How should a Catholic approach this election season? For one, ‘be strong, fear not’

It is through the activity of holy lay people that the light of God’s truth shines on our society. Our faith does not violate or interfere with the natural political order. When we live our faith, we serve the political order, elevating and ennobling it. (Jonathan Ernst, Reuters | CNS photo)

You might have heard there is a national election coming this November. Typically, I’ve waited until the last few weeks of other campaigns before preaching or writing on our role as “faithful citizens,” but I thought this year it might be helpful to do it earlier, since we’re already hearing so much about issues and candidates, and are inevitably forming strong opinions even now.

My purpose in writing about the election is not to give a political manifesto, per se. It’s not that I’m so fired up after seeing all the convention speakers that I thought I’d give a partisan political message a try, too. That isn’t the role priests play in our lives. Priests help us understand God’s word, and the application of that word in our lives, in the Church, and in society. 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ has something to say about each of these realities: the individual, the Church, and society. The purpose of priestly preaching and teaching is to help the members of the Church and those outside to be holy in everything we do, including our lives as citizens. 

It is through the activity of holy lay people that the light of God’s truth shines on our society. Our faith does not violate or interfere with the natural political order. When we live our faith, we serve the political order, elevating and ennobling it. Our Lord says through the prophet Isaiah, “Be strong, fear not” (Isaiah 35:4). We need to be courageous, faithful citizens, who know that God is with us, loves us, and wants the best for us.

I think we all understand how vital are the issues we face this year. Every politician and everyone talking about politics acknowledges that fact. And for the first time in recent memory, there seems to be a consensus that there is a lot more at stake than the future of our economy. Of course, we all want more jobs and a balanced budget, and all of the other elements that go into a healthy national economy, but the almost exclusive emphasis so many have placed on the economy in recent years ran the risk, to put it in biblical terms, of serving mammon and not God.

Today, more and more people are talking about the moral state of our country, which cannot be described as healthy. A review of news outlets and social media would make this point pretty clearly. Very often groups are pitted against one another — rich vs. poor, red states vs. blue states, government or Wall Street vs. “Main Street,” one race of people vs. another race — as if one group was entirely evil, and the other perfectly good. 

It does not take faith — just a good set of eyes — to recognize that this analysis is off the mark. “All have sinned,” St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans (3:23; emphasis added). All of us are imperfect, and all of us share to greater or lesser degrees in the moral decay of our country these past several decades. We also share the duty to work for a more just and godly society.

We especially need to cultivate the virtue of charity, or Christian love. Charity is a gift given to us by God in the sacrament of baptism, but like all virtues, we need to use it or run the risk that we might lose it. Scripture highlights those we need to love in a special way: the poor, the sick, and the vulnerable, those who are most threatened by the evils of this world. These are the people to whom Jesus shows such constant love in the Gospels.

Who could be more vulnerable than our youngest children? Who could be more vulnerable than those whose most basic human right — the right to life itself — is directly threatened at a stage when they are utterly unable even to speak in their own defense? Yet this is the tragic situation of the unborn, who have been killed through abortion in numbers that dwarf the casualties of every war in the history of our country combined. The death toll climbs even higher, given the use of chemical abortafacients, the sickening tolerance of abortion in all three trimesters of pregnancy by many politicians, and the popularity and funding of organizations like Planned Parenthood. How could it not be a duty of Christian charity to defend our unborn sisters and brothers? We must do everything possible to end this mass destruction of innocent human lives.

We always need to recognize the plight of the poor, especially of those whose poverty is due to mental or physical illness. We need to join ourselves to Jesus Christ in his work of serving the poor and the sick, as Jesus so often did in the years of His public ministry. Jesus performed countless miracles for the benefit of the sick, diseased, and demonically possessed, and we must imitate his example of burning love for every person. Sometimes the poor and the sick come to us, as Mother Teresa used to say, as “Jesus in distressing disguise,” but we need to look beyond the “disguise” and see Our Lord in each of our brothers and sisters.

There are so many other important issues to consider — the COVID-19 pandemic, the terrible scourge of racism, hatred directed at our police officers nationwide, education and immigration, violence in our streets and a growing attack on traditional marriage, government social aid programs and plans to increase our energy resources or to lower the national debt. All of these issues cry out for responses of great love, that love of neighbor which is one of the “Great Commandments” given by Jesus. 

But I want to highlight just one other group that is becoming marginalized, in order to highlight one of the highest stakes in this election. That group is us. We, as people of conscience, are being threatened in a way that needs to be met with the virtues of love, justice and respect.

As you know, there have in recent years been unprecedented attacks on the religious liberty of Catholics and others whose religious beliefs have been ignored, brushed aside, or trampled upon by government interference. Such outright violations of religious liberty were once unthinkable, but no longer. And they will not become unthinkable again unless we act, in charity, to defend … in this case, ourselves, as well as our fellow citizens who cherish and depend upon this fundamental freedom.

Finally, in all of these issues, we need to see that our faithful citizenship includes voting, but is not limited to voting. We cannot remain passive and hope the government will solve all of our problems, even though government plays an important role. 

“We the People” are the true rulers of this country, but that means we have the duty to make our country a place where every person is loved and respected. We need to make this a land where justice and mercy are not mere ideals but are lived, guiding principles. We need to make this a place where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are recognized as rights given by God, under Whose watchful and loving care we live — pursuing not only happiness in a superficial sense, but rather the moral excellence, the great goodness, which brings true happiness and is the hallmark quality of those who know they are the daughters and sons of God.

Fr. Charles Fox is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit currently assigned to the theology faculty of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. He is also a weekend associate pastor at St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Shelby Township and chaplain and a board member of St. Paul Evangelization Institute, headquartered in Warren.