Christians have a right and duty to participate in government

TRACKSIDE © by John DíAloia Jr.

January 28, 2003

"Scandalize, v.t., to shock or outrage the moral feelings of the community" (Websterís New World Dictionary, 1968.) This definition could be considered a secular definition. In Christian theology, to scandalize has a slightly different flavor to it, as expressed by St. Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica, a work that predates Websterís by a few centuries. St. Thomasí definition goes to the effect "In like manner, while going along the spiritual way, a man may be disposed to a spiritual downfall by another's word or deed, in so far, to wit, as one man by his injunction, inducement or example, moves another to sin; and this is scandal properly so called."

As you might expect, many pages could be devoted to examining every facet of this definition.

"Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you."

The headlines of the day have an in-your-face example of scandal that meets both definitions. Catholic priests dishonoring their vows and committing criminal acts give scandal to the faithful. This is a no-brainer example, shocking and outraging the moral feelings of the entire community, Catholic or not. Those charged with such crimes, if proven guilty, deserve to have the temporal "book" thrown at them. Their ultimate comeuppance awaits Judgment Day. Forever is a long time.

Not so blatant and obvious, but of no less scandalous nature within the theological definition, are the words and actions of public figures who claim to be Catholic but reject the teachings of the Church in this or that matter, as if they were Godís peer and could decide which of His Laws really didnít apply to them. When they reject their faith by failing to fully embrace it, by failing to conform their lives to it, they are setting an example for those they serve and represent, leading them astray, body and soul.

The scandal created by the rejection of Church teachings by Catholic politicians has become so widespread that the Pope saw need to remind them of the tenets of their faith. With the Popeís concurrence, the Vatican issued in November of last year a "Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life." One thing the Note emphatically did not do - it did not send marching orders to Catholic politicians to call Rome before every vote. The sense of the entire document was that "By fulfilling their civic duties, guided by a Christian conscience, in conformity with its values, the lay faithful exercise their proper task of infusing the temporal order with Christian values, all the while respecting the nature and rightful autonomy of that order." I do pray our Governor is giving the Note careful consideration.

The reaction to the Note has been what could be expected, especially from Catholic politicians who have ridden to places of power on policies and votes counter to the principles of their faith. A professed Catholic U.S. Senator and announced presidential candidate was quoted as saying he has enormous respect for the words and teachings of the Vatican but to represent all people, he canít be bound by Church doctrine. Abortion? Euthanasia? Homosexual "marriages?" All are OK by this senator. He must check his morals and integrity in the Senate cloakroom, (especially if it brings him more votes.) This is scandal. Whether you are Catholic or not, this attitude should scandalize you. An elected representative, a person who wants to be president, has no moral rock upon which he bases his life. He actively enables others to commit acts which his faith condemns as sins. He has no integrity - how can such a person be trusted in any endeavor? He in fact has taken his lead from a rather famous fallen angel who at the time told God "Non serviam."

Some people have told me that a Christian has no business being involved in politics; one person went so far as saying such involvement was sinful. The Note puts the lie to this belief, noting in one section "[the Christianís] right and duty to contribute to the public life of their country." And if you donít want to believe the rationale given in the Note for active participation in public life, you might want to consider the very practical reason attributed to Pericles (5th C. BC) "Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you." If government is not kept restrained by the active involvement of citizens based on moral standards, citizens will find themselves controlled by government. If society regained its sense of scandal and outrage, even if just based on natural law, we would not be coping with the moral rot that has infested it and the steady degradation of our freedom.

See you Trackside.


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