Mercy’s Gaze in an Election Year

By Chris Sparks

Politics is cluttering up my newsfeed.

It was inevitable in a presidential election year, particularly this presidential election year, sadly. After all, when else do we ever see such flat denunciations of family, friends, and neighbors? Anyone who votes for Candidate X is written off, unfriended, blocked; anyone who votes for Candidate Y is written off, unfriended, blocked. A faithful Catholic cannot vote for Candidate X; a faithful Catholic cannot vote for Candidate Y. The left is evil. The right is evil. The lukewarm moderate middle is evil, for it neither supports the good nor condemns the evil. And on it goes.

There’s an apocalyptic strain in American politics — always has been at least since John Adams ran against Thomas Jefferson for the presidency, if not before. In my lifetime, every presidential election has had the feel of a contest between Christ and Antichrist, with those respective roles assigned depending on where you fall on the political spectrum.

But the way we approach every presidential election isn’t appropriate to the reality of the election or the office in play. As with all earthly political offices, the role is fundamentally one of steward. The chief executive in the United States isn’t even the sovereign. Actually, the president is meant to be the executor of the laws passed by Congress and interpreted by the Supreme Court. Sovereignty arises from the people, not from the president. The three branches collectively exercise the power of governance delegated from the people.

The president is the steward of the nation, in the service of the legislature, the people’s representatives. The requirements for the excellent exercise of that office mirror St. Faustina’s tremendous insight into true greatness:

A little child came and woke me up. ... The child was beautiful beyond words and resembled the Child Jesus, and he said to me ... "True greatness is in loving God and in humility” (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 424).

She also had a clear vision of what often hides beneath the outward appearance of earthly greatness:

Then I saw a soul which was being separated from its body amid great torment. O Jesus, as I am about to write this, I tremble at the sight of the horrible things that bear witness against him. ... I saw the souls of little children and those of older ones, about nine years of age, emerging from some kind of a muddy abyss. The souls were foul and disgusting, resembling the most terrible monsters and decaying corpses. But the corpses were living and gave loud testimony against the dying soul. And the soul I saw dying was a soul full of the world's applause and honors, the end of which are emptiness and sin. Finally a woman came out who was holding something like tears in her apron, and she witnessed very strongly against him.

O terrible hour, at which one is obliged to see all one's deeds in their nakedness and misery; not one of them is lost, they will all accompany us to God's judgment. I can find no words or comparisons to express such terrible things. And although it seems to me that this soul is not damned, nevertheless its torments are in no way different from the torments of hell; there is only this difference: that they will someday come to an end (Diary, 425-428).

In the immortal words of Spiderman’s Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility.” With great power comes an even greater burden for humility, an even greater burden for selfless generosity, and an even greater burden of love for God and neighbor.

We Americans have great power. We’ve had unique world power for a long time. We have military might beyond the dreams of civilizations past. We have a unique amount of influence on the culture of the world.

We have immense power, and so we have immense responsibility. Part of that responsibility is to never lose sight of the truth told by the Russian exile and writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil (The Gulag Archipelago).

In this valley of tears, defeating evil doesn’t mean defeating the other party in an election. Defeating evil means choosing virtue over vice from moment to moment throughout the day and repenting when we fall. One election isn’t going to defeat evil or establish righteousness upon the earth. A generation of goodness or even centuries of goodness will not guarantee the end of evil upon the earth. Every generation makes its own choice. Every individual human being makes their own choice. And every moment of every day, we have a choice. Human history is a long, winding road, a pilgrimage toward Heaven or hell by all of us who walk it.

Voting matters. Elections matter. The words we say and the actions we take in support of a candidate or opposing a candidate matter. But no victory is worth losing our soul over. No temporary win on earth is worth our salvation. For no political party or candidate should we be willing to do “anything in the name of” their victory.

The servants of Divine Mercy should know that especially well. After all, as Jesus made clear to St. Faustina, “True greatness is in loving God and in humility.” True greatness looks more like St. Faustina or Mother Teresa of Calcutta than any political leader of the 20th and 21st century.

So this election year, let’s make sure we serve truth, goodness, beauty, and love in our words and our political participation. Let’s not fall into the lie of believing the other side is irredeemably evil, without any goodness or truth on their side. Let’s look at each other through the eyes of mercy, and make sure our politics are informed and bounded by the Church’s social teaching. Let’s be voices of conscience within our political parties, supporting our candidate but also speaking up within our party for policies that are in accord with the natural law, not in violation of it. Let us never refuse to criticize our side, our party, or our preferred politician when they do wrong. Let us not make the mistake of supporting a respectable or comfortable evil in the name of defeating a different sort of evil, a less comfortable, less respectable evil. Let us staunchly adhere to the teaching of St. John Paul II in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, fighting against crimes against human life and dignity, no matter who supports or commits them.

I’ll end with a key passage from that encyclical:

The Second Vatican Council, in a passage which retains all its relevance today, forcefully condemned a number of crimes and attacks against human life. Thirty years later, taking up the words of the Council and with the same forcefulness I repeat that condemnation in the name of the whole Church, certain that I am interpreting the genuine sentiment of every upright conscience: "Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practise them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator".

Pray for me, that I may practice what I preach. I’ll pray for you.

Chris Sparks serves as senior book editor for the Marian Fathers. He is the author of the Marian Press book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.

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Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash.

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