Last year in the summer of 2021, I wrote a piece called “Breaking Out of Our Boxes” trying to call attention to the labels that we have put on each other due to social media and the political divisions in our country. As a female Catholic in this country, I have struggled with the roles that I feel have been assigned to me by our society. I grappled for a very long time as a single woman that I was supposed to desire marriage and want children. I struggled with what femininity was supposed to look like in American culture as well as within the Church. I sought and gathered information in my teens and twenties and ultimately found and accepted my identity as a single, vibrant, Catholic, feminine, but also strong-willed and outspoken woman. I came to these conclusions and acceptance of myself through prayer, discernment, and my relationship with Jesus and the Gospels.
And yet. And yet, I find myself having to defend my identity (even though it is not too outside of the societal norm…a straight, white, Christian woman is not exactly a marginalized group) throughout the past two decades of my life. It started in college. I was labeled by the Young Republicans on campus as a “social justice warrior”. At the time as an 18-year-old just out on her own trying to get involved in ministry activities, I didn’t understand why this seemed to be a negative thing. I was- and am- a serious Christian and Catholic who is just trying to do her best to follow the Gospel. When I read the Gospels and see and hear Jesus telling us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless… I am taking that literally. So how was it that I was not living their version of Catholicism “correctly”?
That time in college ended up being a very beneficial time for me as I was exposed to the beautiful ends and spectrums of diversity and liturgical celebration that exist within our Church. And these differences that exist within our faith are by design, as we are a diverse people. As the apostles went out to preach in the early Church, the faith was spread to different cultures and communities who embraced Christianity in their own new ways. The teachings of Vatican II celebrate this right to incorporate one’s vernacular and culture into our liturgy. I wrote about this earlier this year, so obviously these labels and segregation within our Church have been striking a chord with me.
I have only lived through four decades of life and just recently entered my fifth. I am not a historian, but I do believe that politics and faith have always been interwoven. Our country was founded so that many could practice their own religion, because in the place where they were fleeing from, Church and State had become so intertwined. Religion has been a central aspect of America’s foundations. However, many of those same Christian men also owned slaves. A native race of peoples were colonized so that this “new world” could exist. So the complexities of what it means to be a Christian and practice religion in this country have always been complex and at times problematic.
Even though politics and religion have been enmeshed with one another from our country’s origins, something about the last six years or so years, to me, feels different. The example that I gave about being labeled a “social justice warrior” in college was almost 20 years ago. I have often had to defend myself as not being liberal enough or conservative enough in certain circles since then, but in the last six years I have felt truly hurt and as if I didn’t really understand what it meant to be a Christian anymore. Perhaps this is because social media played such a pivotal role in the 2016 election and gave everyone a voice, for better or for worse, that the divisions in our Church and country felt bigger.
In this decade of the 2020s, mostly defined by our time in a pandemic, a time that could’ve bonded us together as a people sharing a common experience, instead brought out even more division because of the dialogue around masks and vaccines. Instead of focusing on Christ, unity, and the common good, many preferred to listen to television talking heads or a political party.
The Scriptures show Jesus going out to the lepers who have been shunned by society, talking to the blind man who was outcast by his family, consoling a woman who has been caught in adultery, but many of the Christians I see online and sadly, in the pews, are casting stones against those who may be or believe differently than them. And if I, as a practicing believer see these inconsistencies, we know that those who are not a part of the Church see them. We are meant to be evangelizers, but what truth are we evangelizing? The Gospel message of Jesus? Or the political posts of Twitter and Facebook?
As I started to write this piece, I looked at what Pope Francis has been saying about getting involved with politics as a person of faith. He himself is no stranger to being political and politics can be a venue for making connections with our faith. I found an address that he made to the Chemin Neuf Politics Fraternity on May 16, 2022 in which he said: “Without such a change of heart, politics often risks turning into a violent confrontation, where people try to impose their own ideas and pursue particular interests over the common good, contrary to the principle that ‘unity prevails over conflict’...” which was something he also refers to in his Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. He also said in this address that: “Our own compass for advancing this common project is the Gospel, which brings to the world a profoundly positive vision of humanity as loved by God.”
“Our own compass for advancing this common project is the Gospel” is what should guide us, not American politics. Have we put our allegiance to our flag or political party over our creed as universal, global Catholics or our God?
Both sides of the aisle are guilty of this and the temptation to want to be a part of one side or the other is strong. This is what the devil wants: for truth to be broken or disguised and ultimately dismantled. The good news is that God is bigger than politics, which is once again why we should turn our eyes to Him and His Word.