In my work as the policy and outreach coordinator for the Minnesota Catholic Conference, I meet many Minnesota Catholics who have a deep aversion to politics. In their experience, politics are so steeped in special interests and dominated by power games that they don’t see why a Catholic should wade into such an imperfect arena.
These sentiments are understandable. The state of politics can be incredibly discouraging, and it may be tempting to simply wash our hands of the whole business.
But a recent meeting with some women involved in the Catholic Advocacy Network reminded me of why that’s not an option for disciples of Christ. These ladies were not political activists, yet they were doing their part to influence the political process for good. When asked to explain why, one said, “We don’t like politics, but we love Jesus.”
This is the foundation for our political participation: our love for Jesus. Being active in politics is a practical way in which we answer Christ’s call to love him through love of neighbor. With this mindset, we can face the discouragement and obstacles not out of love for politics, but out of love for Jesus.
Our firm foundation
We are created to love God in everything that we do; we exist to love God. While there are many ways to do this, Christ tells us that we tangibly love him by loving our neighbors. We truly love our neighbors when we begin to will their authentic good.
In “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis writes: “Accepting the first proclamation, which invites us to receive God’s love and to love him in return with the very love which is his gift, brings forth in our lives and actions a primary and fundamental response: to desire, seek and protect the good of others.”
Jesus’ love is the first principle. We encounter his love and we truly love him in return when we seek and protect the good of others.
The political arena provides us with concrete opportunities to love our neighbor. Political participation allows us to influence law and policymaking to uphold and pursue the good of every human person. We are convicted that the social doctrine of the church proposes the very key to human happiness and fulfillment. We love our neighbor when we work to create a society where every person can truly flourish.
The public square is a place that is in desperate need of Catholics on fire with the love of Jesus, and it is exactly where we belong. We see clearly that the public square is seemingly devoid of goodness and truth. We are being beckoned into politics to fill that void with the light and love of Christ.
As we set out on this task, our relationship with the Lord fuels us. We go forward, energized by loving Jesus through our love for others.
Keeping Christ as our foundation will allow us to persevere in the face of the setbacks and challenges we’re bound to experience in the political arena. It is no secret that we don’t always seem successful when it comes to politics; our viewpoints do not always win the day and the process can be frustrating and imperfect.
Set afire with love for Jesus, we can persevere through setbacks and discouragement. If we merely loved politics, our measure would be success. But as Mother Teresa reminds us, we are called to be faithful, not successful. We press on through discomfort and willingly make sacrifices, not because we are convicted of politics, but because we are convicted that our participation is a vital expression of our love for Christ.
Inspired by and rooted in this love, let us claim our place as Catholics in the public square. Let us tirelessly work to influence our laws and lawmakers to cultivate communities rooted in truth, not because we like politics, but because we love Jesus.
Rachel Herbeck is policy and outreach coordinator for the Minnesota Catholic Conference.