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Center for Action and Contemplation
Politics: Old and New
Politics: Old and New

The Strength of the Link

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Politics: Old and New

The Strength of the Link
Wednesday, November 20, 2019

I have long admired the work of Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister and was delighted to see her again at Oprah Winfrey’s house earlier this year when we were both filming episodes for SuperSoul Sunday. Who could have ever predicted it? Two vowed religious, neither of us youngsters, sitting on Oprah’s lawn and speaking about our newly published books. [1] I am sure neither of us saw that coming, which is perhaps what gives Sister Joan the freedom to speak so courageously and prophetically about our Christian obligation in politics.

In every life there is a crossover moment, after which a person will never be the same again. Somewhere, somehow the challenge comes that sets us on a different path: the path of purpose, the path of integrity, the path of transcendence that lifts us—heart, mind, and soul—above the pitiable level of the comfortable and the mundane.

It is the moment at which transcending the mediocre, the conventional, the pedestrian, becomes more impacting, more holy-making than any amount of beige-colored political success.

As a culture, we may have come to that point. As a people, we are at a crossover moment. It is a call to all of us to be our best, our least superficial, our most serious about what it means to be a Christian as well as a citizen.

So, where can we look for oneing in the political arena? Only within the confines of our own hearts. Politics—government—does not exist for itself and, if it does, that is precisely when it becomes at least death-dealing if not entirely evil. Nation-states and empires have all “died the death” in the wake of such power run amuck, of such distortion of human community.

In the end, politics is nothing more than an instrument of social good and human development. It is meant to be the right arm of those whose souls have melted into God. It is to be the living breath of those who say they are religious people and patriotic citizens—a link to personal faith.

The democratic system, as originally conceived, upholds a vision that links “care for widows and children” with a commitment to provide food stamps and a living wage for families under stress.

It embodies the soul of a nation that considers the right to breathe clean air and drink clean water, to save wetlands and reduce fossil fuels, to be a responsibility of America’s own Environmental Protection Agency.

It includes the love for all of God’s creation that links Jesus’ cure of Jairus’ daughter (see Matthew 9:18-25) and the man born blind (see John 9) with the moral obligation to provide healthcare and social services to all of us, not simply to some.

It embraces the courage of the Samaritan to reach out to the foreigner (Luke 10:25-37) that made this country open arms toward an immigrant world.

In fact, it is the strength of the link between religion and politics that will determine both the quality of our politics and the authenticity of our religion.

Many in the United States claim we are a Christian nation, but if we are to call ourselves such, we must sustain a sincere connection between our Gospel values and the political choices we make. We cannot declare we are one body and then neglect to give that body the care it needs, including food, water, and shelter.

[1] See Joan Chittister, The Time Is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage (Convergent Books: 2019).

Joan Chittister, “A Moment for Something More Soulful than Politics,” “Politics and Religion,” Oneing, vol. 5, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2017), 30, 31, 34, 35.

Image credit: The Good Samaritan (detail), Théodule-Augustin Ribot, before 1870, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Pau, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: My prayer has led me . . . to know that reflection on the Gospel leads to compassion. Compassion often leads to much more nuanced analysis. . . . This more nuanced approach comes out of my prayer and call to care for the 100%, but it does come at a price. . . . The Spirit has pushed us out of our comfort zone of acceptability in order to meet the needs of people we had not known were ours. —Sister Simone Campbell, SSS
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