By Bishop Gerald Barnes
The run-up to last month’s inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States was unlike any other before it.
What is normally a ceremonial event that stirs feelings of patriotism and interest in the first speech of the new president was also a backdrop to the continuing political rancor and partisanship that has mushroomed beyond the halls of government and into our communities and, yes, our parishes. We used to be able have civil discussion about matters of politics with someone who held a different view. Now it’s more like, “which side are you on?”
I am greatly troubled by this turn in our society and I have written in these pages through the years about the need for a restored sense of civility amongst the people of our great nation. It bears repeating that our God has endowed each and every one of us with an inherent dignity, no matter our gender, our race, our age, our socio-economic status, our sexual orientation and, especially, our political affiliation. We recognize that dignity in each person first and foremost, and it guides how we treat them. Thus, if we are to disagree we do so with respect and we keep it to the issue at hand, not the person as a whole.
As people of faith how are we to respond to this time of great division and enmity? Do we allow ourselves to be swept up in it? Let our preferences and predispositions pull us to one side or the other?
Instead, I invite you to view the events of the day in light of the Common Good, one of seven principles of Catholic Social Teaching, which St. Pope John Paul II described as “the social conditions that enable human flourishing.” There are many dimensions to this including health, work, family, safety and education, among others. We pray that President Trump and those in Congress and on the Supreme Court make decisions that allow a human flourishing in these areas for all the people. For us that means not looking at these issues so exclusively in our own self-interest but also in how those in a completely different circumstance of life might be affected. We are the Body of Christ and when one part of us ails, we all feel the pain. That is why we advocate, guided by the values of our Catholic faith, for what is best for the whole – the Common Good.
What will this mean for our political advocacy? I suspect it will mean that on some issues we will support President Trump, and on some we will oppose him. This was the case with President Obama, President Bush before him and so on. As said many times during last year’s campaign, our faith does not align to any political party ideology. We align with the Gospel.
At the same time, we can be a consistent voice for civility and respect in the national dialogue. And we can demand that human decency and kindness once again be a societal norm.
I was recently asked to lend my voice to an event called The Great Kindness Challenge, a partnership between Holy Rosary Academy and St. Bernardine Medical Center in San Bernardino. It gives children a checklist of suggested acts of kindness, such as saying hi to a homeless person, picking up trash in your neighborhood or holding the door open for someone. What a concept! It’s great to see a community program like this, and I pray that these values are reinforced in our family homes.
As I reflected on what to say in my message about the need for basic human kindness, my mind went to the second of the great commandments given to us by the Lord Jesus.
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
I offer you my prayers for a blessed 2017.