavior.

When there is nothing objectively true which can be known by all and form the basis of our common life then there is no foundation for a truly free society. We teeter on the brink of anarchy precisely because we have lost our moral compass as a Nation.

We are accused of being against progress and anti-science for defending the dignity of every human life - including the lives of our first neighbors in the womb. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are Pro-life because it is right. In an age deluded by the architects of a cultural order of death we must never compromise on the truth concerning the dignity of every human life from conception through natural death.

Science confirms what our conscience confirmed, those little girls and boys in the womb are our neighbors. It is always wrong to intentionally kill our innocent neighbors. To say and do otherwise is barbaric.

We insist that true marriage and family have been inscribed by the Divine Architect into the order of the universe. That is because they have. Truth does not change, people and cultures do; sometimes for good and sometimes for evil. Marriage is the first society into which children are to be born, learn to be fully human, grow in virtue, flourish and take their role in families and communities.

We must not be afraid to make the claim that children have a right to a mother and a father. They do. Of course we care about the single parent family and the many broken homes. However, their existence does not change the norm necessary for a stable and healthy society.

In tact marriages and families are the glue of a healthy and happy social order. We need to be a visible, palpable reflection of this truth about marriage and family in our own lives. To live a faithful marriage is now countercultural.  Our convictions and claims concerning life and marriage are not outdated notions of a past era but provide the path to the future.

We insist upon the existence of a Natural Moral Law which can be known by all men and women through the exercise of reason. This is not only a Christian position. It is the ground upon which every great civilization has been built. It is the source for every great and authentic human and civil rights movement. The Natural Law gives us the moral norms we need to build societies and govern ourselves. It must also inform our positive law or we will become lawless and devolve into anarchy.

Two years before becoming Pope, Karol Cardinal Wotyla spoke to the U.S. Bishops. His observation was republished in the Wall Street Journal on November 9, 1978: "We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of the American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully."

"We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel and the anti-Gospel. This confrontation lies within the plans of divine providence. It is a trial which the whole Church must take up."

And take it up we have. However, there is much, much more to do. The ground has shifted and the struggle is intensifying. Our cultural mission lies at the heart of what it means for us as Christians to be leaven, light, salt and the soul of the world.

This is no time to retreat from culture; we must work for its conversion by becoming men and women who influence it. What is needed are Christian men and women of courage who are morally coherent and do not separate their faith from their participation in every aspect of culture, including political participation.  We must work for its conversion by working for the conversion of hearts as well as the transformation of structures which promote the true common good. 

The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a directive instruction in 2002 entitled a "Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life." It called upon Catholics to be "morally coherent" in the exercise of their citizenship and in their political participation.

The men and women I met this evening confirmed my decision to recommit myself to helping lay Catholic men and women come to understand the treasury of the teaching of the Catholic Church on faithful citizenship and social responsibility, which includes political participation.

Then, to do everything I can to encourage morally coherent people run for public office and help to get them elected. 

Please visit the Institute of Catholic Culture here

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