As we get closer to our national election time, I would like to offer a small perspective on our Christian calling and vocation as children of God in comparison to what the typical popular, social, or political opinions and agendas would like to tell us who we have to be or vote as liberal or conservative, inclusive or patriotic, or any typical political labels we often hear and get thrown around. Especially as Catholics, with a rich and extensive heritage of social teachings, we cannot but help to often feel politically boxed in, caught up in between many agenda-driven tensions, or forced to accept lesser and narrowed objectification of human justice, equality, dignity, respect, or the typical political ideologies. Particularly in America, we often feel like that we are forced to choose in a very politicized, divided, villanized, scandalized, humanistic, and yet imperfect — and at times, immoral — set of poor political beliefs, systems, or parties that do not encompass all of our values and beliefs. We often feel choked, pressured, and labeled if we do not vote a certain way, to choose between either this or that set of party-line candidates just because where we happen to live; but to be honest, many of them do not uphold what is truly right and just according to our fundamental Catholic social teachings.
Perhaps unique to the United States of America and many developed countries who are pluralistic and secularistic is the immense trust (and expectations) in the government and politics to solve all of their social problems. Unlike developing or poorer countries where there are apparent corruptions and ineffectiveness of the government, hence people tend to trust their faith and one another more than politicians, the more secularized a country is, the more dependent they are on politics. Perhaps we have trusted politics to a fault that we allow it to dictate our lives more than our personal and social commitment to our faith, especially the teaching of personal responsibility and stewardship. Yet our Catholic social teachings always remind us that our human rights and social politics begin and end with the dignity and respect of each and every person made in the image and likeness of God, not just with the definitions provided by the government or politics. Therefore, let us take some time to personally reflect on how we can live and allow our faith to lead us beyond politics and bring us closer to Christ and the Church‘s teachings.
First of all, we have to recognize that politicians love to use the blame and scapegoat tactics to defer, deflect, and use fears to manipulate their subjects. They like to think of themselves as leaders and decision-makers on behalf of the people without remembering that they are representatives of the people who voted for them. Once in power, they often live out their dreams and agendas, imposing their wills upon others by being vocal and manipulative, yet only care about their own personal profits or benefits at the end of the day. Too many people who want power or are put into positions of power forget who they are and who they represent because the thirst for power and profit is very real, and many are willing to secure it at any price! Therefore, to allow politicians and the government to go without proper checks and balances permit these things to be perpetuated and imposed upon the people.
Secondly, we can see the clever, calculative, and manipulative “divide and conquer” tactics being played at every level of politics as these teams of experts use terms to villanize their opponents and justify their actions. While these divisions get many Americans anxious, frustrated, and resentful, too many miss the real intention of why they were used, which at times, simply to deflect and hide the ineffectiveness of politicians by putting the blame on others. They love to use another popular tactics to narrow the real choices of the people by using the “either/or” plays on words and policies. Instead of presenting real options, they narrow down the choices, forcing the people to see the shallow options that they only like the general populace to see! This is the classic “rat race” game where the ones in control narrow and isolate the paths to lead the rats to where they like them to run, hence leading them to the desired, calculated, and beneficial results that they were planning from the beginning. They are only interested in how people react and choose between the narrowed choices, filling them with frustrations and making them feel like they have a choice, but the results were already calculated, manipulated, and accounted for. This is the danger of manipulated democracy where the mass thinks that they have the voice, but they get played by the anonymous, hidden, and powerful people who use divisions and popular tactics to drive people to the desired plan.
Instead of allowing the people to shape up the political party system, the political parties have played it so well to narrow things down to simply a few set of choices. We are forced to choose either this or that party’s decisions if “we want to get things done” and “fight the other party’s imposition of their will upon us.” At the end of the day, it is the voter that gets the shorter end of the stick, and we are stuck with poor, deprived, manipulated, and at times, too, contrary choices to our moral values and conscience. Even with the people who argue regarding voting for the “lesser evil” option, that lesser evil option is becoming “more evil” and contrary to what we truly believe because the major parties are forcing voters to choose an either/or side on a few fundamental options. Nonetheless, they themselves are forcing us to put up with the wrongdoings of the rest of the agendas pushed by the party lines. Instead of remembering to use our vote to shape up the political parties, we have oftentimes allowed the political parties to manipulate and shape us up into poor, deprived, and unethical beliefs who we are as Christians of Gospel values.
Sadly, but true, too many of us have allowed our politics and its manipulative games to shape our faith and belief instead of allowing our faith and commitment to transform our society and its agenda. As a priest, I have seen so many people who are trying to persuade me and other people to vote or choose a political candidate that they think will fix all the problems according to their primary political conservative or liberal values — noticing the word “political” — instead of taking the time to learn, be informed, and understand what the Church really teaches about the matters at hand. I think we have lost the battle as Catholics, because in a secularistic and pluralistic society with different faith backgrounds and cultures, it is very easy to simply let go of what one truly believes and professes in order to conform to the general norms and expectations. Hence, too many of us have made the government and politics our only hope and source of value, existence, and expectation instead of higher, transcendental, theocentric teachings.
In a secularistic society, faith is often and only treated as a personal and private matter, it is no longer at the front line to shape, transform, and challenge our social and political values. We would rather let our humanistic expectations and agendas dictate our society and world instead of what comes from the Lord. Hence, we have cheapened our real human dignity and value created in the image and likeness of God. We have allowed ourselves to be played and set side on different political camps instead of first recognizing that all of us are in it together, united as brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, especially the poor, voiceless, and suffering.
Nevertheless, the foundation of politics and origin of our society have to be found in the human person as the living image of God Himself, especially “for whom Christ died.” (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:11 and Romans 14:15) Therefore, each and every expression, decision, agenda, and plan our nation MUST be directed towards the human person, especially to affirm and protect this inviolable dignity from the moment of conception until natural death, at each and every stage of life — all beyond popular and political definitions. We are not something, each and every one of us is SOMEONE that is capable of self-knowledge, self-possession, and is called to a deeper, holistic, life-giving communion with our Creator and with one another.
This is important and uncompromisable! It has to be our first, foremost, and foundational point of depart and end goal so that we build our society, relationship, and care for one another as God wills it. Our whole life’s quest, dignity, mission, purpose, and value is theocentric. This relationship cannot be eliminated as the foundation of our society and faith, even though it is very tempting and easy to ignore, be forgotten, or dismissed by secularly-minded people. Our relationship with God has to be reflected in the relational and social dimension of our politics and communion with one another, especially mindful that we are of the same dignity and equal value even though we might be different. Our communion with Him challenges us to build genuine, transparent, personal, and the good-centered relationship of respect and reciprocity that gives life to society and nation. We are reminded that we have been entrusted to one another, therefore responsible and obliged to care and serve out of love.
This is where our Catholic and holistic understanding of stewardship and responsibility comes in! This world was entrusted to us, especially the animals and goods that have been given to us or what we created out of our talents endowed by the Creator, so we are reminded of our vocation to life. We are called to give and protect life because we are collaborators of the Lord‘s vineyard, given dominion over the world and animals to keep and protect, and that is why we need to exercise responsibility — not only for our good or benefit but for the greater good of all. We are entrusted, individually and communally, to the care of this world that God has created and given to us, not to be exploited and depleted for our immediate or desired goods, but with responsible reflection, discernment of good and evil, theocentric and intellectual decision-making skills through our free will.
The understanding of human solidarity is both a mysterious and tangible reality, because it is grounded in our transcendental relationship with God and our real and concrete relationship with others, since our actions do affect others in some ways. At the end of the day, we are reminded that every decision or action, whether good or sinful, is a personal choice of an individual who chooses the good or sinful action against the Creator and others. We are much more than political animals! We are children of our Heavenly Father, brothers and sisters in Christ, and instruments of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, our words and actions have to be in line with the common and greater goods according to what our faith teaches us. We are called to respond to what is demanded of us by the Gospel as to uphold, protect, and respect the human dignity of each individual, responsible for this world entrusted to us, and leave a better future for our children through good stewardship of the earth and our society. Even though we have our social duties and rights as citizens of our nation, our true dignity and responsibility come from God and are eternal.
Our words and actions are not meaningless nor are they only meant for our immediate benefits. They are the extensions of who we are, expressed, given, and shared with others out of love. Therefore, our words and actions should be discerned, reflected, and grounded in the Creator so that we speak life and instill hope in our conversations, decisions, and policies. We cannot scapegoat or push the personal responsibility to someone else or expect politicians and the government to take care of what is required of us as stewards of His gifts. Every decision, word, or action is the extension of our free will, discernment, and reflection of our values that have to be grounded in Him so that we instill faith, hope, and love in each and every encounter. By our very lives, we will speak, preach, and shared our beliefs much more than what some pluralistic, secularistic, or manipulative game of politics could ever do. Let us, therefore, live so that what we believe in are enlivened and shared, shaped and formed, witnessed and professed through our very own call of faith-centered, responsible, and holistic stewardship of that is beyond politics and points to Christ Jesus.