Being Kind: Even In An Election Year 

Politics. This election year we see and hear political discussions all the time and everywhere around us. Many of us may complain about the number of ads on tv and the “other guy’s” candidate, but if we’re really honest, we Americans love us some politics. And that’s a good thing, because political decisions and issues are how we live out the reality of our Republic in daily life. We’re blessed to live in a country in which every citizen (mostly) can vote freely for the candidate of their choosing. Many millions of people around the world don’t share these freedoms. But sometimes we allow politics to become a source of angry or hurtful words. This is especially true in our online relationships. We feel so strongly sometimes that we allow our words to hurt others. Instead of debating our political differences, we attack the person with whom we’re engaging. What I find most disturbing is that I see fellow Christians saying or posting hurtful words about one another.  

It’s easy for us to get emotional about politics because, like religion, it speaks to our fundamental beliefs, to what we hold most dear. We tend to blur the lines between “debate” and “attack” when someone disagrees with our political views or our faith. After all, if we didn’t truly care about our politics and our faith, we wouldn’t get upset if someone disagreed with our views. And it’s good for us to care; good that we feel deeply about how we view the world and our place in it. What we can’t do is to allow our emotions to override our charity. When we do that, we’ve become like an unbeliever.  

To begin with, we accept that the person with whom we disagree is a fellow child of God, created in His image and loved by Him uniquely and for all eternity. Yes, even that supporter of our political foe, who stands for everything we don’t want in a President. There’s a wonderful quote by St. Josemaria Escriva to remember at times like this: “Don’t say, ‘That person gets on my nerves.’ Think, ‘That person sanctifies me.'” Ouch. What is it about that “other” person that grates on you enough to make you respond so harshly? Usually it’s because we see in them something in ourselves that we really dislike. They mirror back to us that most unlovely part of ourselves and, if we’re honest, we know it. And we can invite the Lord to heal us of that flaw.  

The next thing is to truly know what it is you believe and why it is that you believe it. And this applies to both your politics and your faith. When we can clearly lay out why we support Candidate X, it makes us take a close look at our beliefs and values and why we hold them. We have to be able to think logically and to state our positions with clarity and precision. We used to teach debate in our schools and for a good reason. It’s very instructive when you must defend a position with which you disagree. Try doing that with the political candidates from that “other” party. You’ll come to see pretty quickly why it is you support your favorite man or woman. And when you discuss them, you’ll be more able to speak from a well-thought-out position and not just from your emotions.  

And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we must accept that it’s unlikely that any of our political arguments will change anyone’s mind. But when we allow our politics to become a hurtful attack, we DO allow it to change our hearts—and in a bad way. We are, after all, called to love and respect the dignity of every person, even those with whom we disagree. Perhaps, most of all, with these folks. Because when the election is over, we’ll all have one President and one Congress. And we have so much that we need to come together for and work together to solve. We can all pray that the Lord will guide us to choose the best possible people to lead our nation. As St. Paul instructs us to pray:

“…for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.”

          —II Timothy 2:2 

Embracing Hope

Hope. Sometimes we forget that this season of Lent is all about hope. We tend to focus on penance and fasting—on what we’re “giving up” for Lent. But what purpose is any of it if we’re not living in the hope of the Resurrection? Hope looks forward, to the future and to our true home in heaven, living in the presence of Christ, Who never changes and Who never fails us. These days we seem divided and adrift as a country. But we needn’t be if we live in hope. And, if we chose to see it, hope springs up all around us. The empty tomb is lived out in the simple choices that each one of us makes every day. Seeing these choices for what they reveal about our hearts is one of the joys of this reflective time of Lent.  

We see hope when a teacher takes the time to comfort a crying child whose home life is hunger, loneliness, and harsh words. We see hope when a young man in prison receives a letter filled with kind words and encouragement, tucked inside a new Bible. We see hope when a young mother, despite pressure from her boyfriend, decides to keep her unborn child. We see hope when a man who has been away from the Church for decades is welcomed and consoled in the confessional by a kind and patient priest. Oh yes. Hope is surely here, if we see it.

“Hope is the life of the soul,” writes Dr. Peter Kreeft. Hope isn’t wishful thinking, or a merely optimistic outlook on life. Real hope, Christian hope, is the solid conviction that God has a plan for my life. Hope is knowing that He is in charge of everything and that He will see me through every trial—even the trial of my death. Hope is the risen Christ, the empty tomb, and life everlasting. Hope gives us strength to trust in God and not in ourselves. “Our God is thus a God of promises. And He keeps every one to the letter,” says Dr. Kreeft. We see that hope when an elderly couple, homebound and frail, share a meal and hospitality with the family that lives next door. We see hope when a businessman spends his Saturdays working with homeless men, helping them to fill out job applications and develop interview skills. We see hope when a parish welcomes two refugee families and provides them with housing and settlement support. We see hope when a husband and wife choose to adopt a child.

Hope connects us with one another and helps us to realize that we are all on this earthly journey together. “Hope builds bridges between faith and love, between conservatives and liberals, between present and future, between earth and heaven,” writes Dr. Kreeft. Hope asks of us to care for the needy among us, to reach out beyond our prejudices and to see the face of Christ in our neighbor. Hope gives us the courage to leave our fears in God’s hands. Hope calls us forth to love. We see hope when a teenaged girl is rescued from sex-trafficking by a group of dedicated nuns. We see hope when a small boy witnesses his mother love and care for his dying father in their home, day after day, for months on end. We see hope when a brother and a sister reconcile with one another after years of resentment over a now-forgotten slight. We see hope in the life of a woman battling breast cancer, who faces each day with courage and joy, inspiring those around her to do the same.  

We show hope to others when we live a life of gratitude, no matter our circumstances. Because we know that our God is always in charge, caring for us and drawing us to Himself. We know that today and tomorrow and all eternity are in His loving grasp. Hope is not an abstraction or a concept. Hope isn’t an intellectual exercise or a naive belief in some make-believe Candyland of our own design. Hope is as real as the nails in His sacred hands, as solid as the rock rolled away from His grave, as everlasting as God Himself. Hope isn’t some “thing”—as Pope Francis recently told the people of Mexico: “You have asked me for a word of hope–what I have to offer you has a name–Jesus Christ.”

“I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find til after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to the other country and to help others do the same.”

              —-C.S. Lewis 

Off The Rails With JFK

I love America. Both sides of my family came over on the Mayflower. My ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II. Hearing the national anthem always makes me tear up. The values of freedom and liberty as God-given rights have been ingrained in me since childhood. When I recite the Pledge of Allegiance, I mean it. It’s my privilege and duty to know America’s history, to value the institutions which have made her a great country and to sacrifice myself for her welfare. I respect and obey her laws. But….only up to a point.

As a Catholic, I’m obliged to contest those laws that contradict moral teaching. This is why Catholics oppose laws supporting abortion, human cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia, the death penalty, and same-sex “marriage.” We oppose those laws on moral grounds, because they go against Catholic teaching on life and the family. There comes a point in our lives as followers of Christ when our love of country must be tempered by our greater loyalty to God. And this brings us to John F. Kennedy.  

Running for President in 1960, Kennedy’s Catholic faith was a topic of discussion and concern for many people. Our country still harbored a mistrust of Catholics in politics. Sort of like today, when some folks question the patriotism of a Muslim seeking political office. As JFK campaigned during the election process, he was met with questions about how his faith might influence his presidency. Catholics were seen as “different” from their protestant fellow citizens, and there was concern that a Catholic would govern only after the approval of the Pope. Kennedy made it clear on more than one occasion that his Catholic faith would not dictate his public policy. Fast forward to 2016. The Speaker of the House is Catholic as are 5 of the remaining 8 Supreme Court Justices. Our Vice-President is Catholic. Two of the Republican candidates for President are Catholic. It seems that being a Catholic is no longer an impediment to holding high-level public office. Public opinion has become very accepting of Catholics. And that might not necessarily be a good thing.  

You see, back in JFK’s day, folks were wary of Catholic candidates because they feared their faith would influence their public policy. But we Catholics have done an outstanding job in proving that fear to be groundless. We’ve proven over and over again that we don’t allow our faith to influence anything at all. You can look at the voting records of Catholic members of Congress and readily see that their religion doesn’t inform their decisions, or at least not for many of them. Nor does it temper the findings of our highest Court. In our attempt to make our Catholic faith more acceptable in the public arena, we’ve also made it irrelevant. Folks no longer see Catholics as “different” because we’ve become just as secular as the rest of our country. We don’t allow the Church to influence our votes. This explains why Catholics readily vote for politicians who support abortion and same-sex “marriage.” We’re just the same as the growing number of Americans who claim to have no faith at all. In less than 2 generations, Catholic politicians have gone from exotic to plain vanilla.  

Back in 2010, Archbishop Charles Chaput described our current situation much more eloquently than I can when he said, “[Kennedy’s] remarks profoundly undermined the place not just of Catholics, but of all religious believers in American public life and conversation.” In effect, he said that JFK “began the project of walling religion away” so that we no longer allow our faith to color our decision or our convictions. We’ve made our faith irrelevant to our public lives, keeping it safely and harmlessly tucked into our Sunday morning pews. Everyone “likes” us now because no one believes that Catholicism means much of anything at all. Certainly not in politics.  

Are any of the candidates of either party, or independents, standing for something that is intrinsically evil, no matter what the circumstances? If that’s the case, a Catholic, regardless of his party affiliation, shouldn’t be voting for such a person.” 

     —-Archbishop William E. Lori 

Seeing Lent Again

It started out like any other day. I woke up, stumbling into the shower and closed my eyes to let the hot water finish waking me up. It was only when I opened my eyes again that I noticed something was wrong. In my right eye there was a dark spot in the corner that shouldn’t have been there. Within six hours I was in surgery having a tear in my retina repaired. Thanks be to God and my surgeon, my eye is on the mend. In light of all the suffering in this broken world of ours, mine has been tiny and minor. And yet it’s been enough to open my eyes, pardon the pun.

Lent is like that, too. It interrupts our routine and makes us look at life in a different way. It slows us down and makes us think about what we’re doing more deliberately. Lent is an opportunity to see the world, and ourselves, through different eyes. My torn retina and the surgical repair that followed has (temporarily) changed my vision. My prayer is that Lent will have a more long-lasting change in my heart.  

Throughout the centuries, the Church has taught us that the best way to experience Lent is through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In this tradition, we can look to the Saints for advice and example. I like the ones who keep things simple. “Prayer should be short and simple,” writes St. Benedict. Of course, as the greatest of all the Western monastics, he probably spent many hours of each day in prayer. He also worked and played and read and wrote and slept—proving that sainthood is something not limited to Sunday morning worship. When even the most ordinary activities of our daily lives are offered to God for His praise and use, His grace sanctifies our efforts. Flannery O’Connor reminds us that sometimes the hardest part of prayer is getting out of God’s way. Amen, sister. This Lent, try starting each morning in prayer. Offer God all your work and play of that day. Invite Him to guide you as you make decisions and open your eyes to the opportunities around you to serve others.  

Fasting sounds really tough to most of us, because we don’t usually deny ourselves very much. Certainly we can fast from food, as Catholics will on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. This is a discipline of our bodies which frees us to focus on our spiritual nourishment. There are lots of ways to fast and many things we can fast from other than our favorite foods. Give up gossip for Lent, or a tv show you’re accustomed to watching. Fast from taking selfies or from buying that next pair of shoes. Whenever we deny ourselves we exercise the muscles of our souls and become just a little bit less self-centered.  

Almsgiving is the third way we can renew our spiritual lives during Lent. Yes, it’s important that we give money in support of the church and to help the needy. But maybe its just as important to give our time to other people. Who do you know that is lonely, or confined to a nursing home, or prison? Is there a talent you have that you could share with your parish or a charity that’s meaningful to you? For me, giving forgiveness is important. Can you think of someone, living or dead, that needs your forgiveness? This gift of mercy is precious to our Lord and pleases Him greatly. 

Lent isn’t a time for sad faces and gloomy dispositions. It’s a season of opportunity, when we can take an honest look at ourselves and ask God to help us become more like Him. It’s good for us to slow down and spend more time in prayer. Discipline helps us to grow in charity and showing mercy to someone who’s hurt us can be a source of great joy and healing. For the next six weeks, we can focus more on what we might have been overlooking lately, especially our prayer life. Ask God what He wants from you this Lent. Pray that He’ll open your eyes to see the needs of those around you and how you can help. Lent can be a rich and beautiful time of growth and renewal…sort of like springtime.  

“One of the best ways to get happiness and pleasure out of life is to ask ourselves: ‘How can I please God?’ “

         —Archbishop Fulton J.   Sheen