It’s evening in America. Or at least, that’s the way it feels to a lot of us. After Ted Cruz’s withdrawal from the presidential race yesterday, GOP National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus merely confirmed what is now obvious to many: Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee for the 2016 presidential race.
This should disturb us all, but, for Catholics, it also makes crystal clear what many of us have felt for some time: neither of the two political parties can be our home. At least in the situation we have known, in which these parties dominate, that means that the power we wield is provisional, at best. But that can be a good thing.
“Ongoing conversation and holy conspiracy.”
The question is: what to do? As a theologian who belongs to the Catholic Church I’m convinced that there are several things worth saying now, to fellow Catholics. (Others are, of course, welcome to consider them insofar as they are relevant.)
1. It is time for us to realize that the power we do wield is actually the power best suited to diverse, democratic cultures: the power of (to use Pope Benedict’s term) “proposal.” What we have is a vision of the human person, human community, and human government that is deeply good. (I use the singular here not simply out of naivete, but in the belief that there are indeed a number bedrock principles on which we can agree, principles that can do a great deal of work in the public square.) The tradition of Catholic Social Thought, in its fullness, is our foundation.
2. It is time to realize that the power of proposal is rooted entirely in our own ability to live these principles, as communities and as individuals. Pope Francis has reminded us that there is nothing as persuasive as love lived in every moment, with integrity.
3. In our communities, we must do the crucial work of formation. This is the heart of the “Benedict Option.” If we want to be a people skilled in compassion, truth-telling, and not to mention logic and nuance, we will have to give our children, and ourselves, a community in which to grow in these virtues.
4. In our communities, even more importantly, we can speak freely about the character of the God who gives us this vision and who gives us the grace and strength to enact it. It is in these communities that we can embrace the true center of that vision–communal worship–and return to that center again and again.
5. From our communal worship, we are “sent out.” It is impossible to live as Christians in a way that is indifferent to those around us. As we pursue a Benedict Option, we must remember that the constant prayer of the Benedictines for the world signals the way in which a certain form of outward-directed attention in love is part of our DNA.
5. We need a fully-orbed account of political engagement. Political engagement involves elections and governance and law. It also involves service and solidarity and principled protest. It happens at the national level, the state level, and the local level. It is a conversation with the next-door neighbor.
6. To engage the world in this way, living political engagement against a horizon of worship, is our only alternative to moralism and ideology. We propose, yes, but God disposes. Thank God.
7. These points of action can only be pursued in the context of ongoing conversation and holy conspiracy. Invite some friends for pizza. Add some wine. Cheap is fine. Begin there, right where you are.
Holly Taylor Coolman is an Assistant Professor of Theology at Providence College