I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.
—Francis Cardinal George
Let’s Imagine the worst [*] has happened. The candidate you despise the most has been elected President and now you have to face 4-8 years of a ruler who will use the powers of their office for evil. In such a time, it’s pointless to point fingers over how it should have gone and who’s to blame. Yes, some fellow Catholics did play the role of Judas by putting their political preferences first and supported a candidate whose positions the Church calls evil. No, we can’t condone that. It’s a sign that many in the Church need to be re-evangelized. But regardless of how they voted, we have to pick up the pieces all the same.
Now, stop imagining. Regardless of how the election goes, there is a lot of partisan and unjust behavior Catholics have directed against each other—even when they’re striving to be faithful Catholics. We have to realize that these other faithful Catholics were not our enemies when their properly formed consciences led them to a conclusion different from ours [†]. In an election with no good choices, there was bound to be disagreements on what the best Christian witness should be.
We’ll also have to repent over the times when we failed to do the Christian thing. Whether one voted against the teaching of the Church, whether one rashly judged or calumniated a candidate or group of voters they disagreed with, whether one gave scandal by tolerating evils in their candidate they would not tolerate in an opponent, or whether one behaved like Pharisees, believing in their own righteousness and looking down on others who disagreed as morally bad because they disagreed, there is a lot of fallout over the insults and unjust accusations that American Catholics have hurled against each other.
Now, not after the election, is the time to start clearing up the damage to our souls and our relationships with others. Now is the time to start clearing up the damage that keeps us from witnessing to the Kingdom of God. Now is the time to recommit ourselves to being Catholics first and prepare to defend the faith from the wrongdoing our next President will bring.
Those opposed to the next President will be tempted to reject anything he or she does, even if it is compatible with our beliefs. Those who supported our next President will be tempted to ignore or downplay the evil he or she does. Both attitudes are wrong. When the next President does real good compatible with our faith, we should support it, and when he or she doesn’t, we must oppose it and work to limit it.
We’ll have to stop treating the bishops as enemies of the faith because they took a stand against the evils of a candidate. We’ll have to realize that trying to cite our Catholic teaching selectively to make a bad candidate seem good was a corruption of the Faith.
The point is, over the next 4-8 years, Catholics will have to forgive and seek forgiveness over the wrongs suffered and inflicted. We’ll have to set aside the blame and work together as Catholics to convert society as Our Lord commanded. So why not start picking up the pieces now? Why not start forgiving and seeking forgiveness now? Why not start affirming our Catholic faith regardless of how it affects our preferred candidate now?
Perhaps it’s because of our pride?
The Christian path requires us to live as Our Lord taught, even if it costs us. Yes, at times we may have to suffer an unwanted evil (double effect) in trying to do good. But we can never treat that evil as inconsequential. Under double effect, such an evil is something we would avoid if at all possible and must be less than the desired good. It’s not wrong to want to avoid suffering and hardship. But it is wrong to sacrifice our conscience, beliefs and moral obligations to do so .
So let’s stop tearing into each other because we disagree in matters where the Church allows prudential judgment. Let’s also show mercy to those who do wrong (it is still the Year of Mercy after all). Yes, we must correct others who are in error, but we must do so in charity—not by being so harsh that we cause people to reject what is true because of how we present it.
No, it’s not going to be easy. As I write this, I reflect on my own behavior. There have been times when I have been rude or sarcastic or even judgmental of others who were properly applying prudential judgment according to the teaching of the Church. I regret that. It hurt feelings and didn’t help preach the Kingdom. Each one of us will have to prayerfully seek out how to change. But we must all seek change and turn back to God in the areas we failed.
We should not wait until November 9 (the day after the elections), or January 20, 2017, (Inauguration Day) to start picking up the pieces and healing relationships with God, the Church and each other. We should start now.
[*] Relatively speaking. I’m sure believers from other parts of the world wish they could have a “worst” like ours.
[†] That means they didn’t vote against the Church teaching. Unfortunately some think that means “You must vote this way!”