Our Gospel passage for this Sunday is from Mathew Chapter 18. It is a beautiful and rich chapter, known as the Church Order Discourse. It happens to be the only other place, in all the Gospels, where Jesus uses the Greek word “church” (ekklesia), after Matthew 16 (“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”)
Of all the different themes that we could consider in this chapter, I wish to make a very brief correlation with this passage and with the happenings that are consuming so much of people’s interest: the upcoming national and state elections. You certainly have heard many apocalyptic portents, to the effect that the fate of the world relies upon your vote this November. We should not be persuaded by such heresies, which idolize worldly power. But we should take some consideration of the starting points of how the Catholic faith should be pre-eminent in our lives, even while we exercise a lawful engagement in our nation’s political events.
I will preface this with a unique, you may think obscure, reflection, on another theme of our Gospel. Jesus speaks about praying and being gathered “in his name.” I wish to make a few affirmations about the commandment that deals with the name of Jesus. Which is it? “You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain;” the second commandment. We know that this commandment means we should not use the name of God, or of Jesus, as a mindless exclamation, and definitely not as an expression of anger or a curse. These sins we certainly should not do. But the second commandment has a positive obligation in it, and to consider that I will actually bring us back 500 years, to the Catechism of Trent (the first universal catechism the Church ever made). The Catechism of Trent has a beautiful section on the second commandment. Of course it affirms the way we should and should not use the name of God, or of Jesus. But it also lists the positive obligations. And it says, in fact, that the highest obligation, imposed upon us by the second commandment, is, “to profess the faith publicly.” To defend the name of Jesus Christ and the Church, publicly – to witness to the salvation of Jesus Christ, and the sacraments, with our words as well as with our lives of ever-increasing charity – this is an obligation given to us by the commandments, because it is in fact how we truly, and fully, “take the name of the Lord” in a proper way! You see, it is very much akin to the first commandment in this.
This context being set, we turn to another part of today’s Gospel: “if they refuse to listen to the Church, treat them as a Gentile or a tax collector.”
The particular comment I consider is in the phrase Jesus uses, “listening to the Church.” Again, the particular application I make is in terms of political action, our involvement in elections and other civic affairs. In this application it should be clear that “listening to he Church” means – at the BARE MINIMUM – that Catholics who engage in any political sphere must side with the Church where the Church has authoritatively judged the moral acts that come into question.
(You may read: Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.)
Although I will take two of the most highly charged examples, the principle that I wish to apply to them as examples is SO SOUND, that you should immediately see that it is applicable to all examples:
1.. I take the first example from an issue of the LAST presidential election. (Many bishops, and pope Francis himself it seems, criticized Mr. Trump over his stance of border issues.) I am not fully informed about all the issues that are relevant to the Mexican border (e.g. how bad is the local crisis, whether it properly called a national crisis, what the appropriate measures are, etc.); but on this issue we can take the particular instance for which the Church’s moral principles are clear: the division of innocent children from families would be categorized as a particular kind of violence to families. The Church teaching on the nature of the family is unambiguous, and regardless of the difficult legalities of border problems, allowance for refugee claims verses the need to enforce dues laws over immigration, etc., the Church would say unhesitating and authoritatively that the division of children from parents, is an evil act that cannot be justified for any end. So, if a Candidate were to advocate for this kind of violence to families, as a means to any end, we must be prepared to side with the Church on that particular moral issue. Once this “listening to the Church” is established by knowing the divine place of family, in creation and redemption, we are in a place to weigh the proposed strategies for the issue at hand, knowing it’s extent, considering all means and goals which do not violate God’s laws, and deciding on which of these we are going to support publicly, by voting or by any other action.
Where the Church has made definitive statements on the morality of an act, Catholics must be prepared to side with the Church, on that issue.
2.. Let us take the other very real example, which is pertinent in many national and local elections. You have candidate X, Y, and/or Z who expresses, in certain or in various ways, support and approval for the act of procured abortion. As a means, they may be claiming it is a justified societal practice, with an implied philosophy of utilitarianism. As an end, they may advocate for abortion as a good to be procured for women’s autonomy and “empowerment.” But the Church’s judgment on the morality of the act in question is clear, that it is intrinsically evil as a means or as an end; and that any good it appears to bring about, short term or long term, is in fact undermined by the evil act. The God-given right to life must be defended in principle, and supported in practice, from the conception of each human being. And this right is not contingent on the social value, the usefulness, or the desirability of the embryo or fetus in question, whose rights should be coextensive with the dignity of both its mother and father as human beings. We must listen to the Church on this issue, even if we are claiming there are extenuating circumstances that make it best to try to get elected a candidate who supports the practice of abortion to some or any extent. Once this “listening to the Church” is established by knowing the divinely affirmed right to life, we are in a place to weigh the proposed strategies for the issue at hand, knowing it’s extent, considering all means and goals which do not violate God’s laws, and deciding on which of these we are going to support publicly, by voting or by any other action.
Where the Church has made definitive statements on the morality of an act, Catholics must be prepared to side with the Church, on that moral question.
These are two examples. Again, I am proposing them for practical reflection (not proposed by way of comparison) for our obligations according to the commands “profess the faith publicly” and “listen to the Church.” The principles I have applied are the bare minimum, the starting point as far as the application of the Catholic faith to voting. It would take another hour to begin, to open up, the consideration of how strategies and stances towards either issue, or both, might play out for good or for evil in the future.
But here in this Mass, as we are just a minute away from doing what the second commandment tells us to do – (we are about to profess the Creed)- we must return to matters which go vastly beyond any act of voting in an election. Certainly it is true that governors and judges, and heads of state, by their actions and by their policies can end up impacting thousands and even 100s-of-thousands of people, with good effects, or bad effects, in an objective external way.
People will suffer many evils in this world. True, Christian charity leads us to desire to alleviate the evils. But even more so, and more profoundly, Christian charity leads us to desire for other people the one great Good which overcomes the greatest of all evils.
It is true, that the goods or evils of any local, national, or international scale, are nothing compared to the subjective goods-or-evils of eternal life, or of mortal sin, in any given human soul.
Each human soul is immortal. Each soul will be judged by Christ. If we accept that we are subject to evils in this life, we also profess that God allows them in view of an eternal good that is incomparable to any temporary, earthly, goods or evils.
I ask you for your prayers. Let us pray fervently for this greatest good for each and every person, according to God’s will.