How we vote — if we vote — is part of who we are and what we do with our time here.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia writes:
The only king Christians have is Jesus Christ. The obligation to seek and serve the truth belongs to each of us personally. The duty to love and help our neighbor belongs to each of us personally. We can’t ignore or delegate away these personal duties to anyone else or any government agency.
More than 1,600 years ago, St. Basil the Great warned his wealthy fellow Christians that “The bread you possess belongs to the hungry. The clothing you store in boxes belongs to the naked.”
St. John Chrysostom, Basil’s equally great contemporary, preached exactly the same message: “God does not want golden vessels but golden hearts,” and “for those who neglect their neighbor, a hell awaits with an inextinguishable fire in the company of the demons.”
What was true then is true now. Hell is not a metaphor. Hell is real. Jesus spoke about it many times and without any ambiguity. If we do not help the poor, we’ll go to hell. I’ll say it again: If we do not help the poor, we will go to hell.
And who are the poor? They’re the people we so often try to look away from — people who are homeless or dying or unemployed or mentally disabled. They’re also the unborn child who has a right to God’s gift of life, and the single mother who looks to us for compassion and material support. Above all, they’re the persons in need that God presents to each of us not as a “policy issue,” but right here, right now, in our daily lives.
Thomas of Villanova, the great Augustinian saint for whom Villanova University is named, is remembered for his skills as a scholar and reforming bishop. But even more important was his passion for serving the poor, and his zeal for penetrating the entire world around him with the virtues of justice and Christian love.
Time matters. God will hold us accountable for the way we use it. All of us who call ourselves Christians share the same vocation to love God first and above all things; and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We’re citizens of heaven first; but we have obligations here. We’re Catholics and Christians first. And if we live that way — zealously and selflessly in our public lives — our country will be the better for it; and God will use us to help make the world new.
In an interview with me for National Review Online earlier this year, Archbishop Chaput said of religious liberty:
constitutional guarantees are just scraps of elegant prose unless people fight to keep them alive. This country has no special immunity to anti-religious bigotry in our courts and legislatures. If we don’t press our lawmakers to defend the rights of religious believers and communities, then we’ll lose those rights. It’s already happening.
And about how we got here:
I think making their way into the mainstream led many Catholics into a false sense of security in this country. Important elements of our Catholic faith will always be in tension with America’s Protestant and Enlightenment roots, and especially with today’s secularist thinking. A lot of people in my generation apparently forgot that.
More from that interview on religious liberty here.
But back to hell. Because I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go there. Which is why I’m grateful that the Romney-Ryan ticket is concerned about “cures that don’t cure, blessings that don’t bless, and solutions that don’t solve,” as Romney put it, quoting Chesterton in his speech to the NAACP this summer. That Paul Ryan looks to Catholic Social Teaching as he discerns what’s not working and what good moral stewardship is in a federal government’s budgetary policy. This must happen. We must insist on this, and for real, in office.
I’m not going to pretend that the Republican party is the perfect conduit of Catholic Social Teaching. But I look at the two parties on innocent life, and voting for the Republican is the only place I can be. I look at this president on religious liberty: On the record, it is curtailed and redefined under his leadership. But there is more about the choice for Romney-Ryan: There is a solicitude for the poor here. There is an insistence that we insist marriage matters to the life of a democratic republic. And that these concerns are related. And they must be.
I just pray that we take these decisions seriously, that Americans know the choices before them and why they are important.
As we inaugurate someone in January, we will be marking 40 years of legal abortion. We have got to do better.