A Conversation about Politics

Last week, I attended the Family Life Conference sponsored by the Family Life/Respect Life Office, held at St. Joseph’s Seminary. It was a great event, with excellent speakers and lots of important information.

The most interesting part of the day, though was a conversation I had after one of the talks. Kathy Gallagher, the Pro-Life Director of the New York State Catholic Conference, spoke about the legislative climate in Albany, and the particular challenges we face in the so-called “Reproductive Health Act”. At the end of her talk, she encouraged people to get involved, not just in advocacy, but in electoral politics as well, to promote pro-life positions through that avenue.

This was what led to my interesting conversation. I was approached by two young men I know, who are ardently pro-life, and who are also keenly interested in politics. They were heartened by what Kathy said about getting involved in politics. They were concerned, though, that they might have to compromise their principles, once they entered the political arena.

I assured them that this is a very legitimate concern. Politics is “the art of the possible”, and in virtually all cases, compromise, consensus, and naked horse-trading are necessary to make anything happen. That’s particularly true in New York, with our notoriously dysfunctional legislature.

Nevertheless, I urged them not to be disheartened, but to get involved in politics anyway. I’ve written before that I’m a devotee of the “politics of principle”, and we need people with Christian principles to be active in politics. it is especially important that there be good people of conscience on the staffs of legislators, so that our issues and concerns are part of the conversation. I can think of several examples of people I know who work entirely behind the scenes, but play a crucial role in advising legislators, and who keep our principles in the mixture when decisions are made.

The Second Vatican Council called upon laypeople to be involved in public affairs, and to bring the Gospel of Christ with them (see Gaudium et Spes 75-76 and Lumen Gentium 36). The public arena is part of the Kingdom of God, and we need more people of conscience there.

It is all too easy to be completely cynical about politics in this day and age. But we always have to remember that it is not our work that is being done. If we believe that, then we will become disillusioned, burn out, and tune out. Only if we enter the public square to do God’s work will we have the strength to sustain the effort.

I don’t know if the two men with whom I was talking will ever go into politics. But I hope they do, and I hope that more men and women of faith will go there too. As Catholics, as disciples of Christ, we can offer society something that the cynical and self-interested cannot — an authentic understanding of the human person and the common good that derives from ultimate Truth. This is our time, this is our opportunity. We need to take it.

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