As our attention turns to the upcoming presidential election on November 3, 2020, the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth, in Convent Station, N.J., asked their Office of Peace, Justice, and Ecological Integrity to prepare reflections that will help to discern and form our consciences during this electoral season. Each week they will share a quote from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States, some questions for reflection, and a link to further material to those who would like to take a “deeper dive” into the issues the bishops raise. The Sisters of Charity of New York are grateful to be able to share the reflections created by Father Terrence Moran.

From Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship:

Catholics from every walk of life can bring their faith and our consistent moral framework to contribute to important work in our communities, nation, and world on an ongoing basis, not just during election season. In this coming year and beyond, we urge leaders and all Catholics to respond in prayer and action to the call to faithful citizenship. In doing so, we live out the call to holiness and work with Christ as he builds his kingdom of love. (Introductory Letter, p. 8)

Reflection:  Our previous reflections have focused on election issues through the lens of the gospel and Catholic Social Teaching. This one is a little different. It will focus on what is going on inside each of us as we attempt to listen, study, read, pray, discern during the 2020 electoral season. Here are some suggestions of how to navigate our contentious and polarized political scene with some measure of serenity, useful focus, and joy.

  • Gauge your capacity. It’s not easy to find a balance between shutting down by disengaging from the political process in disgust and riding the psychological roller coaster of the 24/7 news cycle, talk shows, social media posts, Tweets, and YouTube videos. The balance will be different for everyone. In general, try to choose news sources that are analytical and take the big picture rather than capitalize on the latest thing that grabs the headlines.
  • Go deep. Our political culture is more influenced by media pundits than by careful and deep thinkers. As followers of Jesus, we can never be satisfied by a style of politics obsessed with scoring points rather than serving the common good. The great peacemaker Mahatma Gandhi had the Beatitudes read aloud twice a day in his Hindu ashram. For the rest of the electoral season, follow the example of Gandhi and read the Beatitudes every day (Matthew 5:2-12; Luke 6:20-26). Make them your lens.
  • Bring the principles of contemplative dialogue to conversations about political issues. Review the material on contemplative dialogue on the LCWR website. How can contemplative dialogue help you to negotiate difficult political conversations?  Imagine one of those difficult conversations – perhaps with a relative at a family gathering. How might you have listened or responded differently from the perspective of contemplative dialogue?
  • Become an activist. Paradoxically, what exhausts us in our political climate is not that we are tired from too much activity but that we feel we are riding passively on forces beyond us over which we have no control. Choose an issue that is important to you and join a group that is working on positive change on a local level. Being in concert with others and seeing the results of your actions will energize and sustain you. As Daniel Berrigan, SJ said, “One cannot level one’s moral lance at every evil in the universe.  There are just too many of them. But you can do something, and the difference between doing something and doing nothing is everything.”
  • Nourish your hope. The old journalism maxim states “If it bleeds, it leads.” Good news and positive change rarely make the headlines. Seek out those stories of human goodness and positive change. As Dr. Cornell West says, “We cannot sit around waiting to feel hopeful before we act. We become hopeful when we do hopeful things.” YES! magazine is a one good source
  • Repose on the Sea of Divine Mercy. Ponder this consoling advice on ethical decision making from Anne E. Patrick, SNJM: “The Christian who has sought in this process to ‘put on the mind of Christ Jesus’ will have employed a set of principles reflecting the values of God’s reign – a realm of justice, truth, peace, and love. Anticipated consequences will have been assessed on a wide scale, not with the myopic lens of self-interest or group- interest narrowly conceived. Agents who give time to this process will not always emerge with a clear sense of God’s will, by they can usually proceed with some confidence that although they cannot control all the variables at play in the situation, the option that has been judged best can be followed with a  peaceful heart because our limitations repose on a sea of Divine Mercy,” (Anne E. Patrick, Liberating Conscience: Feminist Explorations in Catholic Moral Theology, The Continuum Publishing Company, 1986).

Deeper Dive: Watch this YouTube video with Dr. Cornell West, Hope Is Spiritual Armor Against Modern Society’s Spiritual Warfare

Prayer:  Read prayerfully these words of our sister, Julian of Norwich, who wrote them in the context of the Black Plague, a global pandemic, and after surviving a near fatal illness:

“In my folly, before this time I often wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the onset of sin was not prevented: for then, I thought, all should have been well. This impulse [of thought] was much to be avoided, but nevertheless I mourned and sorrowed because of it, without reason and discretion. But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. These words were said most tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any who shall be saved.”

Courtesy of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth, Convent Station, N.J.