Be Good in Spite of Evil: Election Edition

So, it’s going to be a tough week. These elections aren’t fun and this one is particularly ugly. The good news is it’s not our job to fix the country or make the elections somehow turn out well. It’s our job to be faithful to God and to our beliefs even in tough times.

First, we need to acknowledge that evil is a real problem and that it is at work in our world. As my pastor likes to say,

“Wherever there is the most potential for good, there evil is hardest at work.”

This is a very important truth partly because evil works most effectively when it is ignored.

A critical part of this concept is that evil is not just something “out there” that affects really bad people, “the world” in general or people without faith. This was certainly one of the problems with the pharisees, who thought they were better than everyone else and were so strongly condemned by Jesus:

He comes for us when we recognize that we are sinners. But if we are like the Pharisee, before the altar, who said: I thank you Lord, that I am not like other men, and especially not like the one at the door, like that publican, then we do not know the Lord’s heart, and we will never have the joy of experiencing this mercy! – Pope Francis, Homily, March 2013

Evil tries to get at everyone and it is very sneaky – it will try to affect me and you in ways that we wouldn’t expect. And what can we do about that? We can start by working on humility – by recognizing that God is the creator and we are the creature, so we need his help (and we’re not alone). We need to recognize in all humility that we are sinners, make a sincere examination of conscience, go to confession and ask for God’s mercy. This sacrament of confession, with all of its various harmonies to human nature and to God’s mercy, is a wonderful thing; what my pastor calls a “genius sacrament”.

Our struggle to renew the nation, our struggle to transform the culture, and our struggle to change the world, must begin with our own very personal response to God’s gracious invitation to conversion.

When we face daily frustrations, we need to recall that we have the power to triumph over sin because we have Christ’s grace within us. We have the capacity to be victorious, but we must renew the struggle every day with our Lord and Savior, the new Adam, Jesus Christ. – Cardinal Wuerl, Seek First the Kingdom: Challenging the Culture by Living Our Faith

Many counter-cultural people like to say that when choosing what to do, we should do the opposite of whatever society says. That actually can be pretty bad advice sometimes, first, because modern society isn’t wrong about everything, but especially because there is more than one way that you can stray from any given virtue.  For example, modern society can tend to err in the direction of trusting in reason and excluding faith, the correction is not to trust faith and exclude reason, but to strive for a uniting of faith and reason.

Better advice might be to consider what the good will lose to evil through specific actions. Here are a few examples of things that would make the dark side rejoice during this election season:

  • Change your moral compass to accommodate your chosen candidate. No, that’s not the same thing as deciding that that’s the best you can do given some difficult choices. Just make sure you watch for how it affects you, especially in terms of how you defend your voting choice.
  • Reject people in your life who are voting differently from you. I really fear what this election could be doing to some marriages, especially. It’s a really tough election. Do your best, respect others and be prepared to help heal and reunite once this is over.
  • Throw charity out the window. God’s two-fold law of love – to love God with your whole heart, your whole mind and all your strength and to love your neighbor as yourself – not only still applies during a tough election, it is even more important in challenging times like this!
  • Let politics become your religion. I think this is a particular danger for political junkies who are absorbing news media for a substantial portion of each day. As Catholics, even outside this particular election, we need to be aware that neither major political party lines up very well with Catholic teaching. We necessarily do the best we can (and some issues are certainly more pressing than others!) but we need to have our guard up lest we give our hearts and minds up on *all* issues to the merely “better” political party.
  • Be completely entrenched in all of your positions. This is a tough one because there are some things in this world that are black-and-white, but the world and the people in it are complex, so many subtleties in how to apply black-and-white concepts are not at all black-and-white. Also, God is so much bigger than us that we need to be open to learning from Him at all times, which means that we need to be aware of our smallness and weakness and limitations and ask Him for help..

Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games is particularly good reading for this concept. The story takes place in a futuristic world called Panem, where oppressed groups of people are forced to pay tribute to the Capitol by annually sending children chosen by lottery from each district to a gladiatorial competition. A particularly thoughtful and heroic character acknowledges before entering this impossible and horrific situation that the one he thing doesn’t want to do is to let this evil change who he is. Great food for thought there!

Remember Who the Real Enemy Is

If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Each person we encounter, each person we love, each person that drives us crazy, each person that we strenuously disagree with is made in the image and likeness of God and is loved by God.

I had a lovely conversation with a dear church lady yesterday who reminded me of this fact: that underlying everything about how we encounter others is the truth that each person is made in the image and likeness of God. To her, this included the fact that God gave them a soul with free will and the gift of reason and He allows them to participate in the act of His creation. Or as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

Every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God. (2319)

This is an absolutely vital part of our belief in the sanctity of life. In fact, I would propose that we look at the concept of pro-life as a virtue and let it guide how we encounter absolutely every person in our lives.

Those Who Challenge Us Are Not the Enemy

An essential aspect of recognizing that evil does exist is to remember its source, which is not our fellow man, but the devil. Our enemy is NOT anyone who decides to vote differently from us or challenges our political assumptions.

The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally – not a 20 percent traitor. – Ronald Reagan

I love this quote from C.S. Lewis’ step-son, Douglas Gresham:

Back in the 1940s and ’50s and ’60s, men believed that the best friends that you could have were the ones who would openly criticize your work and lay bare to you the mistakes and errors that you made, so that you might learn from them and correct them. In today’s world, if someone criticizes your work openly, it has become fashionable to hate them for it. That is extremely foolish. You cannot learn from someone who always agrees with you; you can only learn in the fire of disputation and dialectic.

Be open to friendships and books and inspirations that challenge you!

Our Political “Enemies” Are Not Even Our True Enemies

There’s a particularly fascinating study I stumbled upon some years ago that shows that human nature has a tendency to assume bad intentions on the part of those who are in opposition to us in some way:

Study finds intractable conflicts stem from misunderstanding of motivation

This is an excellent concept to be aware of right now, and for me, it also gives a whole new dimension to Christ’s command to love our enemies.

Interestingly, Suzanne Collins’ sequel to The Hunger Games, called Catching Fire is an almost allegorical conception of remembering who the real enemy is. In this second book of the series, we return to the gladiatorial arena, but the main players have the opportunity to consider that their opponents in the arena are not the true enemy – those who are running the games are. It’s a powerful reminder of how we really should look upon our fellow man.

Some Favorite Quotes on this Concept:

What fine edification a soul gives who, when greeted with scorn, answers gently to conciliate the offensive individual; or perhaps makes no reply at all, nor complains to others, but maintains a placid expression and shows no bitterness. We are asserting that because we love God, we will not allow anyone to make us respond to an offense in a non-Christian way. – St. Alphonsus Liguori

Because the Pope is a witness of Christ and a minister of the Good News, he is a man of joy and a man of hope, a man of the fundamental affirmation of the value of existence, the value of creation and of hope in the future life. Naturally, this is neither a naive joy, nor a vain hope. The joy of victory over evil does not obfuscate – it actually intensifies – the realistic awareness of the existence of evil in the world and in every man. The Gospel teaches us to call good and evil by name, but it also teaches: “Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good. – Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.
– Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

Have courage and be kind. – Cinderella (Disney, 2015)

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12: 14-21

The man who cries out against evil men, but does not pray for them will never know the grace of God. – St. Silouan the Athonite

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

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