A priest went into a barbershop in Washington, D.C. for a haircut. When done he asked how much he owed. “No charge, Father,” the barber said. “I consider it my service to the Lord.” The next morning, the barber found a dozen prayer books and rosaries on the stoop along with a thank you note from the priest. A few days later a police officer came in. “How much do I owe you?” the cop asked after his haircut. “No charge, officer,” the barber answered. “I consider it my service to the community.” The next morning the barber found a dozen doughnuts with a thank you note from the officer. A few days after that, a politician came for a haircut. “How much do I owe you?” he asked afterward. “No charge,” the barber replied. “I consider it my service to our country.” The next morning when he arrived at the shop, the barber found a dozen more politicians waiting for a haircut.
As you all know, we have a big day ahead of us this week on election day. I thought and prayed a lot about addressing this during Mass today and came down on the side of saying a few words. Now, don’t worry, I’m not about to advocate for a candidate or a party, as that is never appropriate from the pulpit or from church officials. But, I do think there are significant things that we need to think about, pray about and act upon as followers of Jesus. It is appropriate to speak about things that are effecting the flock, especially things that effect the flock in harmful ways.
I think you would agree with me that this is an election like no other, at least in modern times. I cannot recall another election that has sown so much anxiety and fear, anger and conflict, and even sadness and depression among people. You are probably like me and those in a CNN poll this week that reported that 82% of Americans are disgusted by this election cycle.
So what are we – people of faith – to do with all of this? Well, thankfully, this election is almost over, just a few more days. But, if we are to make a difference, the real work of Christians begins on November 9th, as we try to make our society a better place. This election has been a race to the bottom, not to the top. Our candidates have denigrated each other continuously and have used language that denigrates so many people and groups of people in our country and beyond. But, as concerned as we should all be about the quality of the candidates presented to us, and the harmful dialogue that has accompanied the campaigns, I’m even more concerned about something else – what has all of this done to us, the men and women of this nation; to us, good people of faith throughout this country?
I think part of the problem is that we have been doing this largely in backwards order. We wait for the candidates to be presented to us and then we struggle to come to terms with which one of them is more or less in line with our Catholic values and which of our Catholic values should receive the highest priority at the time. As we know, especially now, this is a highly unsatisfying approach. It leaves us frustrated, anxious and concerned.
Instead, we need to work on doing things the other way around. Long before we bring our faith into the ballot box, we need to be working day-and-night to bring our faith into the world. It is not by casting our vote that we will help our world become a more kind, loving, forgiving, compassionate and joyful place. It is by living all of those values in our daily life, in a public way, that we will actively transform our world into a place that also values those things and better candidates will arise, if we demand them.
The Second Vatican Council, in its document, Lumen Gentium (which means “light of the nations”), said this about our involvement in the public realm, “The laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God…Led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity.”
Imagine that thought – we are a leaven to society. We raise up those who are downcast, those who are on the margins, those who no one cares for. We raise up the dialogue to a level of civility and respect, the connections between people, the hope for a better tomorrow – and we do all of this through a “life resplendent in faith, hope and charity.” This is our great task this week and beyond. November 8th, we’ll do the best we can. But, November 9th, we must engage our world in a new, different and renewed way – one that is defined by our faith in Jesus Christ.
Pope Francis spoke about this in The Joy of the Gospel, “An authentic faith always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it…All Christians…are called to show concern for the building of a better world. This is essential, for the Church’s social thought is primarily positive: it offers proposals, it works for change and in this sense it constantly points to the hope born of the loving heart of Jesus Christ.”
So, our challenge, made so incredibly clear this election, is to actively and publicly confront the issues of our time. Ever present within each of them is life as gift and responsibility. The freedom, dignity and kindness of our society depends on how we face challenges like the innocent victims of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, racism and misogyny on the rise, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment harmed by our too-often predatory relationship with nature.
Pope Francis said, “The future of humanity does not lie in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites. It is fundamentally in the hands of people. It is in [your] hands, which can guide this process of change with humility and conviction…Keep up your struggle. I am with you.”
It is interesting during elections to listen to campaign slogans. If you’re curious, there were no presidential campaign slogans until the election of 1840 and William Henry Harrison. The first slogan ever, “Tippecanoe and Tyler too!” Very inspiring stuff! They’ve gotten a bit better since then. This year’s slogans have been more basic and descriptive like, “I’m with Her”. We had this year perhaps the shortest slogan ever, “Jeb!” We had some scary ones like Rand Paul’s, “Defeat the Washington Machine” or Bernie Sander’s “A revolution is coming!” Some I personally find funny, like Chris Christies, “Telling it like it is!” There are the ones that hope to be inspirational and aspirational like Ben Carson’s, “Heal. Inspire. Revive,” or Carly Fiorina’s, “New Possibilities,” Hillary Clinton’s “Stronger Together” or Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again”, which by the way was also Ronald Reagan’s slogan in 1980, so no points for originality there.
To play with these a little bit, the challenge that lies before us in the days after this election is to first acknowledge that we need to be “Faithful Together” as brothers and sisters, especially connected with the most marginalized in our society.We must make it our mission statement to make America kind again, civil again. We must make America loving again and forgiving again. We must make our world merciful and united so that together we can bring forth the Kingdom.
It is easy to complain about the state of politics and give in to despair about society. But this is not a Christian attitude. As believers in Christ, our faith should give us the conviction of hope, because we know that Jesus conquered sin and death. Our hope is not in politicians, political parties, laws or institutions. Our hope is in Christ, who is able to transform our society and its people, if we let him work in us and through us.
The more that we become leaven to society, the more that our society will value the things we value. The greatest problem facing our society today is not emails or tax returns, it is the fact that we are increasingly polarized, increasingly individualistic, increasingly disconnected. We look at those in our world and instead of seeing a brother or a sister, we simply see an “other” or worse, we see an enemy.
The power to effect real transformative change in the world comes from the light of God within us. It is amazing how little leaven it takes to raise a loaf of bread. That is because within those little particles of yeast is found the power to ferment, to change the wet dough into a loaf of aromatic, tasty, nourishing bread. St. Pope John 23rd wrote, “Every believer, in this, our world, must be a spark of light, a center of love, a vivifying ferment in the dough: They will be so to the degree that, in their innermost being, they live in communion with God. In fact, there can be no peace among us if there is no peace within us.”
My friends, as we move forward from Tuesday, let us take a deep breath and let out all of that anxiety. Let us remember that God is in charge. And let us pledge to be the leaven, to be the spark of light, to raise up our society to one this kinder, more loving and forgiving, one in which all find their place, all find a home; and one that more closely reflects the Kingdom of God in our midst.
May the Lord give you peace.