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Why We Will Not Vote for Bush or Kerry

Many of us are struggling with the issue of how to promote a culture of life and a civilization of love. It is an issue that is of special concern during this season of election. The ancient question of how Catholics can participate in the political process and remain committed to the truth seems especially pressing.

Certain political partisans believe that the way to best express their faith is through Republican politics, that a vote for John Kerry is a vote for the devil, and that the impact of this year’s election of a president of the United States may have such an impact that it might resemble the end of the world if the wrong candidate wins.

The choices are not good. They are between one man who has consistently voted against protection for unborn children and another who courted and manipulated the Catholic vote and then turned around and directly opposed Pope John Paul II on the Iraq War, leading the country into an unjust war. The Holy Father stated before the war began that this war would be a defeat for humanity which could not be morally or legally justified.

Voters are faced with worries on the one side with worldwide increases in abortion and unbridled experimentation in new technology relating to life and on the other of the worldwide growth of hatred between Christians and Muslims because of the U. S. war on Iraq. Neoconservative American Catholics working with the Bush administration and the press have succeeded in marginalizing the Pope on the issues of war and peace in the minds of many Catholics in America. Perhaps neither candidate takes seriously or is brave enough to face up to the serious issues between Israelis and Palestinians, whose conflict is at the heart of the problem of world peace and terrorism, as John Paul II has pointed out.

The choice has been presented by some Bishops as a clear moral one, in which a vote for Kerry would be immoral because of his position on abortion as a matter of choice, even though he is “personally” opposed to it. Unfortunately, that leaves many pro lifers with the impression that they must join the pro war party to avoid mortal sin. Kerry, also, however, has indicated that he, like Bush, in some cases endorses pre-emptive war, even though Cardinal Ratzinger declared last year that this concept is not in the Catechism.
How can it be that for Catholics in the United States the belief in the sanctity of the life of the unborn is tied up with endorsing war and the manifest destiny of the United States to run roughshod over other countries?

Several Catholic writers have been addressing this question. Eastern Rite Catholic Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, whose daughter’s cure was the miracle for Edith Stein’s canonization, wrote a poignant story relating his wife’s miscarriage one Christmas when there was a tragedy, to the many miscarriages (abortions) caused by the trauma of war in Iraq for those expectant mothers. Thomas Storck beautifully describes the conversion of a woman who saw pictures of babies and became active in the pro life movement, only to feel she had to embrace Republican politics.

The same Pope who is opposed to abortion is opposed to war. The Holy See speaks with one consistent voice. It is as if the teachings of our faith in regards to life issues is a garment without seams.

There is no room for exceptions. Exceptions have gone by the wayside since William Buckley established cafeteria Catholicism some years ago with his response to Pope John XXIII’s encyclical Mater et Magistra when he said: Mater si, Magistra, no (The Church as Mother, yes, the Church as Teacher, no).

The Church as teacher calls us to live according to the Gospel, Church teaching, and the lives of the Saints. These teachings are not only opposed to abortion and war, the death penalty, and euthanasia, but also opposed to the consumerism and materialism which underlie the problems of abortion and war.

The campaign practices and responses of Churchmen have highlighted the problems of the Catholic Church identifying too closely with a particular political party, and thus the military-industrial complex, in the hope that the Church would get something by doing so (in this case support for the prolife cause, the possibilities of which are vague at best). There seems to be a danger of integralism, of the Church falling into the trap of the oneness with the state as occurred under Constantine if the Church in the U.S. is wedded to a political party. In such a scenario Catholic consciences may be compromised by policies which depend on deal making and the wrong means to a good end or commitment to ends which are not appropriate. Constantinianism is always a temptation. However, the Church is wedded to Christ only.

There Is Another Way

There is an alternative way to act politically. We all have a responsibility in our community and to work for the common good-what Aristotle called politics in the much broader sense. We are not limited to political parties. Each one of us must try to impact society in the best way possible.

Our experience at Casa Juan Diego, the Houston Catholic Worker, has affirmed our belief that it is possible to live in a creative, different way from that of our consumer and war culture. At Casa Juan Diego we are in the midst of the war between pro choice and pro life. We don’t have a choice, however, when it comes to pregnant women. We have voted yes to the birth of the child hundred of times at Casa Juan Diego. These are the kinds of votes needed, rather than a vote for a man who might possibly do something. Dorothy Day, pro life to the core (after a tragic abortion in her youth) and opposed even to birth control, replied with demanding support for pregnant mothers and the poor, and gave such support herself.

The example of Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day gives us permission and a framework in which to live in a different way, together with many others who come to share in our work of hospitality to immigrants and refugees, including many pregnant women.
Dorothy felt that little could be expected from the State in the present state of the State. For her, Holy Mother the Church was the better choice than that of Holy Mother the State. Dorothy did not vote. When asked if she voted for McGovern years ago, she replied, “I never vote; it only encourages them.” She did not put her great hopes in politicians.
The Catholic Worker advocated a consistent ethic of life. Dorothy and Peter presented a different vision and had a tremendous impact on the Church and the world in their time. They didn’t merely tack on nonviolence to their Catholicism. Pacifism was an expression of their belief in the bonds of unity among members of the Body of Christ, for whom they, with the theologians, believed that every person made in the image and likeness of God was a potential member-and should not have bombs dropped on them.

Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin spoke of vocation, destiny, of the primacy of the spiritual, of personalism (acting in the world, not waiting for the government to take care of those in need, the pregnant mother in need, but responding personally as Christians). They insisted that we take Matthew 25 (Judgment Day when we will be judged on our care for the poor) and the Sermon on the Mount seriously. They recommended that our lives as Catholics be spent doing the fourteen Works of Mercy instead of the works of war. The Catholic Worker program emphasizes Houses of Hospitality for those in need, voluntary poverty, nonviolence, and an economics based in the local community with worker participation and ownership. One of the criticisms one hears of the Catholic Worker is that it is impractical. We have found the opposite to be true. There are no salaries, no payroll to meet. Very simple: Work and pray and tell people about your work and they will help-what Peter called the methods of the saints.

The Monastic Way

Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin specifically recommended the monastic way, insisting that it was not just for monks, but that the counsels of the Gospel are for everyone.
Both Peter and Dorothy read the Desert Fathers. Peter studied the influence of the ancient Irish monks. He and Dorothy frequently pointed out that in setting up Houses of Hospitality and centers of thought in agricultural centers during what was called the Dark Ages, the monks brought light and learning to the people. Through voluntary poverty, personal charity, and the exchange of ideas they laid the foundations of the social order. Peter and Dorothy insisted that the method of the monks was a revolutionary technique, not the band-aid operation the Catholic Worker was sometimes accused of being. The monks went into an often hostile section of the world, lived in a very different way, and through their example, changed society.

St. Benedict was a model for Catholic Workers. Like Benedict, the CW emphasizes Matthew 25, that the guest who comes to stay is the Lord himself. The Benedictine influence on the movement encouraged praying together the Liturgy of the Hours, (not all of them-as busy lay people-but some Hours, for example, evening or morning prayer).

Dorothy loved and often quoted Dostoevsky. She not only shared his story on the harshness and dreadfulness of “active love compared to love in dreams” so often that some think she invented the phrase herself, but she also quoted him on the importance of the monastic way. As Peter paraphrased Fr. Zossima from The Brothers Karamazov, “Look at the worldly and all who set themselves up above the temple of God. Has not God’s image and His truth been distorted in them? Obedience, fasting and prayer, are laughed at, yet only through them lies the way to real, true freedom.”

The monastic influence on the Catholic Worker movement included three women saints: Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena and Therese of Lisieux, all of whom insisted that one’s love for God must be shown by love of neighbor. They were powerful women in their time and their powerful influence continues today.

Today philosophers and secular writers are also presenting the monastic way as the best way to respond to a decadent and materialistic culture. In his book The Twilight of American Culture, Morris Berman presents the idea of NMI’s, the New Monastic Individuals, who might do much to save civilization.

Peter Maurin loved Pope Pius XI’s encyclical on St. Francis, Rite Expiatis, more than he loved the encyclicals Quadragesimo Anno and Rerum Novarum-though he was famous for teaching people about these social encyclicals, even on Wall Street. Some say that Catholic social teaching is the best-kept secret. The encyclicals on St. Francis are much better kept secrets.

Kenneth Woodward of Newsweek called Dorothy Day another St. Francis. He said she did for her time what Francis did for his, recall a complacent Christianity to its radical roots.
In his encyclical on St. Francis, Pope Pius XI, who was Pope during the early years of the Catholic Worker, described the corruption of the world and even the Church, at the time of Francis. Francis embraced the freedom given by the Church and not only changed people’s lives, but also changed the whole face of the political world without firing a single shot. It was a war won by a pacifist. The Third Order of St. Francis, the lay group of Franciscans which had a huge number of members, carried on the nonviolence of Francis. It was a requirement to be a member of the Third Order not to bear arms (until modern times, when they made an exception for the United States, the great warrior state). Francis is credited with overcoming feudalism because his followers refused to swear loyalty to their feudal lords and fight for them.

How was this possible? Francis was not bound by the patterns of everyday life in his society. He gave up being a soldier. He rejected his father’s wealth and embraced the freedom of poverty and loved the poor.

To our knowledge in the history of the Church there is no known case where the rich have been neglected-human nature being what it is. The rich are children of God as are the poor. The rich are not step-children, but truly children of God. It’s just that Popes, following the Gospel, have said the poor must be our priority. John Paul II calls us to exercise the preferential option.

Recently, we presented the idea to a group of Catholics that instead of their buying a half a million dollar house, that they stay with their quarter million dollar house and use the money saved to buy houses for the poor in a working class neighbor-hood. Or the same with cars: Instead of buying a $50,000 car, purchase a $20,000 car and use what is left to buy a house or two for the poor. The leader of the group, who understood, declared: “Mark, you don’t understand! You don’t understand! Owning all these things is virtue! These people worked hard and prayed hard and God is rewarding them. They have earned these things. They are good people and those who don’t have these nice things-well, something is wrong with them. If they lived right, God would reward them, too.

We would do anything to break through the façade, the strange notion that the goal of Catholics is to climb to a higher level economically and then have to defend their purchses. It is strange that those who buy more things, big houses and big cars, and strive to be better off consider themselves better Catholics. This is not Catholicism or the Gospels. It is Calvinism. John Calvin, who left the Catholic Church as part of what has been called the Reformation, taught this doctrine. Beggars were not allowed in his theocracy. They had to leave the country. Cardinal George of Chicago has mentioned that Catholics in the United States are generally Calvinists, even though their families may have been Catholic for generations.

The problem is that in order to maintain the consumer life style, another child often is considered too expensive. One political party insists that war must be waged against other countries to maintain our “quality of life,” just as the other party tries to ensure that poor people either here or in other countries not have many babies-it might impact the quality of life of those who have more in this world.

It is almost like the time of Francis when, as Pius XI said, there was constant warfare, the strong wished to force the weak to submit to them, there were struggles between political parties, horrible massacres, conflagrations and pillage-and the charity of Christ had become so weakened in human society as to appear to be almost extinct.

Peter Maurin said, “People are just beginning to realize how deep-seated the evil is. That is why we must be Catholic radicals, we must get down to the roots. That is what radicalism is–the word means getting down to the roots.”

It seems to us that the best thing we can do today in a society not too different from the time of Francis, is go to the roots of our faith and embrace the way of peace and life and the freedom given by God to us through the Church. The freedom we have been given in Christ is a great gift. It is a freedom that allows and demands pure means-not “the end justifies the means”-not expediency, not utilitarianism, not the murder of children in the womb, not the murder of children in war, but work to build the civilization of love.

The Catholic Worker is an example of a way to combine one’s spiritual perspective with political witness while engaging difficult and controversial issues. Living in a different way in the world can be a powerful statement of witness.

Reprinted from Inside the Vatican, October 2004.