US Politics Sees Balance of Power Shift on All Souls
By William Edmund Fahey
MERRIMACK, New Hampshire, 3 NOV. 2010 (ZENIT)
Across the United States, pro-life Catholics were jubilant. Conservatives won several key elections and the Republican Party seemed poised to take up the reigns of power as its candidates won a significant majority in the House of Representatives, and gained control nationwide of the majority of state governorships, as well as over many local legislatures.
A faithful Roman Catholic — John Boehner — is set to be the next Speaker of the House. Loyal Catholics throughout the United States played a key role in pushing for these victories, hoping that power coming into the hands of Republicans will translate into advances for the Culture of Life.
Over $4 billion dollars was spent on these mid-term elections, making them one of the most costly and extravagant in America's history. It was the view of many that the Culture of Death was swallowing up every ray of light and hope, and that this election would be decisive in the struggle. In often bitter primaries, where "establishment" Republicans were challenged by conservative and libertarian contestants, Catholics individuals and Catholic organizations poured unprecedented resources, energy, and attention into political action up until the last hours of campaigning.
The expression — "decisive victory," an expression drawn from military history — exploded across the headlines of national and civic newspapers, nightly news, and the Internet on Nov. 2 to announce the historic wins of the Republican Party. And yet, just two years ago, the expression was used by Democrats, progressives, and liberals to describe their triumph in the national elections. The same American people have delivered decisive victory to political forces whose views are increasingly anathemas to one another. And in that "decisive victory," Catholics again played a role.
This volatility of the American political scene may, in fact, render less and less likely a firm foundation for a Civilization of Love. The good intentions of many American Catholics are unlikely to bear fruit if, in fact, the Catholic leadership — lay and ecclesiastical — does not turn with determination back to the vision offered by the social encyclicals — an approach to social life grounded deeply in catechesis, education, and cultural formation — that is, in precisely those areas most neglected over the last year in the frenzy to fund political candidates.
Recently, Cardinal Peter Turkson, the Holy Father's newly appointed head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, commented on the problems in America, even among scholars, accepting and understanding the Social Teachings of the Church.
"A group of scholars from America recently came to Rome to visit with us and talk about the recent encyclical," he remarked in an interview with ZENIT. "It became clear very early in the discussion that certain terms such as solidarity are not appreciated by Americans, and difficult to translate."
Neither left nor right
Cardinal Turkson is attentive to the simplistic polarization found among American Catholics, a polarization that diminishes the truth of Catholic teaching. "Social justice is not so much about distribution or making the higher people in society help the lower," he observed. "The point of departure is to recognize the sense of justice in relationships and be guided by it. There could be a small disconnect between the Pope's own teaching and the reality of the particular situation in the United States."
Again, Cardinal Turkson suggests that the simplicity of popular American political rhetoric and thought may stem from "the two political camps within this country. It may, as it will, have its own hermeneutics. If we are thinking of the communitarian character of the teaching of the Holy Father, it is based on the Christian anthropology of the person. The person is created to be a part of a family. The family is the point of departure of the Holy Father's understanding of the person.
"People belong to a family. Fraternity is a concept that is not understood well here. The sense is that the human person must belong to a family. Solidarity is the basic point of departure — the brotherhood of men under the fatherhood of God. I'm not sure whether the political discussion in American society has the same point of departure."
The patient effort to build an enduring Culture of Life must follow upon the necessary and urgent action of the last year. Central to the task is education and the restoration of reason, beside faith, as a guiding force in evangelization. Last year, the Holy Father reminded Catholics that the key to the Culture of Life is "broadening the scope of reason and making it capable of knowing and directing" the forces that will help to establish the "Civilization of Love" ("Caritas in Veritate," No. 33). This, of course, requires that the leaders within the Church hold up her magisterial wisdom as a beacon for society, especially when the very notion of a magisterium — inerrant doctrine and an authentic teaching authority — cuts against the grain of central tenets in modern society.
This clash between modernism and the very idea of the Catholic magisterium was recently highlighted in Cardinal-designate Raymond Burke's address to Human Life International in Rome last month. "In a world which prizes, above all else, individualism and self-determination, the Christian is easily tempted," he observed, "to relativize the authority of the magisterium" to suit his own "self-pursuit." Citing "Dei Verbum," Cardinal-designate Burke offered the deposit of faith as the antidote to the Culture of Death. "The responsibility for the deposit of the faith and its transmission in every age belongs to the living teaching office of the Church alone," he reiterated.
This teaching office, or diaconia, is entrusted first to the bishops, as the first authentic guardians of the faith, and then to various officers and teachers within the Catholic educational world. Echoing the Holy Father, Cardinal Burke was clear: To confront the "dictatorship of relativism," one thing is preeminent: "sound teaching."
Making room for God
In the public arena, the lay faithful and Church leaders must visibly and corporately respond to this sound teaching of the magisterium. As Cardinal-designate Burke explained, "the response of both bishop and the faithful to the exercise of the teaching authority of Christ is obedience" to Christ in the magisterium. Again, Cardinal-designate Burke has in mind the recent admonition of Benedict XVI, that a decisive victory can only be judged as actual "if God has a place in the public realm" ("Caritas in Veritate," No. 56).
In the wake of the Conservative victory in America, Catholic observers will look for signs of the natural and moral law being restored and upheld in state and federal laws. Again, Cardinal-designate Burke has spoken clearly on this. "If Christians fail to articulate and uphold the natural moral law, then they fail in the fundamental duty of patriotism, of loving their country by serving the common good," he said. Yet such a restoration will only occur if the natural law is again taught with clarity and conviction and taught to young men and women receptive in their hearts and minds for the truth.
Political action is required in this life, the Church teaches, but both political action and the virtue of political prudence must undergo formation within a specific educational milieu. As the Holy Father stated: "Reason always stands in need of being purified by faith: this also holds true for political reason, which must not consider itself omnipotent. For its part religion always needs to be purified by reason in order to show its authentically human face" ("Caritas in Veritate," No. 56). Faith and reason are shown in their full splendor when married, and that marriage is traditionally witnessed within the halls of schools, colleges, and seminaries.
Whether American Catholics build upon the small beachhead won on the Feast of All Souls remains to be seen. It will require an even greater commitment of resources and energy to ensure that God, indeed, has his place restored in the public realm and that the truth of the magisterium be taught vigorously again at Catholic institutions dedicated to preparing men and women to pursue wisdom, form families, serve the common good, and glorify God as sovereign in all and over all. When that happens, we may enjoy the fruits of a truly decisive victory. Until then, the Culture of Life remains in the balance, regardless of which party controls government.
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William Edmund Fahey is the president of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire.