Beyond politics


With the national political conventions of both Republicans and Democrats behind us we now know, again, that politics alone will not save us. Each party proved true to its financial angels and to the spiritual drift that makes us less and less a beacon to the world.
It could have been predicted. Republicans, in thrall to a certain view of liberty, do not allow distributive justice a voice in their ranks. Every person and every business enterprise should determine alone how it operates and distributes the fruit of its labors. Democrats, equally captive to a certain libertarian view, do not allow unborn human life a voice. Every woman should have absolute freedom to dispose of the fruit of her womb as she wishes. That silent creature within is not acknowledged, only inferred as a possible impediment to freedom.
And so we go on in our varieties of self-serving myopia. Democrats at least talk about the common good of our national community with something like moral fervor for persons. Republicans seem trapped in abstractions built on money.
Both Democrats and Republicans are people, citizens, individuals more or less in tune with the platform and policies the parties express as a corporate voice. There are pro-life people among Democrats and pro-common good people among Republicans. Unfortunately, those voices tend to be lost as the great megaphone of money becomes larger in our electoral politics. The pro-life cause is a weak to non-existent source of campaign funds, and social justice is considered the dark force in a libertarian’s world.
The Church should be an alternate place for organizing the political outlook and practice of Catholics. The Catholic tradition has emphases that can help both Republicans and Democrats keep their balance against the pull of extreme individualism affecting both parties.
The Church is the party of both/and, not either/or. We keep in view both solidarity and subsidiarity: both the needs of the whole community and the contributions of its parts. We are sensitive to the vulnerability and needs of the weak and the poor while raising up the talents and resources of the rich to the level of service expressed by Jesus.
There was a time when the Republican Party contained rich people with that Christian sense of service. They understood their position as largely a gift which required sharing, not only through their personal direction in charities but by full participation in an equitable taxing system for the common good. With the rise of the Tea Party and other libertarian influences, that attitude is in decline.
There also was a time when the Democratic Party was focused on the building of a strong middle class in this country. It drew in immigrants and others struggling for a secure place in which to establish families and watch generations find a good life. It held the people who built labor unions and sought a living wage to enable decent family life. It was congenial to the liberation of women from old limitations, and then had no way to restrain that impulse as it reached for absolute autonomy over new life.
A great inward-looking and self-seeking habit seems to have gripped this country. Part of it is fear: fear of losing economic security and fear of external threat by terrorists and global competition. The Church is not being a leader out of such fear. How might that change?
The Democrats’ captivity to “abortion rights” offers an example. We should acknowledge that politics will never be the arena for changing the abortion culture in this country. The subject is simply too conflicted. The voice of the Church should shift from emphasis on condemnation of the act to concern for women. Calls to action should shift from emphasis on protest to personal welcome, attention to and care for pregnant women, especially those most vulnerable and frightened.
There are many Catholics in such work — Birthright, as an example — but the country doesn’t know it. The man and woman on the street don’t believe the Catholic Church is welcoming and caring to a woman thinking of abortion. That isn’t our institutional face. Do women in troubled pregnancies think of the Church as a place of refuge? If most don’t, we are failing and politics won’t save us.
We need a new generation of saints who draw the Church toward the example of Jesus, welcoming, listening to, being with these poor and thereby transforming ourselves and our world.
Frank Wessling

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