I say this as a personal reflection, not as a political statement: the 2016 election struck deeply at my sense of trust in other people. Although I could not have articulated my reaction in these terms at the time, the pain and anxiety that plagued me stemmed from broken trust. The first Sunday after the election, I had hoped to find solace at church, and indeed, the visiting priest who officiated Mass addressed the political situation in his homily. However, I found his words less than inspiring. His message, as I remember it, was essentially, “If the election didn’t go the way you wanted, be happy that we have the privilege to vote. If your candidate won, don’t criticize those who are protesting.” The most constructive advice he gave was for those unhappy with the country’s new course to seek out volunteer opportunities to help others.
However, this priest did not say anything to begin to mend the rifts that the election had created among people. For me, that rift of distrust closed very gradually, over the course of months, through reflection and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. I have written some of my conclusions in an earlier post on mercy, but here, let me share the message that I, personally, needed to hear right after the election. Perhaps these words might offer others some peace and equilibrium as we face another divisive election.
The Sermon I Wish I Had Heard:
“Look at the person next to you, the person down the pew, the person a few pews over. Maybe they voted for the same candidate you did, maybe they voted for the other one. Either way, God delights in them (Ps. 18:19, 149:4). God invites them to be His friends (Jn 15:15). God loves them, just as He loves you. Can we feel rancor towards someone whom God so loves?
“Perhaps we feel that a vote for the other candidate is morally reprehensible. After all, elections lead to policies, and policies have ethical dimensions. Policies can harm, even kill, people. Should we not feel righteous anger toward those who allow these policies to exist, and toward those whose votes brought these politicians to power? Alternately, should we not celebrate the triumph when ‘our side’ wins?
“Jesus calls us to work on bringing about the Kingdom of God. We are to promote the common good and create a society in which all can flourish (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1905-12). We probably see our vote as a part of this call. Yet, remember: we do not await salvation in this world. Yes, we must confront injustice, inequality, and attacks on the dignity of human life, and we choose our representatives with the expectation that they will implement policies to further honorable goals. However, whether they do or they don’t, our hope does not hinge on elected officials. True salvation comes from God alone; ultimately our lives, country, and world are in His hands.
“Yes— persevere in bringing goodness, justice, and equality to the structures of this world, but always with your eyes on Him. Do not let your zeal keep you from seeing that those with whom you disagree, even those who hold beliefs we might deem harmful, are still your brothers and sisters. They are also beloved children of God.
“This is not to say that anything goes, just as it does not relieve us of our responsibility to build a just, life-affirming social order. However, instead of being angry with those on the other side of the political aisle, let us use our energy to contribute to our communities. Hate, worry, distrust, and resentment will deplete our ability to love and serve others. We—all of us, regardless of the candidate for whom we voted—are but stewards of the gifts God has entrusted to us. Our money, our time, our talents, and even our physical and emotional stamina, are gifts God gives so that we can share them with others.
“Ask God how He wants you to share those gifts. And listen! One of my favorite prayers is a verse from a poem by St. Teresa of Avila: “Vuestra soy, para vos nací / qué mandáis hacer de mí?” Or, less poetically in English, “I am yours, I was born for thee / what is it you ask of me?” Let us dedicate our resources, and our very being, to love. And, always, as we do so, keeping our eyes on God.
“Let us come before Him as the humble tax collector who recognizes that true peace and righteousness come from God alone (Lk 18:9-14). Do not be like the Pharisee who, in today’s terms, might pray, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—[insert your political/social opponents here]—who are destroying this country. I know my vision of society corresponds to what You want our country to be.” Rather, we would do well to remember the tax collector’s words, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” and to turn Jesus’s prayer from the cross toward ourselves: “Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do” (Lk 23:34).
“Look again at those around you, and smile, with genuine affection. We belong here, all of us, together, with joy and welcome in our hearts. Jesus calls us together as family, regardless of our vote. He calls us, together, to the communion table to share a meal. He calls us, together, to be transformed into the Body of Christ. Come, eat with your brothers and sisters. Come, be at peace, together.”
Thank you for reading.