They say you shouldn’t talk about sex, politics, or religion in public. As an evangelization-minded Catholic, I live a little differently, but I do tend to stay away from politics. I just don’t like it.
These days, however, there’s no getting away from politics, even when we’d rather talk about some of those other uncomfortable things. We’re seeing shifts in worldwide political power that have worried many, from both sides of the aisle and every form of government. If there was ever a time to talk politics, it’s now. I like my politics as a side to religion, though, so that’s what catches my attention.
That mindset drew me towards a speech given by one of my favorite speakers, writers, and bishops, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia. He was invited to speak at the 2016 Tocqueville lecture at the University of Notre Dame, where I attended graduate school several years ago. If I will listen to anyone talk about politics, it’ll be him. The venue and occasion are just gravy.
Chaput begins his speech by emphasizing a point I wholeheartedly support:
Leon Bloy, the great French Catholic convert, once said that—in the end—the only thing that matters is to be a saint. That’s the ultimate task of a place like Notre Dame. It’s not to help you get into a great law school, or to go to a great medical school, or to find a great job on Wall Street, as good as those things clearly are. It’s to help you get into heaven—which is not some imaginary fairyland, but an eternity of life in the presence of a loving God.
Amen to that. As an election season meme noted, no matter who runs the country, Jesus is our king. Everything we do, from education to finances, from life planning to family planning, should be ordered toward becoming saints and helping other people become saints. That’s my life goal. I remind myself of that at least once a week. (Seriously; I have an extensive review process.) If you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution, that’s a good one.
Chaput also says that simply running away from politics is not a helpful response (as much as I personally might like it to be one):
If Christians leave the public square, other people with much worse intentions won’t. The surest way to make the country suffer is to not contest them in public debate and in the voting booth.
Shifting from his brief political introduction to the point of his talk, Chaput notes that changing politics is fundamentally about changing hearts:
The task of renewing a society is much more long term than a trip every few years to the voting booth. And it requires a different kind of people. It demands that we be different people.
Augustine said that complaining about the times makes no sense because we are the times. And that means, in turn, that changing the country means first changing ourselves.
What this has to do with “sex, family, and the liberty of the Church” is that sexual sin is becoming worse and more pervasive. We all know that, but Archbishop Chaput sees it from a unique perspective: the confessional. And those are just the people who are Catholic, who know they’re doing something wrong, and who admit to it in the sacrament.
Chaput goes on to explain that people who are unable to order their sexuality properly (towards holiness, marriage, family, and heaven) will be ruled by it. Maybe at first they said they couldn’t help it, but now they really can’t help it. People who are ruled by passions give in to those who will tighten their chains when fighting to be free is just too hard. Sometimes those chains are tightened by toxic relationships. Singles who don’t know how to love will become spouses who don’t know any better, raising children who struggle to find the truth and forming communities of the same. The effects spread from one person, one couple, all alone, to social structures at large. Then they vote.
This has political consequences. People unwilling to rule their appetites will inevitably be ruled by them—and eventually, they’ll be ruled by someone else. People too weak to sustain faithful relationships are also too weak to be free. Sooner or later they surrender themselves to a state that compensates for their narcissism and immaturity with its own forms of social control.
He further says:
As families and religious faith break down, the power of the state grows. Government fills in the spaces left behind by mediating institutions. The individual is freed from his traditional obligations. But he inherits a harder master in the state.
This is the situation we face now, regardless of president. When we don’t cling to the truth, we open ourselves to being ruled by those who offer us a definition of truth that may be very foreign to our own. For Christians, Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. If we fight the good fight to place Jesus at the head of our sexual and family lives, we can find freedom and liberty in him. That’s a resolution I can get behind.