Forget the election chaos, focus on the Kingdom

It seems that this election is speeding up the continuation of our spiral into chaos, anger, and fear in this country. It’s a scandal that conservative-minded people, especially those who seek stability for religious freedom, must vote for a man who is known to express remarkably vulgar sentiments and often seems insincere with his recently acquired conservative positions.

Even worse is that the other option is a person who goes beyond simply speaking of these sentiments by actually seeking to ruin women (and one child) who have come out as sexual assault victims in order to gain political power and wealth. This along with the desire not only for abortion on-demand  up until the moment of birth but also to have tax payers foot the bill. A vote for this option would also be voting in favor of what is essentially a referendum if one is okay with even less transparency in the executive branch and what would likely be a level of corruption that no past presidential administration comes close to matching.

It’s true that voting for the “lesser of two evils” is something that genuinely does need to be considered every election cycle. This is something we do every day in small and big ways. Similar to the situation Aron Ralston found himself in when got his arm trapped under a boulder while hiking alone (and depicted in the movie 127 Hours), it sometimes makes sense to go through pain if you know it increases the odds of a better outcome. Aron cut his arm off with a pocket knife and successfully avoided death.

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But there is a point where the “lesser of two evils” argument breaks down. While I’m not suggesting we are at this point with our two options (as it can be argued), I’m suggesting that political conservatives be careful not to ignore how close it is approaching. At a certain point it’s like arguing if we should vote for the person who murdered 20 people or the one who murdered 18 people. Eventually there will be a line crossed where it makes sense to simply not accept the choices before us.

Alas there is (and always will be) hope despite these dark times. The good news it that we are “resident aliens” in this representative democracy. Our true home is with our Father who art in heaven. And we answer to our sovereign king Jesus Christ whose monarchy spans the universe. Ultimately we have hope for an outcome that rests beyond what happens after this election. The Adversary wants us to submit to anxiety and fear so we lash out, make bad decisions, and are overcome by the world and the political systems that reside within it. Don’t.

Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. -Mt 8:24-26

What to make of what’s going on? Well, our country is divided more than ever, people care more about politics than principles, we are a post-Christian nation, and the only institution we have that can match the corruption of our politics is our mainstream news media. All we can do as individual Christians is evangelize, pray, and fast.

No one knows what will happen on November 8 or what will happen after that. What we do know is that we are not made for this world. We are made for heaven. This world is simply the ship that takes us there and as long as we stay aboard through daily conversion, faith in Christ, and the frequent reception of the sacraments of Confession and Communion we will one day reach the outcome that no political election can satisfy.☩

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Clarence Thomas’s (Very Catholic) Eulogy at Scalia Memorial

On the heels of the beautiful funeral Mass for Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Clarence Thomas gave a eulogy at a memorial service held at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC. Thomas was a friend, college, and fellow Catholic to Scalia and gave a speech that was loving and humorous. The eulogy also was sure to mention in moving fashion the their shared faith, providing yet more nationally-covered witness to the hope that lies within the promises of Christ. Bravo.

“In a sense, it is providential and certainly not probable that we served together. … He was from the Northeast, and I was from the Southeast. He came from a house of educators, and I from a househould of almost no formal education — but we shared our Catholic faith and our Jesuit education, as well as our sense of vocation. For different reasons and from different origins, we were heading in the same direction, so we walked together and worked together for a quarter century. And along the way we developed an unbreakable bond of trust and deep affection.

“Many will fittingly and deservedly and rightfully say much about his intellect and jurisprudence,” he continued. “But there is so much more to this good man. As one of our colleagues said the other day, ‘He filled the room.'”

Thomas became emotional as he went on to quote from the biography of assassinated Nazi dissenter Dietrich Bonhoeffer,

“With him, a piece of my own life is carried to the grave. Yet —Yet, our eyes are upon Thee. We believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

“We give thanks to God for the life, the suffering, the witness of our brother whose friends we were privileged to be. We pray God to lead us, too, through His discipleship from this world into His heavenly kingdom to fulfill in us that other word that Dietrich Bonhoeffer used: ‘Non potest non laetari qui sperat in Dominum.’ While in God confiding, I cannot but rejoice.”

“God bless you, Brother Nino,” he ended. “God bless you.”

The Pope vs. The Donald: Francis Probably Right but for the Wrong Reason

I would like to begin by stating that I love Pope Francis. The pope is a holy man who takes seriously his compassion for, and responsibility to, humanity. If you wish to see my pope-loving credentials, please click here and here for recent examples. However, it’s becoming too common that he says something which has me burying my face in my hands. After I read these statements I know immediately people are going to ask me, their ‘Catholic friend’, “so what’s up with your pope”.

The pope gave one of his in-flight interviews as he traveled home from Mexico. The interview covered a range of issues. He gave powerful statements against abortion and a solid answer on why the divorced and civilly remarried cannot receive Communion.

The problem–with all due respect to the Holy Father–lies in the fact that he commented on the American presidential election wrongly and dangerously. Let me first say that I don’t like defending Trump and I am not a supporter of his presidential campaign as a whole. But the pope’s response when asked what he thought of Donald Trump has many people who otherwise wouldn’t be defending Donald doing just that. Let’s discuss what the pope said exactly.

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“This Man is Not Christian”

I believe, as the pope acknowledges, Francis has limited knowledge of the current election battle brewing in the USA. When the Reuters reporter asked if a Catholic can vote for Trump, he included the information that Trump wants to build a wall along the boarder of Mexico. Working with that information, the pope responded that he wouldn’t get involved by telling an American how to vote but added:

[…] a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. […] I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.”

His vague-yet-pointed comments are confusing many Catholics and non-Catholics alike and gave Donald Trump a hanging curve ball to knock out of the park. Trump responded, calling the pope “disgraceful”, going on to say in a press release:

If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would not have happened. ISIS would have been eradicated unlike what is happening now with our all talk, no action politicians.”

Trump is right (is “thanks, Francis” going to be the new “thanks, Obama”?). ISIS’s prized trophy is the Vatican and the Vatican’s boarders need to be (and are) secure in order to keep dangerous elements out. Donald later, amazingly, deescalated the fight saying that he doesn’t want to fight with the pope, blaming the controversy on how the media portrayed it.

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The pope just swatted down the very real concerns of a group of people that regularly deal with being mocked in the media, are openly made fun of on TV, and are called bigots by the political Left. If popular culture makes fun of Christians for being Christian and then the pope implies if they want a secure border they cannot be Christians, where are they to turn anymore? Think about that. He just basically forced these people to come to terms with the unfortunate fact that their beliefs on an issue are more aligned with a reality show blowhard who they might find repulsive instead of the leader of Christianity.

This debate would be different if Francis opined on other positions of Trump’s. There wouldn’t be the same controversy if the Bishop of Rome suggested that being in favor of funding Planned Parenthood or [previously] supporting late-term abortion is un-Christian. We wouldn’t have this level of debate if he mentioned how having four wives, not thinking one needs to ask God for forgiveness, opening casinos with strippers, wanting to temporarily ban an entire religion from immigrating, seeking to abuse eminent domain, or completely missing the Gospel message (more on that in a bit) might be un-Christian. The thing Francis is calling Trump out for, simple border security with a legal path to citizenship, is something fully in line with the Catechism and something that helps secure religious liberty in America. Since when is this a controversial issue? Francis’ off-the-cuff comments not only bolster Trump, it set himself up for ridicule via meme online–not the best way to evangelize the Millennials!

CCC 2241 […] Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.

Is Trump a Christian?

So is the the pope right about Trump not likely being a Christian? Probably, but for the wrong reason. Donald Trump enjoys a strong lead in the ever-coveted Evangelical voter base despite him even pretending to have a coherent notion of basic Christianity.

Trump speaks often about how much good he will do for Christians in the country which he very well could succeed at by the mere fact he’s not afraid to be politically incorrect. But none of this means he actually understands or lives according to any sort of Christian philosophy.

Trump was raised a Presbyterian. When he was asked if he ever has had to ask God for forgiveness, and speaking of Communion, he said, “I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so, I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t. When I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness”. Oy.

On Fox News, Bill O’Reilly asked him if, since he’s a Christian, he should consider “turning the other cheek” and forgiving Megyn Kelly despite his differences. After concurring with Bill that that would probably be the right thing to do, he spouts “well, it’s called an eye for an eye I guess also, you can look at it that way…” before Bill reminds him of the difference between the Old Testament and New. Video Below.

Yet despite plenty of un-Christian baggage carried by Trump, the simple notion of border security simply can’t be included.

The Growing Rift Between Political Conservatives and Christianity

It is no secret that our country is becoming more secular and part of that is because many political conservatives are becoming more secular. Indeed the American Right tends to be more friendly towards Christianity compared to the other end of the political spectrum, but to what extent? There is a growing segment of conservative voters whose support is simply lip service inasmuch as Christianity fits into the parameters of their own political orthodoxy. So to say, these people appreciate the parts of Christianity that line up with their already-set political ideology. What the pope just did was create more of these Republicans with his overly-simplistic Anglican-esque sentimentalism. When the pope speaks recklessly on an issue, he turns off people to any future moral message he may have, let alone the Catholic Faith itself.

More and more voters who wear the badge of Christianity are beginning to view their religion as the positive social product of sound political philosophy. Quite the contrary, sound political philosophy is in fact the outcome of a solid Christian foundation (found wholly in the Catholic Church). So when the pope seemingly attacks someone for a policy that, at its core, not only isn’t wrong but even works to defend the very reason America is so attractive, he diminishes the authority of the Church in the eyes of people who have legitimate social concerns.

If America is so Wrong, Why do People Even Want to  Come Here?

I try to avoid coming down on Francis for the statements he makes about capitalism because he can be right about the materialism of a”throw-away culture” that so often is symptomatic of the economic structure. But just because some people abuse the fruits of a good concept does’t mean the entire concept is bad. At some point people wonder why his target always seems to be America’s economic system. The pope was in communist Cuba recently, where Christians are literally killed and countless Catholic churches have been destroyed at the hands of the Castros. The pope never opined that any of the bad actors there were “not Christian” (not to say he doesn’t think so). The pope was just in Mexico where they apparently lead the world in murdered priests, along with an extremely violent drug trade problem and poor economic conditions. But the pope, to my understanding, only spoke about American politics instead of the contribution of corrupt Mexican politics to these problems. Many of their citizens, understandably, want to come to America. But why?

If the apparent perils of our economic system and hardened hearts are so bad, why would these people even want the proverbial “bridge” the pontiff references? Obviously everyone already knows the answer which is why his comments made eyes rolls, faces get palm’d, and put people like me in the obnoxious position of actually having to defend the Donald.

Pope Francis has a lot on his plate right now with the Catholic Church. Faithful Catholics are begging him to focus on the important issues the Church faces and are confused why he doesn’t have similar language for many politicians in DC who openly have no problem with partial-birth abortion, are increasingly anti-religious freedom, are pro-euthanasia, or promote policies that contribute to the disintegration of the family. Oddly, it’s often the same politicians that enjoy posing for photos with the pope. Come on. Where has the powerful moral authority of the Church, of the Petrine Office, gone?

Pope Francis is a Good Man

These criticisms are solely in the context of a reverent respect for Francis. His compassion and love for humans is inspiring. Indeed his heart is not hardened like that of so many people. However, having a tender heart need not come at the expense of having rational thought. Out of all the issues he could have called out Trump on he instead chose an issue that ended up being a big pile of dog crap for his pontifical Puma to step directly into.

St. Peter, please pray for the Vicar of Christ, that he keeps up the good fight against the throwaway culture and the overwhelming indifference of the world to the despair of humanity. Pray that he stays safe and healthy while leading our Church. Please also intercede for the United States of America, that we are able to view our political ideology as a proper reflection of Christian philosophies rather than the other way around. Amen.