Catholics in political life, and the virtue of hope

Here are a few bracing excerpts from a talk Archbishop Charles Chaput delivered in Toronto back in 2009. The whole presentation is worth a read.

The “separation of Church and state” does not mean – and it can never mean – separating our Catholic faith from our public witness, our political choices and our political actions. That kind of separation would require Christians to deny who we are; to repudiate Jesus when he commands us to be “leaven in the world” and to “make disciples of all nations.” That kind of radical separation steals the moral content of a society. It’s the equivalent of telling a married man that he can’t act married in public. Of course, he can certainly do that, but he won’t stay married for long.

Partly because I’m a bishop and partly because I’m older and a little bit wiser, I don’t belong to any political party. As a young priest I worked on Bobby Kennedy’s campaign. Later I volunteered with the 1976 and 1980 campaigns for Jimmy Carter. So if I have any partisan roots, they’re in the Democratic Party. But as I say in the book, one of the lessons we need to learn from the last 50 years is that a “preferred” Catholic political party usually doesn’t exist. The sooner Catholics feel at home in any political party, the sooner that party takes them for granted and then ignores their concerns. Party loyalty for the sake of habit, or family tradition, or ethnic or class interest is a form of tribalism. It’s a lethal kind of moral laziness. Issues matter. Character matters. Acting on principle matters. But party loyalty for the sake of party loyalty is a dead end….

One of the words we heard endlessly in the last U.S. election was “hope.” I think “hope” is the only word in the English language more badly misused than “love.” It’s our go-to anxiety word — as in, “I sure hope I don’t say anything stupid tonight.” But for Christians, hope is a virtue, not an emotional crutch or a political slogan. Virtus, the Latin root of virtue, means strength or courage. Real hope is unsentimental. It has nothing to do with the cheesy optimism of election campaigns. Hope assumes and demands a spine in believers. And that’s why – at least for a Christian — hope sustains us when the real answer to the problems or hard choices in life is “no, we can’t,” instead of “yes, we can”….

[Georges] Bernanos once wrote that the optimism of the modern world, including its “politics of hope,” is like whistling past a graveyard. It’s a cheap substitute for real hope and “a sly form of selfishness, a method of isolating [ourselves] from the unhappiness of others” by thinking progressive thoughts. Real hope “must be won. [We] can only attain hope through truth, at the cost of great effort and long patience . . . Hope is a virtue, virtus, strength; an heroic determination of the soul. [And] the highest form of hope is despair overcome.”

Anyone who hasn’t noticed the despair in the world should probably go back to sleep. The word “hope” on a campaign poster may give us a little thrill of righteousness, but the world will still be a wreck when the drug wears off. We can only attain hope through truth. And what that means is this: From the moment Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” the most important political statement anyone can make is “Jesus Christ is Lord.”

on All Souls’ Day: some thoughts on Christian hope

Carracci-PurgatoryA few thoughts from Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical letter Spe Salvi (On Christian Hope):

The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death—this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude or even a request for pardon? Now a further question arises: if “Purgatory” is simply purification through fire in the encounter with the Lord, Judge and Savior, how can a third person intervene, even if he or she is particularly close to the other? When we ask such a question, we should recall that no man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other—my prayer for him—can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God’s time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain. In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1032). As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.

on the feast day of Saint John Paul II

Tonight, on the first feast day of Saint John Paul II (October 22), I had a chance to participate in the second of two panel discussions of John Paul II’s play The Jeweler’s Shop. The discussion followed an evening Theology on Tap performance at Open Window Theatre. The discussion began around 9:45 pm, and lasted until nearly 11 pm… not generally my best time of day for coherent thought, so I kept my interventions to a minimum, but I did enjoy listening to the other panelists: Dr. Deborah Savage, Jeremy Stanbary and Jen Messing. I’ve posted the audio from the event here:

 

At some point I’d like to unpack further the ideas that I started to explore during the evening: 1) the relationship between John Paul II and John of the Cross as doctors of experience — the experiences of human love and divine love, respectively, and 2) how the questions of Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) echo many of those raised by the characters in the play, namely: What are the concrete possibilities of man? Is he capable of the demanding call of life in Christ, given the experience of human weakness? What should be the character and quality of Christian hope, vis-a-vis our lived experience?

The play at Open Window Theatre has been extended for one more week, so I encourage those of you in the Twin Cities to see it if you haven’t already. Details here.

Saint John Paul II, pray for us!

prayer for the Synod on the Family

Synod-on-the-Family-imagePope Francis has asked all the faithful to pray this prayer for the Synod of Bishops every day of their meeting, October 5 (today) through the 19th.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendour of true love,
to you we turn with trust.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic Churches.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again
experience violence, rejection and division:
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
may the Synod of Bishops
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
and its beauty in God’s plan.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
graciously hear our prayer.
Amen.