As the grandson of immigrants, I was raised to think that to be Catholic automatically meant being a Democrat; after all, it was the Democratic Party that had been so involved in assisting the newly-arrived with possibilities for financial security and upward mobility. The first presidential election in which I could vote (as a seminarian of twenty-one) was that of 1972. Looking at the positions of Richard Nixon and George McGovern, I determined that the Democratic platform would lead us into a serious moral downward spiral. When I informed my parents that I intended to vote for President Nixon, they responded with shock and dismay: “How can you even think of voting for a Republican?” In great detail and with consummate patience, I explained my rationale to my parents, who gave no response. On Election Day, as I entered the voting booth and prepared to pull the lever for Nixon, I experienced something close to spasms in my arm, knowing that I was the first member of my family in half a century to sever the bond with the Democratic Party. Later that day, my mother asked, “Well, how did you vote?” “I told you I would vote for Nixon, and I did.” “So did your father and I,” came her response.
With great enthusiasm, I supported Ronald Reagan in his two bids for the Oval Office because I saw in him a man of conviction and the characteristics of a great statesman—traits patently lacking in both his opponents, Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. Since then, I have always voted for the Republican candidate… but with a clothespin on my nose, never able to muster the same gusto for candidates who were generally good men but without verve and, with all due respect, quite milquetoast. But compared to the alternatives of Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, Kerry and Obama—and the increasingly radical leftist agenda of the Democratic Party—Bush Senior, Dole, Bush Junior, McCain, and Romney were my only moral options. In 2016, I decided to choose the unknown over the truly known (and terrible) option.
In 2020, I am actually comfortable for the first time since 1984 because I am able to vote with confidence according to an informed Catholic conscience.
Whether one is a candidate for public office or exercising one’s voting franchise, the strong denunciation of a certain mentality by the Fathers of Vatican II needs to be taken into account. “One of the gravest errors of our time,” warns Gaudium et Spes, “is the dichotomy between the faith which many profess and the practice of their daily lives”:
Let there [be] no such pernicious opposition between professional and social activity on the one hand and religious life on the other…. It is their task [i.e., the task of the Catholic laity] to cultivate a properly informed conscience and to impress the divine law on the affairs of the earthly city.
It is precisely this “pernicious opposition” between one’s alleged “personal, deeply held beliefs” and one’s inability to “impose” these on the rest of society that has given cover to the Cuomos, Kennedys, Kerrys, Pelosis—and now Joe Biden. However, following the sage admonition of the Council Fathers, we must conclude that these would-be emperors have no clothes. Can a black man dissociate himself from his race when considering the positions of a party or candidate? Can a Jewish woman put aside her Jewishness? In fact, would anyone even dare to suggest such a possibility? No, these aspects of one’s person are integral to one’s identity, and so is one’s faith.
But what about “single-issue” voting? Well, there are certain issues that are what we can call “automatic disqualifiers.” Just as one would most reasonably conclude that a member of the Ku Klux Klan or a neo-Nazi should never hold public office because of his racism, so too any reasonable person can and should conclude that anyone who favors the killing of innocent human babies in the womb is manifestly unfit to hold any position of influence in a civilized society. Or, as the U.S. bishops put it recently,
As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet if a candidate’s position on a single issue promotes an intrinsically evil act, such as legal abortion, redefining marriage in a way that denies its essential meaning, or racist behavior, a voter may legitimately disqualify a candidate from receiving support.
And what about “all the other good positions” a candidate may have, even if lacking in that one area? St. John Paul II, in Christifideles Laici, could not be clearer:
Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights – for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture – is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.
Following on Pope John Paul’s assertion, the bishops leave no doubt about Catholic social teaching on abortion and euthanasia: “The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.”
Of course, the fundamental problem in our political landscape is that the nation (or at least the nation’s opinion-makers) have moved in an aggressive fashion toward the very secularization that has crippled Western Europe. We need to recall and reinstate attitudes that first put the United States on the right track and then kept her there for generations.
James Madison, the primary author of our Constitution asserted: “We have staked the whole future of our political constitutions upon the capacity of each of ourselves to govern ourselves according to the moral principles of the Ten Commandments.” John Adams declared: “The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: It connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.” A century later, Calvin Coolidge reaffirmed that truth when he wrote: “The foundations of our society and our government rest so much on the teachings of the Bible that it would be difficult to support them if faith in these teachings would cease to be practically universal in our country.” But isn’t that exactly where we are – “faith in these teachings” practically gone from the public square?
Preaching at the opening of St. Bernard’s Seminary in Olton in 1873, six years before becoming a cardinal, Saint John Henry Newman spoke of that present moment as “these perilous times.” He explained to the seminarians why he used such dire language:
I know that all times are perilous, and that in every time serious and anxious minds, alive to the honor of God and the needs of man, are apt to consider no times so perilous as their own. At all times the enemy of souls assaults with fury the Church which is their true Mother, and at least threatens and frightens when he fails in doing mischief. And all times have their special trials which others have not.
And what made for such a perilous situation? Newman explained: “The special peril of the time before us is the spread of that plague of infidelity, that the Apostles and our Lord Himself have predicted as the worst calamity of the last times of the Church.”
And finally, in the spirit of “forewarned is forearmed,” the ever-prescient Newman issued a clarion call to vigilance to those future priests:
My Brethren, you are coming into a world, if present appearances do not deceive, such as priests never came into before, that is, so far forth as you do go into it, so far as you go beyond your flocks, and so far as those flocks may be in great danger as under the influence of the prevailing epidemic.
Nearly a century and a half later, that “epidemic” is full-grown and has matured, thanks to the silence and inaction of would-be Christians over the long haul. Next week, do your part to break that code of silence and inaction by practicing some of the spiritual works of mercy. Instruct the ignorant about the critical issues that are at stake. Counsel the doubtful about the stark differences that exist between the competing candidates. Admonish sinners about the moral evil of voting for individuals and parties that promote abortion, that assault marriage and family as established by the Creator, and that seek to muzzle the Church in the public forum.
Many of you have logically asked your priests what they are going to do, and you have a right to know that. So, let me say this: I could never support the rosary-clutching pseudo-Catholic, Joe Biden, or the radically leftist program of his party. I am delighted with the Republican platform—especially as that relates to the right to life, traditional marriage, parental freedom of choice in education, and religious liberty.
Some complain about the Republican standard-bearer’s brashness, but, from a Catholic point of view, his accomplishments over the past four years have been truly extraordinary. He’s the most pro-life president since Roe v. Wade. He has advanced the cause of religious liberty. He has appointed judges of stellar quality to the federal bench and the Supreme Court. He strongly supports Catholic education. President Trump has kept his promises to us.
In sharing this perspective with you, I am fulfilling the responsibility given me through sacramental ordination to “teach and admonish” the faithful, in the hope that my fidelity to my vocation will spur you on to fulfill the responsibility given you in Holy Baptism to be the salt and light and leaven Christ expects you to be and which the world so desperately needs—whether it knows it or not.
If we Catholics have our priorities straight, we shall know how to interface with secular society with conviction, boldness and courage. Our vote will not be about party loyalty or personal expediency. When Bishop of Fall River, the present Archbishop of Boston, Sean Cardinal O’Malley, penned an “election reflection” which offers some unnerving remarks for certain Catholic voters (and politicians):
I will not vote for any politician who will promote abortion or the culture of death, no matter how appealing the rest of his or her program might be. They are wolves in sheep’s garments, the K.K.K. without the sheets, and sadly enough, they don’t even know it.
If I were ever tempted to vote for simply selfish reasons, tribal allegiances, or economic advantages, rather than on the moral direction of the country, I should beat a hasty retreat from the curtain of the polling booth to the curtain of the confessional.
God willing, no one present here today will have to do that.
Taking as our own the words the American bishops used to conclude their pastoral letter, Living the Gospel of Life, let us confide this election to Our Lady: “Mary, patroness of America, renew in us a love for the beauty and sanctity of the human person from conception to natural death; and as your Son gave His life for us, help us to live our lives serving others. Mother of the Church, Mother of our Savior, open our hearts to the Gospel of life, protect our nation, and make us witnesses to the truth.”
Editor’s note: This article was excerpted from a homily preached by Father Stravinskas on October 17, 2020 at the Church of the Holy Innocents in Manhattan.
[Photo credit: Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images News]