Forming Catholic consciences

Archbishop Chaput’s column this morning continues his reflection on this year’s national presidential dilemma. I’m going to take a moment to excerpt most of his column and offer my own reactions, because +Chaput is reflecting on important realities in an important way:

Wealth, of course, can result in great generosity. And it needn’t disqualify a person from national leadership — but in a real democracy, belligerent egotism, political-class derision for whole blocs of the voting population, and an elitist, insider sense of entitlement to power, clearly do.

All three of these behaviors are prominent in this year’s election. And American Catholics, however they end up deciding to vote, have good reason to be frustrated with the choices they face in both major parties.

“Elitist, insider sense of entitlement to power” seems to sum up what Angelo Codevilla calls “the ruling class” in this country. The news media whose job it is to be so close to them day-to-day would naturally forget how strange this class is over time.

Politics involves the exercise of power for good or for ill. Therefore politics always has a moral dimension. And while politics is never the primary focus of a Christian life, Christians can’t avoid applying their faith to their political reasoning without betraying their vocation as disciples. Christians should never be “of” this world, but we’re most definitely in this world.  We have the privilege and duty to engage the world, including the public square, with the truth of Jesus Christ.

To put it plainly: The separation of Church and state does not mean, has never meant, and can never mean, the separation of our religious faith from our political, economic and social lives.

The entire point of the religious toleration on which we were founded was to tolerate the faith of others in its wholeness, and in their wholeness in the public square. The idea of American liberty as necessarily neutering any faith for the sake of a more agreeable public square is a worthless idea.

Eight years ago, “conservative” Catholics were criticized by Catholic “progressives” as culture warriors and apologists for the Bush presidency. But Catholic progressives have played the same role, often more effectively, for the Obama presidency. And if we hold the Bush years responsible for the consequences of a naïve and disastrous war in Iraq, we also need to hold the Obama years accountable for a systematic, ideologically driven attack on the unborn child, on our historic understandings of sexuality, marriage and family life, and on religious liberty.

This is a well stated, fair, and frankly damning observation that I haven’t heard anyone inside or outside the church make so directly. Cultural warriors on both sides diminish the faith by allowing their politics to co-opt it.

The deepest issues we face as a Church and a nation this year won’t be solved by an election. That’s not an excuse to remove ourselves from the public square. We do need to think and vote this November guided by properly formed Catholic consciences. But as believers, our task now is much more difficult and long-term.

We need to recover our Catholic faith as a unifying identity across party lines. And we can only do that by genuinely placing the Church and her teachings — all her teachings, rightly ordered — first in our priorities. Larger forces shape our current realities. If we fail to understand those forces, we’ll inevitably cripple our ability to communicate Jesus Christ to generations not yet born.

Larger forces than politics shape our current realities. The shaping of a distinctly Catholic conscience seems to be priority one.