Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha, Neb., is pictured after praying at relics of the Nativity after Mass with U.S. bishops from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome Jan. 14, 2020. The bishops were making their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican to report on the status of their dioceses to the pope and Vatican officials. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Shepherd's Voice

Archbishop Lucas: Prayer key to exercising political responsibility

In this week’s discussion, Archbishop George J. Lucas and communications manager David Hazen discuss the kind of unity that Catholics should maintain in the midst of a divided society, and especially in view of the divisiveness of the current election season. The archbishop explains that we must all be united in faith, claim Jesus Christ as our Savoir, and respect each other despite our political differences. It is very important that we also turn to our Lord daily in prayer to discern how he wants us to put our faith into action.

Q: A recent Catholic News Agency headline read, “Poll finds Catholics divided by race and party in 2020 election.” We hear constantly in America today about how divided people are, but Catholics are supposed to be “one” – we profess one faith, one baptism, one Lord. So, what does it mean for us to be united in a time of such evident divisions?

First of all, we should be uncomfortable with division for the reasons that you said: In Jesus Christ we are one. That is his design for the Church. We want to be careful, then, of any idea or group agenda that would try to divide us on purpose or pit us against each other.

When St. Paul talks about the body of Christ, he talks about the unity of the body but also the different functions that the members have. In the Church, since the very beginning, there has never been a total uniformity or a total sameness. I am sure that for as long as there has been the opportunity to voice some preference about civil government, that Catholics have not all been in agreement. We should not be startled by that.

When somebody conducts a study to find out if all Catholics are on the same page, they’re always going to find out that we’re not. Sadly, we heard polling data not too long ago that reminded us that 70% of Catholics do not believe in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. It is a sad thing to know. The Eucharist is at the heart of our faith.

So, we always have work to do. The Church is a work in progress and we are a pilgrim people. I would encourage us not to adopt a political position as our default position, wherein we choose sides and then pit ourselves against each other. We rally around the same creed. We claim the same Jesus Christ as our Savior – and he is not just whoever we want him to be; he doesn’t change with the times. He does give us the help of the Holy Spirit to understand how to live in the times that we are living in, and how to have an influence in his name as light for the world, as salt for the earth.

It makes me sad as a pastor in the Church when I hear any of us succumbing to the goading we get from the outside to criticize one part of the Church or another as bad people or as not quite up to standards.

We certainly are invited to engage each other on the issues, but our faith is very clear that we must respect each other and not approach the other as the enemy. We are invited to give good example, to teach, to proclaim the Gospel, to invite others to see what we see as the truth and the beauty of the Gospel.

But not everybody saw it in Jesus’ time and not everybody sees it in our time. I am not happy about that, but I think we should not be startled by it, nor allow those inside or outside of the Church to pit us against each other. That really is against the nature of the Church as Jesus’ living body.

Q: It seems that one of the antidotes to being caught up in the fervor and furor of the election season in an unhealthy way is cultivating the theological virtue of hope. For Christians, hope is not mere optimism –

Nor is it dependent on who is elected.

Q: Exactly. So, how do you as a disciple of Christ engage, but not pin your hopes on the outcomes of that engagement?

In the end, it doesn’t totally depend on me or you – even in a worldly sense. I have one vote among many millions and I should cast it and it should be an informed and a prayerful act on my part for the good of the larger society. I take that seriously, but voting should not be my only point of engagement. I want to take the day after the election seriously, and the day after that, and the day after that.

I remain a citizen of the country and my influence can still be felt beyond the day of the election, whether my candidate wins or loses. No matter what party public officials belong to, they listen to their constituents. They may not do what a group is inviting them to do, but they might temper a position or come to see things differently if they hear a significant outcry from those who exercise their right to speak out.

In our Catholic tradition, we encourage our people to pray about how to vote, to evaluate candidates and issues in light of our faith. None of us can see everything and no candidate is ever perfect, which is why those polls about the Catholic vote are a little bit deceptive. There is no solid Catholic bloc, and there should not be. Nobody should feel like they have our votes in their pocket.

We need to do the best that we can, and then we have to live with the consequences. Jesus has sent us into the world to have an influence. Even if “our side” loses, and if things go badly for us, and even if (God forbid) we experience persecution, we are not encouraged to just run away and hide or put up a wall around ourselves and just take care of ourselves.

We want to protect the life of virtue that each of us is encouraged to live, of course. We do not just want to fall in with everybody else, but at the same time, most of us are not called to what we might describe as a monastic vocation.

We are called to be in the world and to have an influence where we are. We do that on election day and we should vote. The only people who do not have influence on election day are the people who do not vote. So we should exercise that very important right and privilege, but see it as one part of our involvement in the life of the community.

Q: As you look ahead to the next few months – through election season and after – what do you want for the people of God here in northeast Nebraska?

It is my hope in every season, but I would love it if we would all become more prayerful during these weeks. We should begin and end every day inviting Jesus into our lives and asking him what he wants of us, because I am confident that he is still going to be Lord the day after the election, no matter who wins.

As a disciple of Jesus Christ, I should approach the Lord in my prayer with a couple of questions. The first is, “Lord, what are you offering me in the midst of these circumstances?”

In the midst of all this commotion about the election and all the very real issues in our country, we ask the Lord for wisdom, for hope, and to show us how our faith can be deepened.

The second question is, “What are you expecting me to do here? What can I do to influence this for good?”

I cannot change the whole course of history myself. Perhaps I cannot change anybody else’s mind, but I ask Jesus how he wants me to have an influence, through my good example, through my prayerfulness, through my vote.

We will let him answer. I don’t want to answer the question for him. It is often multifaceted, but I hope during this season that we would look to the Lord for confidence and peace. If we spend enough time in prayer, I think we will feel not just tossed about by the circumstances, but empowered to move ahead as disciples of Jesus Christ. Over time in prayer the Lord will show us how to serve him by putting our faith into action.