The 'Soul' of Democracy: Christianity

There are, of course, lots of noteworthy things to think about in the wake of the election. Perhaps most germane to this blog are the two letters sent to Barack Obama, one by Francis Cardinal George of Chicago, and one by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. Both prelates extended words of congratulations to the US president-elect, and stated their continuing prayers for his cooperation in the work of justice, peace and—most pointedly—upholding fundamental human rights.

Dear President-elect Obama [wrote Cardinal George],

I write to you, in my capacity as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to express our congratulations on your historic election as President of the United States. The people of our country have entrusted you with a great responsibility. As Catholic Bishops, we offer our prayers that God give you strength and wisdom to meet the coming challenges.

Our country is confronting many uncertainties. We pray that you will use the powers of your office to meet them with a special concern to defend the most vulnerable among us and heal the divisions in our country and our world. We stand ready to work with you in defense and support of the life and dignity of every human person.

May God bless you and Vice President-elect Biden as you prepare to assume your duties in service to our country and its citizens. (ZENIT)

Benedict's letter, unlike the cardinal's, was not published due to its "personal nature." However, I think it's fair to say that it expressed much of the same.

So what does this say about the Church and politics? What does it tell us about our own involvement in the political sphere beyond election day? I think the most reasonable conclusion is that the Church, as it has always taught, does not see political involvement solely in terms of elections and vying for political offices, in the sense that secular society portrays it. In Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II writes that the Church "values the democratic system…[which] is possible only in a State ruled by law, and on the basis of a correct conception of the human person." This seems to imply that what seems manifestly 'democratic'—i.e. the electoral and representative process we see in the US—is only possible due to the laws of the state it governs, and the adherence to these laws in cases concerning human dignity. Moreover, the pope goes on to say (in a 2000 letter to Cardinal Vlk) that the Church "has a specific contribution to make; not only can Christians join all persons of good will in the realization of this great project [of political activity], but they are also invited to be in some way its soul by showing the true meaning of the organization of the earthly city."

What John Paul II tells us is clear: political life isn't a once-in-four-years phenomenon. It is a sustaining presence and, in the words of the pope, the very "soul" of a democratic government. It is up to Catholics, with the support of their bishops, cardinals and pope, to maintain the efforts toward life so ardently offered in the time leading up to this year's presidential election. Now is when the moves for the next pro-life changes are initiated. Now is when we take up the task of becoming the "soul" of democracy by our witness to the fundamental dignity of life.