Should we look to politics for truth?
In late June, the relics of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher will tour Minnesota—beginning with a stop at the St. Paul Cathedral on June 26—to highlight religious freedom. Monsignor Ronald Knox wrote, “These men had that confidence in God which sees behind the shifting panorama of politics and rests in eternal truth” (1). Accordingly, they exemplify a right relationship between politics and truth, between the secular world and faith.
What is the tradeoff between politics and faith?
Politics contains elements of truth. But it’s not the repository of truth (the Church) nor the source of truth (Christ, the Word). Nevertheless, when people lose their faith, they often transfer their trust into politics and ideologies. And that’s a bad tradeoff. Pope St. John Paul II warned us, “politics then becomes a ‘secular religion’ [giving] the illusion of creating paradise in this world” (2). They traded eternal, objective truth for something earthly and passing.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker (3) called politics “ephemeral…it lasts but a season, then is gone”. Then he contrasted political warfare with a more enduring battle being waged for our souls throughout the whole of salvation history. Undoubtedly, God gave Thomas More the grace to discern between ephemeral Tudor politics and God’s divine plan. He gives you the same grace to discern truth in 2016.
If politics is ephemeral and partially true, should we abandon it?
Archbishop Charles Chaput reminds us of our duty to help “form the public conscience” (4) and of the Church’s right “to engage secular authority…” (5). For example, the sponsor for the relics tour is a strong advocate for Catholic truths with a Board of Directors comprised entirely of Bishops and Archbishops. But at the same time, “the Church…is not to be confused in any way with the political community” (Catechism, #2245).
Remember the problems related to liberation theology in Central America? During that tumultuous period, Pope St. John Paul II clarified how the Church engaged secular authority: not in “partisanship” or through a “Marxist” ideology of “class struggle”, but in “a communion of believers [seeking understanding and exchanging] ideas on reconstructing society, and [celebrating] the sacraments as the pledge of a bond deeper than politics” (6).
How do we engage the political, secular world in our Catholic lives?
I’d suggest three ways to engage the political, secular world as a Catholic.
- Imitate St. Thomas More’s hierarchy of duty. Be mindful of your duty to the secular world, but look beyond it to see your transcendent duty to God. According to Marc Guerra, when people recognize the part they play in salvation history as members of the Mystical Body of Christ, “man’s attachment to the political community” (7) grows less.
Don’t stop supporting a political candidate, especially one that supports Catholic truths (life, family, marriage). Be involved in Catholic advocacy groups. But know that your true goal “transcends…political life” (8). According to Guerra, party politics gives way, to “the transpolitical character of Christian faith” (9).
- Inform and convert our culture through the family. When Alexis de Tocqueville toured America in 1831, he observed how religion “by regulating domestic life,…regulates the state” (10). In other words, he recognized the fundamental, organic influence of the family upon society. Truth bubbles up.
“The family is the original cell of social life. … Authority, stability, and…relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society” (Catechism, 2207)
- Discern truth. What is legal and what is professed by the government, are not necessarily compatible with truth. “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16). Cardinal Ratzinger encourages you to become someone who probes “deeper than the slogans of the day, who see[s] more than others see, because [your life] embraces a wider reality (11).
Discernment exercise: In your opinion, what is the best example of politics reflecting truth? What is its worst example?
Sanctify yourself, and you will sanctify society—St. Francis of Assisi
- Pastoral and Occasional Sermons, Monsignor Ronald Knox, 727
- Centisimus Annus, Pope St. John Paul II, #25.3
- Render Unto Caesar, Archbishop Charles Chaput, 38
- Ibid, 217
- Witness to Hope, George Weigel, 28
- Christians as Political Animals, Marc Guerra, 112
- Ibid, 112
- Ibid, 122
- Democracy in America, Alexis de Toqueville, 304
- Faith and the Future, Ratzinger, 114