This election cycle, Catholic Americans are presented with the hair-raising choice between Hillary Clinton, a woman whose corrupt record and virulent support for the Catholic five non-negotiables (including restriction-free abortion up to the day of birth) is infamous, and Donald Trump, a man whose crude speech, narcissistic behavior, and generally unchristian and unstable attitude make many shudder to pull the lever in his favor. Being unable to read the future, it is difficult for many of these voters to decide with certainly which one of these individuals will be “the lesser of two evils”.
If Hillary Clinton becomes president, we will most likely see an expansion of the abortion industry, as life-protecting safeguards and clauses are shot down and more innocent pre-born babies who would otherwise have been spared are torn limb from limb, even moments before they would have come into the world and, finally, come under the protection of the law to uphold their right to life. We will also see increased pressure placed on religious institutions to affirm the validity of and perform ceremonies for same-sex “marriages”, as well as provide or pay for contraceptives and abortifacients. Other concerns include Clinton’s past scandals with regards to potential national security breaches, subsequent cover-ups, and mishandling of Clinton Foundation Funds.
On the other hand, if Donald Trump becomes president, many fear that his impulsive self-interest and reactionary temperment may pose a different kind of threat to international stability and security. Taking in the rhetoric used in his speeches, there is concern that hard-line measurements will be taken against the most vulnerable in the Hispanic and Islamic communities, especially refugees and migrants, which could increase mutual hostility and racism and add fuel to the fires of global terrorism. Also, some feel that a harsh “law and order” stance, if not properly tempered by fairness and reform, may escalate issues with potential police brutality and “race riots”, not to mention the rather distressing vision of marital law being mandated by a pseudo-dictator.
As one commentator pointed out, while Clinton may have a capacity for lying, cheating, and stealing, she still manages to handle herself with a certain degree of slippery skill and lawyer-like suave. She clearly knows the system, and knows how to the play within its barriers. Trump, on the other hand, while emphasizing the building of walls as part of his policy, seems to recognize few of them in his personal comportment. He often flaunts himself like a rich schoolyard bully or a mobster boss, bribing and threatening with shameless openness, and proclaiming his (evidently latent) sex appeal, superior genes, and exorbitant wealth to a grotesque degree. It might be said that he wears on his sleeve what most politicians prefer to hide in the closet. But the fact that he seems thoroughly unabashed is a cause for concern in itself.
His cringe-worthy attempts to court Christian voters do nothing to change this reality. For Catholics, watching him praising Mother Teresa’s humility was a sight for really, really sore eyes. At the same time, Catholics find themselves in a difficult position, as we are bound to vote for candidates whose platforms are closest to our positions on the non-negotiables. That is why so many Catholics who had previously been Democrat for generations found it necessary, albeit potentially distasteful, to migrate to the Republican Party. Courtesy of the two-party system, they simply had nowhere else substantial to turn. Trump, for all his faults, is running on a pro-life (at least where abortion is concerned) ticket, and with Supreme Court justice appointments up for grabs, the stakes are high.
But this year has seen a pendulum swing of Catholics caught between two currents, struggling to swim upstream while still satisfying their consciences. For many, neither choice is a conscionable one, and they will wind up voting third party or utilizing the write-in ballot. Others will meander back to the Democrats, under the premise that they have something of an automatic dispensation due to what they perceive to be a dangerous level of incompetence on the part of the Republican candidate. Still others will hold their noses and vote the Trump ticket, hoping and praying that his side-kicks can keep him in line, lest all Armageddon break loose over an insult to his hair-style!
But for all of us, this is a waiting game, and the drawn-out contest can easily cause an epidemic of political sea-sickness. Either way it goes, I have a feeling most Catholics will simultaneously breathe a sigh of relief that it wasn’t the one, and release a groan of anguish that it was the other. It’s really a rather helpless feeling to know things have gotten this bad, and there’s nothing immediate we can do to fix it. Frankly, I think it’s about time we had an alternative party to choose from which was pro-life across the board in accordance with Catholic social teaching, even if it takes a while to get off the ground. But alas and alack, it has not happened as of yet.
So…what are we supposed to do for the time being (other than clutch a teddy bear and dive under a fuzzy blanket until it’s all over)? As Catholics, maybe this is all an opportunity for us to appreciate that this world is not our real home, and we are always in the hands of Divine Providence. God knows better than we do how to handle this situation, and all others for that matter, and I personally find myself praying that He will do just that as opposed to sending up partisan intentions based on my own inadequate summations. Meanwhile, perhaps it is time to take a cue from the lives of the saints.
In the month of October, we celebrate the feasts of both St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Francis of Assisi. The former is remembered best for her “Little Way” of living the life of grace through everyday acts of self-sacrificial love, and the latter for his embrace of “Lady Poverty” and communion with all the elements of creation as his brothers and sisters. These two role models of the devout life stand out as the antithesis of what our culture tells us we need for our salvation. When we transform public servants into demigods, we have truly turned the world upside down from its natural order. When people proclaim “In Trump We Trust” as the new motto of a populist revolution, but rail against Pope Francis for washing the feet of a Muslim refugee woman clutching a baby in her arms on Holy Thursday, are eyes have grown scales that must be cleansed away before we can hope to see the Face of God.
But these saints of October are particularly beloved because they radiated the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity through an embrace of humility, simplicity, and a respect for all life in their daily lives. They changed the world by allowing the Sacred Heart to beat in their own hearts, helping them to recognize every stage and condition of life as being singularly precious, brought forth and sustained by the Threefold Maker of Wonders. This is particularly appropriate, since October is also the month of Respect Life Sunday, a pro-life initiative which, in its proper context, should not be seen as exclusively dealing with the plight of the unborn.
The Catholic understanding of respecting life is just as much talking about the desperate migrant and the fleeing refugee and the frightened unwed mother. It is talking about the neglected elderly and the taunted disabled and the condemned imprisoned. It is talking about the sufferers of abuse and war, the addicts and drunks and prostitutes stumbling through a haze and selling themselves cheap, the isolated and abandoned of every walk of life. Yes, it is talking about the homosexual and transgender members of our community who need the love of Christ in their lives as much as anyone else. It is about you and me, and even those who despise us and wish us ill.
Last but not least, it is about those candidates whom we find so repugnant to our sensibilities. We must not allow this distaste for their policies and behaviors to turn into hatred for their personhood. They have immortal souls, just as we, and we are integrally bound up with them. Christ shed His blood just as much for them as for us. If we cannot manage to look into their eyes and see past the façade to the core of their beings, we should spend more time reconciling ourselves to our own reflections in the mirror. We must ask: does it reflect the image of Christ as it should?
Heroism has been called “the glorious triumph of the spirit over the flesh.” Perhaps that also could be used as a description for holiness, although I would prefer say it restores our flesh to the way it is supposed to be, working in harmony with the spirit, as opposed a war between body and soul. This can only be achieved by a continual response to grace offered to us. Like Therese and Francis, we must remember that every seemingly insignificant act has eternal ramifications and defines our identities and destinies. We live in this world to grow closer to God and to one another in love. We must always be mindful of this universal call.
The eyes of love must see through race, color, creed, and lifestyle choices. We may heartily disagree with those choices, but never cease to see the worth that rests at the center of the free will, and recognize the soul made in the divine image, from the moment of conception to natural death. This is the heart of the Catholic teaching. It has been said that we are a religion of romantics; we believe in true love, and transformative love, in our own lives, our communities, our country, and the world.
We are all sinners, and yet we know that while hating sin, we must love ourselves and every other person as Christ loves us, even to the point of suffocating on a tree. It is not an easy road, of dragging our small wooden crosses, of reaching out beyond our comfort zones and engaging a culture too often courting the ways of indifference and death in the name of the God of Life, and telling it to throw down its crutches and walk. But nothing worthwhile has ever had an easy-fix solution attached. We may find ourselves sweating blood by the end of the day, but it will bring forth lasting fruits in the garden beyond all ages.
So this election year, I call upon all my fellow Catholics, and fellow American citizens as a whole, to renew your commitment to overcome evil with good on a daily basis. Give yourself over to the work at hand of bringing the Kingdom of God to earth in the hearts of all you encounter. Instead of indulging in the political bear-baiting like a gladiatorial sport, turn your mind to higher things. Store up your treasures in Heaven, for where your treasure lies, there also lies your heart, and no vote can ever take that away.