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Editorial: A reminder to speak the truth in charity
“[L]iving the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body … with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:15-16).
St. Paul wasn’t writing to the Ephesians in the midst of a presidential election campaign, but his words apply to life in the United States in 2020. As the rhetoric of American politics has become increasingly hostile (and even violent, as this editorial board discussed two weeks ago), several Catholic priests of a political bent have proved that ordination alone does not guarantee that you have your priorities straight.
From endorsing a presidential candidate not only in spite of, but because of, the fact that he has, for most of his political career, supported abortion; to declaring anathema those who vote for any candidate from a particular political party, no matter what positions that candidate may hold; to the espousing of conspiracy theories about mail-in voting and COVID-19; to the use of blasphemy on social media to damn one presidential candidate and to praise another: Certain shepherds of our souls have shown themselves to be more concerned with matters temporal than with building up the Body of Christ in love.
Truth is paramount, not only for us as Catholics but for all human beings. No priest or bishop should shrink from speaking the truth about the dignity of all human life, from conception to natural death, and what that truth entails for the right ordering of society. But as Catholics, we must never forget that the way in which we order our human affairs has the ultimate end of bringing all souls to Christ. Political debates, even over the fundamental issues of human life and human dignity, must be conducted in charity, because the object of all of our actions is to bring those who reject or deny the truth to repentance, that they may embrace their place within the Body of Christ.
As Catholics, we proclaim the truth not to draw political divisions between those who embrace it and those who don’t, but to make disciples of all nations. Similarly, the purpose of denying Communion to a politician who supports policies that are contrary to Church teaching isn’t primarily about changing those policies (though that is obviously a side effect to be desired); it’s about calling the politician back to the truth and reintegrating him or her into the Body of Christ.
Just as surely as abortion kills the body, rhetoric that is designed to divide and to damn can kill the soul — and not just the soul who rebels against our angry words, but our soul as well. Declaring people beyond the mercy of God because of the political positions they espouse — no matter how destructive those positions may be — we sin against the Holy Spirit and indulge the evil found in our own heart.
The conflation of political action with the terrible swift sword of divine justice is the perennial temptation of the modern world, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn understood. A political prisoner for years because he refused to abandon the truth, Solzhenitsyn never succumbed to the temptation to believe that any person is beyond redemption. “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them,” he wrote in “The Gulag Archipelago.” “But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
Five years ago, during his apostolic visit to the United States, Pope Francis echoed and amplified Solzhenitsyn’s words. In his remarks to a joint session of Congress, the Holy Father urged all of us to guard against “the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. … Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice.”
As Election Day approaches, may our shepherds — and we ourselves — take these words to heart, and remember always to speak the truth in charity.
Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young