September 30, 2016

Rejoice in the Lord

Find joy in politics through God’s grace

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

My last two columns were pretty serious. I’m offering a series of reflections on the issues faithful citizens are required to consider as we prepare to vote on Election Day. Some of these issues are, literally, matters of life and death, peace and war, freedom and tyranny. No wonder these columns may have seemed pretty grim.

But Christian life is about joy, not sadness. It’s about our liberation from sin and death, not the oppression of social structures and political processes. Where do we Catholics who are faithful citizens of the United States of America find joy?

Certainly we find joy in love and friendship, in sports and entertainment, and in the beauty of all creation which Pope Francis reminds us—in the words of his patron saint—is a source of inestimable peace and goodness (pax et bonum)!

But can we find joy in politics—especially today? Can we discover joy in the exercise of our freedom and responsibility as citizens? Or does everything have to be so serious that there’s nothing to be happy about?

I refuse to believe that politics has to be all gloom and doom. It’s common knowledge that the news media, and increasingly the entertainment industry, are biased toward bad news. Even Catholic media, which are charged with the responsibility to spread the Good News of our salvation, can occasionally get drawn into bad news cycles. Breaking out of excessive negativity is something we all must do.

The news isn’t all bad. Even in the worst possible situations—natural catastrophes, mass shootings, terrorist plots or scandalous behavior by people that we should be able to trust—there are always signs of heroism, hope and generosity. We can focus exclusively on the evil if we want to, but that inevitably means we will miss the good that happens even in the midst of our worst nightmares!

So where do we discover good news in the political season we find ourselves in today? Sure there’s lots of bad news, lots of pessimism and lots of anger. Is there any hope or joy?

Christians can never say no to this question—even in the worst of times. We know that Christ is risen and that he is our hope, the source of all joy. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that faith is the knowledge of things hoped for, the evidence for things not seen (Heb 11:1). But do we feel this certain knowledge in our bones? Or do we succumb to a form of temporary amnesia where politics is concerned? Christ is the foundation for our hope and joy, but where do we recognize Christ in the political process?

Here are three simple suggestions for finding joy in politics. I offer these not as articles of faith or even as examples of what the U.S. bishops teach in “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” These are simply suggestions from my own experience—for what they’re worth.

First, don’t take things personally. If you think a candidate is dishonest or untrustworthy, don’t vote for him or her. But don’t let it make you angry, depressed or miserable. Our nation and our Church have been through worse times; with the help of God, we will recover! Taking things seriously doesn’t mean taking them personally. Vote your conscience and then move on. Ultimately, the outcome is in God’s hands.

Second, don’t get mad—get even. I don’t mean to suggest that we should seek revenge. On the contrary, as Pope Francis says in his exhortation on “The Face of Mercy,” forgiveness is the only way to live joyfully. Regardless of the context, revenge only makes things worse. By “getting even,” I mean voting for candidates who are inspiring and trustworthy and working for policies that promote the good of all. If enough people work for the common good, corruption in politics will become a thing of the past.

Third, find the good—wherever you can—and stay focused on it. “Every cloud has a silver lining” may be a cliché, but there’s a basic truth here. If we look for the good, we will find it. If we only focus on what is sad and depressing, we’ll never experience joy.

The liberties that we enjoy as citizens of the United States of America should be a source of deep and lasting joy. It’s true we have many problems today, but it’s also true that we have boundless opportunities fueled by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.

None of us should be discouraged. Hope and joy are in our DNA as Christians. May God bless us all, faithful citizens of the United States of America! †

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