THIS Is Why We Need Real, Actual Civility

A priest reflects on the pain of politics:

Catholics should be in agreement with each other over issues of life and death, marriage, and homosexuality. And even if there may be different approaches about how best to care for immigrants, or the poor, Catholics while open to a diversity of solutions, must also grasp more deeply the fundamental principles of Church teaching regarding our obligations to immigrants and to the poor. Catholics should find a unity among each other through the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church, which are quite thorough in all the moral and social issues.

But the current political climate has utterly poisoned the parish environment where these discussions and learning should take place. The pernicious effects of poisonous politics creates hostility where discussions and teaching shut down almost the moment they begin. So while there may be a few parishes that are largely unified, many, even most, are seriously divided.

A priest may speak from the pulpit on the horrific practice of abortion and be written off by many as being simply a Republican. He may speak to the issue of capital punishment, or immigration, and though he read directly from the pages of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he will be simply dismissed with a wave of the hand is sounding like some sort of liberal Democrat. Let the priest speak against homosexual activity and against so-called gay “marriage” and once again he is consigned by many to the ranks of being some “right-wing, reactionary, hateful, Republican.”

It is all very ugly, and even while some may wish to opine that some teachings have more doctrinal authority than others, what I refer to here is a simple refusal even to any openness to being taught, to being persuaded. There is almost complete resistance even to reluctantly agree, just as a matter of strategy, that it might be good to stand unified with our bishops, even in prudential matters. No, it would seem that politics generally rules the day, it drives the discussion, it trumps the faith at every turn.

It is an increasingly difficult and painful landscape for priests to navigate. It is also quite difficult to see any hope for improvement in the near future.

It is of course a problem that is bigger than the Church alone. The synthesis between the Judeo-Christian faith and Western culture has broken down in the last 50 years. This breakdown is intersected with politics.

And while it is true that the Democrat party seems increasingly to be aligning itself with the forces of secularism, and opposing the teachings of historical Christianity, it hardly seems wise at this moment for the Church to wholly abandon any attempt to continue to influence all political parties and movements. Slamming doors, and wholly cutting ties is not generally the instinct of the Church. It also remains a fact that many Catholics, including churchgoing Catholics, remain strongly attached to the Democratic Party, for historical and local reasons. The Church cannot, as a good mother, simply say to some of her children, “No longer darken my door.” Admittedly though, it is an increasingly strained relationship.

Perhaps the best the Church can do in a time like this, perhaps the best that the priests and pastors can do, is to insist, yes even to beg that all the Catholic faithful will use the faith as their starting point. Yes, the faith! Not their politics, not just what they heard some dopey actor say recently, not what they heard in a popular song that has a pretty melody. No, the starting point, the main influence must be the sure, undiluted waters of the Gospel, and the teachings of the faith. And this should be the case no matter what tensions are introduced into a person’s political leanings.

Let the faith be first! Let the Lord have the first word, indeed the last word as well. Faith must be the starting point of how we think on every issue. Would that every Catholic would bring the faith into the political process and make it a dynamic force, rather than to try and bring the political process into the Church, and insist that we make foolish compromises to the clearly revealed truth of the Gospels. Our holy faith comes first. It is the light by which we see and judge everything else. No earthly prince or earthly philosophy should ever be able to overrule the teachings of our Lord in our mind and heart. Faith comes first.

This is why Cardinal Dolan prays at both political conventions and breaks bread with even those who would persecute the Church. Because we pray the light of Christ shows through as we seek to tell the truth with our lives and our words when necessary.

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