Monday, September 24, 2012

Witnessing to Deeper Truths--In an Election Year

Our Lady of the Angels Mission, on the West Side of Chicago
Have you had any awkward conversations with people who are clearly very partisan in their political views?  Or have you been frustrated by people who are so painfully a-political that they seem to be avoiding the many serious questions our country faces this election year?

A Catholic perspective on voting seems to walk a fine line between different extremes:  On the one hand, a Catholic world view does not fit neatly with either party, so the Church doesn't play to "partisan politics."  On the other hand, the Church doesn't just say vote for whomever you feel like voting for, since Catholic principles provide the faithful with clear guidelines for informing their consciences to be able to decide between specific candidates. 

In a new Introductory Note to Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. Bishops have outlined six fundamental problems which should shape our political choices, "some involving opposition to intrinsic evils and others raising serious moral questions":

  • Abortion and euthanasia.
  • Threats to religious liberty and mandated violation of conscience for Catholic ministries—in health care, education, and social services.
  • Efforts to redefine marriage.
  • The ongoing economic crisis.
  • The need for immigration reform.
  • War, terror, and violence, particularly the absence of justice, security, and peace in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East.
It's worth checking out how the Bishops frame these issues within the broader context of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, which the Bishops recognize "has at times been misused to present an incomplete or distorted view of the demands of faith in politics."  Though each of these topics could warrant extensive commentary, I want to share updates on two prophetic witnesses who have taken strong stands on a couple of these issues.

The first witness is Fr. Bob Lombardo, the Franciscan priest who runs the Our Lady of the Angels Mission on the West side of Chicago.  This is the parish that suffered the devastating school fire over 50 years ago.  Following the fire and the gradual exodus of Catholic families from the West side to the suburbs, this church was basically abandoned, and the entire neighborhood devolved into a gang-infested and drug-dominated battle zone in which many of Chicago's nightly murders take place.  Like the founder and patron of his order, however, Fr. Bob has been at Our Lady of the Angels for a number of years answering the call to "rebuild my church."  He has spearheaded the restoration of the Church and has reopened it as a mission outreach to the surrounding community.

Fr. Bob recently spoke at the University of St. Francis to an audience that primarily consisted of college students.  He discussed how the economic crisis has impacted his neighborhood: they are serving 3 to 4 times more families from their food pantry than they were five years ago; the unemployment rate in his neighborhood is more than double the 8% rate reported nationally, since most people have simply stopped looking for jobs that don't exist; their after school program desperately tries to provide tutoring and structure for children whose local high school's drop-out rate is 70%. 

The main focus of Fr. Bob's talk, however, was on the current threats to religious liberty faced by our country.  He invited the students to think critically about allegations that the Church is waging a "war on women" and asked them if they understood why the Church teaches what she does about human sexuality (his explanation: it's because the Church is trying to protect people from being used, from getting their hearts torn out and broken!).  He talked about the reality of the unborn child in the womb.  He challenged the students to think about why he and his Mission and his religious order should have to pay for contraceptives and abortifacient drugs which they find morally objectionable, and he reminded them of the fact that Catholic institutions self-insure and so effectively serve as their own health insurance companies.  It was an incredible testimony to several of the issues listed above, from a priest who is serving the poor in one of the worst neighborhoods in the United States.

The second witness I'd like to highlight is a familiar face for those of us in the Diocese of Joliet:  Archbishop Sartain of Seattle has recently spoken out about the political effort to redefine marriage in the state of Washington.  Whether or not we know someone who has experienced same-sex attractions, the pressing political question is whether marriage should be redefined.  The culture at large acts as though it's a stark either/or: either support the redefinition of marriage, or you are a bigot and homophobe.  In his typical fashion of "speaking the truth with love," Archbishop Sartain addresses the fundamental issues at stake in the effort to defend marriage in an outstanding four-minute Youtube clip.

As Catholics, we stand for the defense of fundamental truths about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in a just society.  As we continue striving to rise above both divisive partisan politics and empty rhetoric, let's keep focused on the principles which inform the practice of our faith.  Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Patroness of the United States, pray for us!