Monday, September 13, 2004

A Place at the Table: What Liturgy Teaches us about Politics

Faithful CitizenshipSome might say that politics has no place in liturgy. Of course, the liturgy is not the place for campaign speeches, nor will the Catholic Church ever endorse one party over another. Yet, if the liturgy is not political—that is, if it does not influence our political life—then it is as if we are simply fulfilling rubrics rather than living out what Mass teaches us to do.

The United States Bishops, in their statement Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility, say it this way:

For Catholics, a special table—the altar of sacrifice, where we celebrate the Eucharist—is where we find the direction and strength to take what we believe into the public square, using our voices and votes to defend life, advance justice, pursue peace, and find a place at the table for all God's children.
At the table of the Eucharist, we learn how to be faithful citizens of both the City of God and cities of our nation. At the altar, we place human rights before personal and corporate greed. By our baptism, we announce life for the dying, mercy for the sinner, and dignity for all. Most importantly, liturgy teaches us that every person matters and every member has a job to do.

Participation is an obligation
Catholics are obligated to participate in Sunday Mass not because God is keeping score, but because “participation in the communal celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is a testimony of belonging and of being faithful to Christ and to his Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2182). Participating in the Eucharist shows we are citizens with the saints of heaven. It is a visible sign that we are committed to building the kingdom of God. In a similar way, “participation in the political process is a moral obligation. All believers are called to faithful citizenship, to become informed, active, and responsible participants in the political process. As we have said, ‘We encourage all citizens, particularly Catholics, to embrace their citizenship not merely as a duty and privilege, but as an opportunity meaningfully to participate [more fully] in building the culture of life. Every voice matters in the public forum. Every vote counts. Every act of responsible citizenship is an exercise of significant individual power.’ Even those who are not citizens are called to participate in the debates which shape our common life” (Faithful Citizenship).

Participation is not about being “busy” but being engaged
In liturgy, the “full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 14). However, participation shouldn’t be confused with only being a liturgical minister as if being “just” a member of the assembly is inadequate. The assembly is the first role of the faithful and the primary way they participate in the liturgy. Not everyone will be able to run for office, go to Sacramento to lobby a bill, or even vote. However, the primary way we Catholics participate in public life is by being engaged and informed, knowing both our Catholic social teaching and the political issues, and then acting as a visible and vocal mirror for our city’s and nation’s political actions. The US Bishops say, “Believers are called to be a community of conscience within the larger society and to test public life by the values of Scripture and the principles of Catholic social teaching. Our responsibility is to measure all candidates, policies, parties, and platforms by how they protect or undermine the life, dignity, and rights of the human person, whether they protect the poor and vulnerable and advance the common good” (Faithful Citizenship). This is the work of prophets, and it is the work of all the baptized who are anointed to be “priest, prophet, and king.”

Participation is a lifestyle
Furthermore, participation is not about just showing up on Sunday. Full, active, and conscious participation is about doing one’s role—whether it’s as a member of the faithful in the pews or as celebrant at the altar—completely, genuinely, and to the best of one’s ability. It’s about living out Monday through Saturday what we do together on Sunday. In a similar way, our responsibility as Catholics living in the United States in 2004 doesn’t end at the voting booth. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has said, “Today's democratic societies...call for new and fuller forms of participation in public life by Christian and non-Christian citizens alike. Indeed, all can contribute, by voting in elections for lawmakers and government officials, and in other ways as well, to the development of political solutions and legislative choices which, in their opinion, will benefit the common good” (Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life). And as the US Bishops say, “Faithful citizenship is about more than elections. It requires ongoing participation in the continuing political and legislative process” (Faithful Citizenship).

Participation is not always about having the answers but about knowing what questions to ask
Remember the Gospel of Holy Thursday? After Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, he says to them, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn 13:15). Jesus did not give his disciples quick easy answers. He gave them an example, and he asked them questions: “Who do you say that I am?” Oftentimes, there are no easy answers, especially in issues of politics. But we can always raise up the questions posed by the challenge of the Gospels to guide our way to answers. The US Bishops raise 10 questions that try to emphasize the underlying moral and human dimensions of the political issues we face today. Some of these questions are: “After September 11, how can we build not only a safer world, but a better world, more just, more secure, more peaceful, more respectful of human life and dignity?… How can we keep our nation from turning to violence to solve some of its most difficult problems--abortion to deal with difficult pregnancies; the death penalty to combat crime; euthanasia and assisted suicide to deal with the burdens of age, illness, and disability; and war to address international disputes?... How will we address the tragic fact that more than 30,000 children die every day as a result of hunger, international debt, and lack of development around the world, as well as the fact that the younger you are, the more likely you are to be poor here in the richest nation on Earth?” (Faithful Citizenship).

This election year, we Catholics have a great responsibility. Again, the US Bishops say: “As Catholics we need to share our values, raise our voices, and use our votes to shape a society that protects human life, promotes family life, pursues social justice, and practices solidarity. These efforts can strengthen our nation and renew our Church” (Faithful Citizenship). Fortunately, at the Eucharist, we have a place where we can practice every week the protection of life, pursuit of social justice, and solidarity with one another so that we can participate well in our public responsibility to live the Gospel.

Read the whole text of Faithful Citizenship here, y aqui en español, Ciudadanos Comprometidos.

Still need to register to vote? Click here for English, y aqui en español. Your registration must be postmarked by October 18.

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