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My worldview was wrenched into recalibration recently when I watched the video of Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s March 2012 address “Lifting Up Our Voices: How Catholics Can Make an Impact on Public Policy,” in which he said the following:
You lay people have the specific charism of bringing a religiously informed political consciousness into the public square. We bishops and we priests don’t. We stick to principles, all right. We leave a lot of the messiness of politics up to you.
Now, I say that in some ways, everybody, out of self-defense because it seems to me a lot of Catholic folks don’t get that. They still come running to daddy, namely to me and Bishop Murphy to say, “Why don’t you bishops do something? Why don’t you excommunicate So-and-So? Why don’t you throw these people out of the Church? Why don’t you say that this is a mortal sin?” In other words, they will want us to do the dirty work of politics.
Now as Bishop Nicholas Dimarzio, our brother in Brooklyn, who perhaps says things a bit more bluntly than Bishop Murphy and I do, he is responding to them, “Get off it! You’re the ones who vote. You’re the ones who can run for office. You’re the ones who can write your representatives. You’re the ones who can get into political organizations. So do it!”
(Full speech video here. Quoted selection begins at 21:00. Run time is 51 minutes.)
Cardinal Dolan is saying loud and clear that the Catholic Church leadership in America is not the cavalry. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops isn’t even the signal corps relaying the “Charge!” command from the Headquarters-Element-in-the-Sky. Instead, they are a doctrine center, producing volumes of information on a gamut of issues, but leaving the choices of where, when, how, and which evil to engage in political battle up to us. And, by the way, don’t expect a formal excommunication of Nancy Pelosi anytime soon.
This is new information for me and others like me. My whole adult life I’ve been what blogger Mark Shea calls a “whipped Catholic.” Throughout my formative years, it was subtly instilled in me that it is sinful to get involved in the “messiness” and “the dirty work of politics.” I’m self-conscious about the little bit of grassroots activism in which I participate. I certainly never thought it legitimate to bring my politics to church or vice-versa. Further, it is my impression that from the Reagan years forward, the American Catholic Church has sided with the supposedly peacemaking doves and the social spenders in government, except on the third Sunday of January, when we receive our annual reaffirmation that abortion is intrinsically evil.
So what is a faithful Catholic to do? Considering that all power is derived ultimately from God (Romans 13:1), those of us fortunate enough to be shareholders in a government “of the people, for the people, and by the people” have an obligation to use not just the ballot, but all of our basic freedoms and civil liberties to ensure our Republic remains a “shining city on the hill.” Much prayer and reflection has led to my sincere belief that the Republican party platform is infinitely more consistent with Catholic teaching than the Democratic party platform, and so I offer the following suggestions to my fellow papists who are ready to take a stand:
Flex your free exercise of religion. Every law, policy, regulation, and budget item has a moral implication, denoting a given activity as right or wrong, good or bad; consequently, religious people, struggling sinners though we all may be, have a bona fide role in the public square. Now more than ever it is time to embrace your Catholic faith. Pray and receive the sacraments regularly. Remove the log from your own eye through habitual confession, and you’ll be amazed how clearly you can see the wrongs that need to be righted in our country, and which among them are in your power to improve.
Defend against attempts to establish a government sanctioned Catholic Church. The Democrats and the media ceaselessly attempt to
define acceptable faith in action for Catholics by quoting biblical passages and Vatican statements out of context. You can counter their efforts by studying authentic Catholic teaching in relation to the pressing issues of the day. Keep your Bible handy and refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church as needed. Additionally, visit the websites CatholicVote.org and The Pulpit (a Catholic kind of Drudge Report) for current events updates.
Find your voice and speak up. If you are like my beloved mother, for eight years you politely simmered in silence while the liberal in your office or seniors’ breakfast group waxed toxic about the Bush administration. In 2008, you knew that an Obama presidency would be detrimental to our country, but your friends were so emotionally invested in “hope and change” that they were impossible to reason with. Last January, you were horrified by your sister’s Facebook postings of support for Planned Parenthood against the Susan G. Komen Foundation. The Democrats in your life may cry, get hysterical, use diversion tactics and possibly defriend you, but it is time to offer alternatives to the steady stream of liberal groupthink in their intellectual diet. You don’t have to be skilled in polemics to assert yourself with a simple, “I disagree, but I hope we can still be friends,” or “Are you just venting, or are you open to hearing what I really think?”
Reclaim your freedom of assembly by rejecting the prevailing conservative caricature. Liberals in government, academia, the media, and unfortunately the Church have labored successfully to convince America that conservatives and Republicans are hypocritical, heartless, inbred, ignorant, racist, misogynistic, neo-Nazi domestic terrorists. I can understand why someone might be apprehensive about associating with such a tainted brand. If you take the time to read the diaries and comments on Republican sites such as Red State, to visit your local Republican party office, or to attend a conservative candidate’s event, I think you will find that, in truth, most conservatives are very average, freedom-loving, law-abiding Americans, grateful for the opportunities that allowed them or their ancestors to immigrate, and whose hopes and dreams for our country are a lot like yours. When you are tempted to equivocate that both parties are equally repugnant, remember that even when you can’t bring the Republicans in line with your faith, they will, unlike the Democratic party, respect the morals behind your argument.
Use your freedom of assembly to take over the Republican Party establishment. If the Republicans do not measure up to your principles because more than a handful of prominent leaders are lukewarm, self-serving consumerists, you can become part of the grassroots movement to steer the GOP ideologically back to the right. The organization is called the Precinct Project and aims to allow “We the People” to reclaim the party through a trickle-up process starting at the precinct level. More details can be found at their website.
Petition the government. This oldie but goodie still counts. If you haven’t been doing so all along, start now. E-mail, call, write, and visit your elected officials regarding the issues you care about most.
Give 10th Amendment federalism a fair hearing. Do you believe that the amount of money allocated for social programs is a reliable measure of Christian charity in Congress? Does the intention to do good justify wasteful spending on ineffective social programs? Should the loving work of a struggling private charity be supplanted by a more predictably funded, but impersonal government organization? Does social justice demand that you clothe, shelter, and feed the poor using a credit card obtained under your newborn’s name and Social Security number? If you answered, “No,” to any of these questions, read this interview in which Representative Paul Ryan explains how Catholic teaching influenced his budget proposal. You may be surprised to find that you agree with him in both principle and substance.
Still not convinced? Still caucusing with the Democrats? Then I have three recommendations. First, labor union Catholics who oppose union support of pro-abortion candidates should exercise their right to file for refunds of dues that are not used for direct representation of workers. This website can help you get started. Second, unionized Catholic workers in healthcare and education should communicate to their local union leadership the need to include conscience protection clauses during contract negotiations. Third, American Catholics need to sustain the Church’s work in areas where taxpayer funded organizations directly contravene Catholic beliefs, for example, pregnancy crisis centers as an alternative to Planned Parenthood, and Catholic education as an alternative to God-free school zones.
“Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.’ ” (Matthew 9:37)
I know that this is a long, but not exhaustive list, and I am not demanding that anyone try to do everything on it. All I ask is that you keep the words of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in mind when discerning your role as a faithful American:
It is not how much we do,
but how much love we put in the doing.
It is not how much we give,
but how much love we put in the giving.
You can do what I can’t do.
I can do what you can’t do.
Together we can do
something beautiful for God.
May God light our paths and bless America abundantly.