Seeing the Presidential Election Clearly

Welcome to everyone on this Homecoming weekend, especially alumni and recent graduates! Welcome most especially to the families that are here whose sons or daughters have gone to the Father’s house while they were students here. As a Benedictine Family, we grieve with you and remember them fondly.

It’s helpful to remember the spiritual meaning of this weekend: homecoming is a coming back to your Benedictine home, but it is also a kickoff to walking to our true heavenly home. “Our citizenship is in heaven,” says St. Paul. “And from it, we also await a savior, our Lord Jesus Christ.” We live here on earth with eyes on heaven. “Our home is the City of God, but we get there by passing through the City of Man.” (Chaput) Keep this point in mind, because I have just revealed to you the main theme of my homily!

Homecoming is a special weekend for many reasons: the dedication of Raven’s Memorial Park, the bed races, all the various sporting events, and especially the football game. It is a weekend that creates memories, and as I like to ask students, “what kind of memories do you want to have looking back from graduation day? Fun with friends or fun overindulging?” You have many opportunities to make the right choice this weekend, so let’s make those choices that lift us up and leave us honoring our time here at Benedictine.

Speaking of making choices, we have an important choice to make coming up. It is not the last weekend before Election Day but the second-to-last. Kind of feels like it snuck up on you, doesn’t it? 

And it doesn’t feel too good. I have to admit, never in my life have I been so distressed around our political choices at election time. As one bishop put it (Chaput): “The major parties have never, at the same time, offered two such deeply flawed presidential candidates.” A bombastic businessman versus someone who could be the very first woman president of our country, someone with a lot of controversy! That’s what distresses me, and I know many of you feel the same way too. For many of you, this is the first presidential election in which you are voting. For that, I have to say that I am very sincerely sorry. Long gone are the days of good politics. Now we simply have drama – and bad drama at that. 

So how do we make sense of all this? How can we decide who to vote for when our two major candidates are so flawed? How do we examine things properly from our Catholic faith? The simple answer would be to examine the issues and not to vote against anything contrary to our faith. You will hear many Catholics speak in this way, especially speaking of the paramount importance of examining the candidates from a pro-life lens. I don’t disagree with that principle, but I want to approach it from a different perspective, one that you may not have thought of yet.

I want to approach this topic from the perspective of discernment. Discernment is where we make decisions with an eye to heaven. We keep our eyes fixed firmly on heaven and on the King of Heaven, letting that vision of things restructure our lives so that our lives point in that direction. Let’s do that, and see what happens.

It seems to me that there are four choices: to vote for the Democratic candidate, to vote for the Republican candidate, to vote for a third party candidate, or to not vote at all. I have heard many faithful Catholics take this last position simply because they are distressed by the options we have before us. So we have the perfect storm for inactivity or making the wrong choice. 

In a way, Zacchaeus was also at a crossroad in his life. As a public figure, a tax collector, he had defrauded people. But somehow the person of Christ touch him even before he met Him. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus but couldn’t because of his stature. He could have stayed where he was, lost in the crowd. He could have walked away from Jesus. Instead he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see more clearly.

So perhaps that’s what we have to do. We have to climb a tree in order to see above the clamorous crowds. In all the distress surrounding this upcoming election, we have lost sight of the big picture. We are lost amid the issues and distracted by the drama. We are more interested in the stones each candidate throws at each other and in the personality of the candidates than the real issues themselves. What are we to do? We must climb a tree in order to see clearly. And this tree is Jesus Christ and His Church. And when we can climb high enough, we can see things in the context of the big picture.

The big picture is about homecoming. “Our home is the City of God, but we get there by passing through the City of Man.” And we must manage things here on earth while keeping our eyes on heaven.

What is the goal of human life? Is it to be distracted by this debate over the next president and over issues? Or is it rather to achieve eternal fulfillment in heaven? The only thing that matters in life is to be a saint. I can’t help but wonder if this election is a distraction from our goal to become saints. It seems to me that the Enemy has done quite well in distracting us from what really matters. And in so doing, we are tempted to cynicism. We are tempted to throw up our hands and give up. We are tempted to leave the public square. We are distracted away from heaven.

We all know of the importance of the Catholic voice in the public square. It defends human life from conception to death. It upholds traditional marriage and family. It ensures religious liberty. We need to have a voice and a place at the table of society. It is our moral obligation to speak up in the “City of man” about issues that affect our journey the “City of God.” But with this election, more than any that have come before it, comes the temptation to give up and leave the public square.

Of the four options, two of them immediately exclude us from this conversation at the table. By choosing to not vote, we remove ourselves from the public square. We usurp our rights to continual conversation about Catholic values in the public square. If we choose not to vote, we may as well be silent about abortion and traditional marriage. We have turned our backs to the precious hard-fought victory of the right to vote given us by our founders. This option, simply put, is unacceptable for Christians.

And there is another option that excludes us from our voice in the public square, because voting for this option is in effect voting for an option that insists on forcibly removing us from our role in the public square. This is the place where key issues of human life, marriage, family, and religious liberty are challenged. This is the place where you will hear politicians claiming to be Catholic or Christian or religious-minded and advocating things contrary to the principles of the faith. 

As Christians we cannot vote for these options, because by doing so, we lose our much-needed voice in the public square. Now, you may not like the options that are left, but you must ask the question, will this option permit us to still engage in conversation about key issues in the public square? It is there we discuss and debate. It is there that we point people to heaven, to a heaven and a God and a Savior whom many want to ignore. This is the key question: will this option—at the national, state, or local level—enable us to do this or not? This is what we need to consider when we approach the voting booth.

All this requires us to study and to pray. We must study the issues so that our consciences can be well formed. We must examine what our shepherds, the bishops, have said, especially in their document on Faithful Citizenship. The St Benedict’s Parish facebook page has resources from Archbishop Naumann and the US Bishops.

And we must pray. Times like these call us to pray from the heart. For this is what our Holy Father Pope Francis tells us to do: “Study the proposals well, pray, and choose in conscience.”

I think this election forces us to come to a crossroad as Catholics. That’s why it is so painful. We are tempted to distraction and not climb the tree in order to see the big picture. The choice in our hearts is less about whom to choose for president and more about our Catholic identity. Are we to become Catholics of conviction or Catholics of convenience? We are living in times in which it will become inconvenient to be a Catholic of convenience. 

The sycamore tree is a tree of life. It helps us to see Jesus clearly, for we are all too short in stature. If we choose to walk away or be lost in the voices of the crowd, we will miss our true homecoming.

Ideas from this homily came from Archbishop Chaput.

Click to see a summary  

Click for a full text of his speech