Salvation vs. Politics
Several readers responded to my On the Culture essay on Priestly Fidelity in ways that surprised or intrigued me. In a few cases, I was criticized for missing the point of authentic renewal in stating that three widely-varying levels of Catholic commitment would be helpful in the political battle for religious liberty. It is important to realize, in reading this essay, that I was discussing the intersection between priestly fidelity and success in addressing a particular political problem.
Others, without being critical, wondered whether our bishops can succeed in rallying Catholics to roll back the HHS mandate without finally getting serious about opposing contraception. This is an important question, and another side of the same coin. So let me offer a clarification.
Authentic spiritual renewal is not only the first priority of the Church but critical to the success of the Church on every level, including the political level. If the bishops do not seriously address the scourge of contraception which underlies so much that is wrong with personal and family life in the West—including vastly increased teaching and pastoral pressure at the parish level—it will be a clear sign that the bishops are not taking the need for spiritual renewal seriously. In the long run, this can only weaken the freedom of Catholics still more in every sense, beginning with that interior moral and spiritual freedom to choose the good and ending with freedom from external constraint (that is, political freedom) when doing the good.
But it is also important to realize that complete renewal is not necessary for political success. If it were, there would never be a political advance in the history of the world. Politics is not unrelated to spiritual growth, but it is sharply distinct from it. In politics, thankfully, persons of varying levels of spiritual commitment can make positive contributions. This is because politics deals with the disposition of our affairs in this world, and so the best politics discerns a variety of reasons and motivations for some desired change, and effective political persuasion rallies people not only because of their perfection, but also because of (or at least in spite of) their imperfection.
Hence it is not wrong to speak of political success without insisting on a complete spiritual renewal first. Politics is not at all a substitute for authentic spiritual renewal, but it is influenced by it, and politics will also influence authentic renewal—for better or worse—in its turn.
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Posted by: impossible -
Feb. 11, 2012 2:25 PM ET USA
Excellent. When will our bishops and clergy with left leanings come to understand that the "common good" and "human dignity" are more seriously impacted via legislation by Congress and the Judiciary on intrinsic evils than on prudential differences on how to solve society's shortcomings that permit Catholics to come to varying solutions? Our diocese has a priest-politician who regularly loses sight of that distinction as his writings support the liberal assault on human dignity & common good.
Posted by: Michael Burton -
Feb. 10, 2012 3:00 PM ET USA
In addition to the pulpits, may I recommend the confessional, the RCIA classroom, the wedding preparation office, the seminary, and the interviews and writing of the theologian as well?
Posted by: Justin8110 -
Feb. 09, 2012 6:49 PM ET USA
You are right about the contraception issue, it must be tackled head on by the bishops but it needs to be addressed from the pulpits on Sundays by priests too. We need a return to serious preaching at Mass even if it shocks, offends and causes some to get up and walk out. The enemies of the Church have been watching for years and they realize that by and large they can get away with anything they want because many in the Church no longer fight back.