The Real Battle This Election
In the Catholic world, a video is spreading around that has many talking. It is an artfully produced presentation of a homily by a Fr. James Altman pastor of St. James the Less parish in LaCroix, Wisconsin. In the video, among other things, he declares that one cannot be Catholic and a Democrat and anyone who voted for Barack Obama is a false Catholic. He also chastises the hierarchy and singles out Archbishop Wilton Gregory for his reprimand of President Donald Trump. Many Catholics are standing up and cheering and applauding for this man’s words. I am, however, not one of them.
There is one part that I will address because I believe people need to understand the mission of the Catholics in any congregation in our world today. It is not the role of the priest to dictate to Catholics for whom to vote or not vote. It is rather our role to help faithful parishioners in a democracy to understand how best to decide for whom to vote, to understand the seriousness of their choice and their role in the process as baptized Catholics. That means the political positions must not be addressed as much as the issues beneath them. Usually they transcend any particular party.
First, never applaud a priest's homily and priests must never look for applause. It is liturgically incorrect, applause in and out of Mass also means: "Father, you just told me what I want to hear." That is never the role of a homilist. After all, why do people applaud political speeches? They hear the candidate say what they want to hear.
Fr. Altman writes in his bulletin: Catholicism has five non-negotiables when voting for a candidate.
No Embryonic Stem Cell Research
No Gay Marriage
Keep in mind they are all serious items, but they are positions. We must always be focused on the issues behind them.
The real fight is not political
The current issues in our country are not a fight between Democrats and Republicans. They are not a fight between communism and democracy, between socialism and capitalism. The fight for Catholics is about leading people to the source of true wisdom—Jesus Christ and away from what many embrace as supreme: nothing more than human wisdom. It is a tension that goes back to the Tower of Babel.
Last week, I preached on the encyclical of Pope Benedict XV Humani Generis Redemptionem written in 1917 that lays the problem of the then raging World War on bad Catholic preaching. He cites how the Apostles preached with such power that they changed hearts in both the pagan and Jewish communities hostile to their message of Christ. The pontiff lamented that this type of preaching had long fallen by the wayside. This was a cause of the troubles in the world because people were no longer inspired to know Christ.
I added that several decades previous Friedrich Nietzsche wrote the words ‘God is Dead’ because, he said through his Madman, people made Him irrelevant in their lives.
This is precisely the problem according to Benedict XV. The solution is not to bring down fire and brimstone on people until they submit but to teach them and inspire them to seek Christ. Just read the Prologue of John to see the fruit of their preaching. That is our mandate which the early 20th Century pope lamented had not been done for decades or more. We must lead people on the road to seeking Christ so hearts, attitudes and actions change. As the early Twentieth Century pope lamented so much, it is still not being done today. This is what we need to do.
Catholics need instead to understand the why of what they do so they can go beyond voting correctly, they can change hearts.
We as Catholics have a calling to be prophets. I remind my parishioners that at the end of the rite of baptism, the priest commissions the newly baptized to hear the word of God and preach it. That is what prophets do. A good priest friend of mine tells people that he has a document that certifies that they are prophets. It is their baptismal certificate.
Jesus said that we must be the light of the World and the salt of the Earth. This is our calling as Catholics.
We prophesy by our lives. If there is a reason why the country is in the position it is today, it is because the people do not understand their vocation and so, are not living it. We must live to be signs of the love and mercy of God. This is where we (yes we) failed as Church. We stopped being prophets. The fruit of this is the current state of the nation today. We need to inspire people to encounter Christ daily and that inspiration must come from our prayer.
On my radio show, my listeners know that I research all my homilies extensively averaging about twelve pages of notes from many sources all whittled down to a 1000 word homily.
I strongly disagree with any call in the Church to live virtuous lives without a focus on prayer. The Catechism of the Catholic Church actually teaches that prayer is an essential practice to living the commandments of God. (cf CCC2098) We must be people of serious prayer, in our families, in our homes in our lives and, of course, in our churches if we are going to be the prophets we must be. For it is in prayer we communicate with Christ who calls us to communion with Him in the Eucharist.
Can we live virtuous lives without prayer? Of course, but we cannot be prophets without it.
Abortion is the face of the problem in our country; the real issue is idolatry.
In the Old Testament, one of the actions the people took upon themselves when they committed the sin of idolatry is human sacrifice. Why? To ensure safety and prosperity. Jeremiah rails against child sacrifice in chapter 32 verse 35. It was part of their way of worshiping the gods they turned to after turning their backs on God.
In the movie, The Passion of the Christ, which is actually based not on the Gospels but the visions of St. Catherine Emmerich, the children who chase Judas are the victims of child sacrifice from when the Jews went astray.
Each of the five non-negotiables listed above is actually part of a process that Cardinal Robert Sarah addresses in his book The Day Is Now Far Spent (Ignatius 2019). There in chapters eight and nine, he explains what a team of others including myself warned about twenty years ago. These elements are all part of remaking the human being and falling to the temptation by the devil in the Garden of Eden: “You will be like gods.”
We are not gods and when we try to be like them, we create great disasters the likes of which we saw throughout the Twentieth Century. Why? Because humans choose to use science and technology to make some like gods. Therefore, the problem is not specifically those five non-negotiables, it is the movement behind them to make certain leaders—like gods—in charge of life. The five non-negotiables (and to be honest, others) are the mechanics of their process. No human was constructed to be a god. There can be no positive outcome to anyone if we embrace that temptation.
The prophet calls his people back, not just to virtue but more importantly against idolatry. He exhorts them to return to having the God of the Jews as their God. Christians call people to encounter Christ.
St. John Chrysostom taught that the role of the Catholic today is bigger than the role of the prophets in the Old Testament like Jeremiah, for example. Why? Because he only had to preach to the Jews. We preach to the whole world.
Our society turned into a pagan society. Now, we need to preach by our lives and words not just to pursue a life of virtue but to seek Christ so that we can become the prophets He calls us to be. We cannot be prophets if we are not people of prayer no matter how good we are at pursuing virtue.
We have a mandate to lead people who are outside the Church to Christ. Inside the Church, we must strengthen parishioners’ understanding of their vocation as prophets. We can only do that if we root everything we do in prayer and the Eucharist and the other sacraments including, of course, Reconciliation.
When we are prophets, we lead people to Christ where they will demand of our Lord to hear what they need to hear not what they want to hear now. That is our mandate.
How should you vote? Vote prayerfully, soberly and fully aware of what is at stake. Keep in mind the seriousness of your action. When elections go wrong disasters happen. Everything in NAZI Germany and even today in Venezuela, among other places, began with an election. Remember, elections are serious business.
For another take on elections, please see the short story: The Election