Editor's Note: This post is from Christine Alwan. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristineAlwan.
The first two weeks of the Trump presidency have been met with a lot of reactivity, emotion, and negativity on both sides. I’ll be honest: I haven’t been thrilled with every decision.
But where I fall politically is secondary. Because Jesus Christ is my Savior, not Donald Trump, Barack Obama, or any politician that flashes across my TV screen or Facebook feed.
Today, I’m asking you, my fellow Catholics, to speak up (or bite your tongue, depending on the situation) and step up to the plate when it comes to a very important issue: charity.
You may think I’m kidding. Your initial reaction may be that, with the broad range of political and ethical challenges facing our nation, being nice seems trivial or myopic. But hear me out.
I’m a policy nerd –I almost made a career out of that – and a Catholic. So I’ve been following this on the secular media sites, liberal and conservative, as well as a ton of Catholic pages. I’ve been guilty of getting far too invested in current events, so this plea is just as much of a “don’t be like me” as it is a general critique of what’s happening on Catholic social media.
I am devastated to say that some of the comments I have seen on Catholic pages have, by far, been the most unkind, un-Christ-like words I have seen, sometimes worse than the comments on the secular news pages. Forget the talking heads on TV. We are being the absolute worst right now. And I’m here to say that, as Catholics, we can do better.
We can do better because it’s our vocation. We can do better because, through the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist, we have direct lines to spiritual healing and the graces we so desperately need to get our act together. We can do better because, at some point in our lives, we have been so incredibly blessed, through no merit of our own, to have the opportunity to know and love Jesus Christ. We can do better because, for all the struggles this world is facing, we can do all things – including being nice to someone who is so politically the polar opposite of us – through Jesus Christ who strengthens us. His strength is made perfect in our weakness.
In fact, we need to do better. Because, at the end of the day, the Church is counter-cultural, and we will be fighting the wrong battle if we get so wrapped up in politics that we forget that this earth, this life, is temporary. We always have been counter-cultural. The Catholic Church is not a pseudo-mouthpiece for any political party. We are not a lobbying organization or a government agency. We are the Body of Christ.
We are a holy people, a nation set apart. But lately, we certainly have not been acting like it. I’ve seen people more outraged by critiques of politicians than when someone insults Jesus or the Church. It seems like we’ve gotten our priorities mixed up, and we need to return to God with all our hearts.
I’m not saying we should check out, figuratively or literally, from political life. Render to Caesar what is Caesar and to God what is God’s. Vote, be informed, call your representatives if your informed conscience prompts you to do so.
I’m not saying we can’t or shouldn’t engage in respectful, kind dialogue. We can disagree, but we will have to answer to Christ on how we disagree with our brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of which news channel they watch or whom they voted for.
As Catholics, we belong to God. Our citizenship to the United States (or whichever nation we call home) is secondary to our citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven.
How we treat our brothers and sisters will have lasting effects in eternity, more so than the soap opera that is American politics.
The outside world, looking in on our Catholic social media presence, will see our comments – if they are anything like the comments I have seen lately – and scoff. Instead of being a part of St. John Paul II’s New Evangelization, using media to bring others to Christ (which should be our ultimate goal), we will be pushing people away. We will be showing them our worst instead of striving to give them Christ’s best.
How can we convince people that the beauty of the Catholic faith is based on the love of Christ and love of neighbor when we treat our own so poorly? When we tear down fellow Catholics with insults, name-calling in all caps, and the slandering of Church officials whom God, through the Church, has chosen to lovingly shepherd us? I’m no PR expert, but if we deliver truth with charity, we will win far more souls for Christ than if we were to do so with vitriol. It’s not just what we say. It’s how we say it.
And, as Catholics in the long game of salvation, converting others by showing them the love of Christ and the beauty of Church teaching is far more valuable to us and the fallen world we live in than giving our two cents about executive orders, cabinet picks, or protests. As a policy nerd, I’m guilty of this too. I am by no means perfect. These past few weeks have definitely driven me to seek out Christ’s mercy and grace in the confessional. I’ve fallen, but I have to get back up. We all do. The future of our faith and our world depends on it.
Charity is often best shown through our actions, not our words. If you are upset about the executive order regarding refugees, find a way to donate your time, talent, or treasure to help them. If you think our government should be more focused on domestic problems like homelessness or the welfare of our veterans, donate your time, talent, and treasure to help those in need. Whatever issue is lighting your fire, do something. Doing something is much more reflective of your commitment to the Christ in that suffering person, whoever they may be, than saying something.
If all else fails, if you can’t say something with charity and you’re too mad to volunteer anywhere just yet, practice silence. Pray for the person you want to respond to or the politician you can’t stand, and move on. Our verbal responses to misinformation or political games will not make or break our democracy.
In a world that’s doing a lot of talking lately, both politically and otherwise, sometimes silence is the answer.