On November 3, we all have an obligation to vote to determine the direction in which our great nation is moving. We’ve heard the speeches and read the attacks on each candidate. The campaign has been going on for almost two years. Most of us are tired of the ads, the negativity, and the divisiveness. We just want it to be over. A few may still be undecided on whom to vote for.
I have a friend who was having a difficult time deciding whom to vote for. He is Catholic and strongly opposes abortion. But he also strongly opposes the death penalty, the policy of separating children from their parents at the border, and the continual destruction of God’s awesome and wondrous creation.
A Nation Divided
After the 2016 election, there was a lot of talk about how divided we are as a nation. This concept is not new or unique to current times. In the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush campaigned on the idea that, if elected, he would be “a uniter, not a divider.” He also coined the expression compassionate conservative. This idea suggested that caring for the poor and marginalized, protecting our environment, and overcoming racism were important and even tantamount to who we are as a nation. We just needed to rethink how to do that.
Senators Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch could disagree on how to build a better society and still remain friends. They often worked together and reached a compromise on issues. At least on the surface, it appeared that our leaders could strongly disagree on policy while maintaining civility. While there was always a certain amount of vitriol thrown about by both sides, especially during campaigns, it seemed that the adults in the room would at least attempt to restore a semblance of civility.
The 2016 election did not create the divisiveness—it was always there. But it felt different after that election; the divisiveness was much more out in the open. Families were split apart. Poll after poll showed how divided we were. After the 2016 election, people wrote articles about how we can come together. In one such article published in Reuters, author Jason Szep stated: “There was no comparative polling data from previous elections. But interviews with relationship counselors and voters suggest this election stood out by summoning passions, anger, and a divisiveness in ways that will make healing difficult.”
Experts talked about how we can come together. Some even suggested setting ground rules and a list of acceptable topics for discussion at Thanksgiving dinner. Imagine having to set up a list of rules and topics not allowed just to have a peaceful Thanksgiving.
What happened that our nation and our faith have become so divided? In the late 1960s—another time of division—Dr. Thomas Harris wrote I’m OK—You’re OK. It was described as “a practical guide to transactional analysis as a method for solving problems in life.” The title became a catchy phrase that folks would often use to simplify their feelings. It caught on, and many variations spawned from it. The phrase that might best describe how some feel about each other in today’s society is, “I’m right—you’re evil.”
Now we are ending another election cycle. A key component of our faith is to stop and take some time to examine our conscience. We think of this as more of an individual examination: What sins did I commit? But we often fail to address the role we played in societal sin. The Jesuits practice a daily Examen, a method to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us. The Examen is an ancient practice in the Church that can help us see God’s hand at work in our whole experience.
Turning Back to God
No matter who wins the election on November 3, many of us will wake up and be angry. Anger itself is not wrong. Jesus sometimes got angry. Anger against injustice is righteous anger. But anger left unchecked will turn into hatred and fear. We need to take our righteous anger and turn it into prayerful action. Psalm 30:5 tells us, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” But the joy will never come if we are filled with fear and hatred.
How do we overcome bitterness and anger? How do we start to heal? St. Clare challenges us to become a mirror of Christ for others to see and follow. She tells us to reflect Christ in our lives, to help build up the body of Christ through transformation in love. Ilia Delio says in her book Clare of Assisi: A Heart Full of Love: “Be yourself and allow God to dwell within you. Christ will then be alive, and the world will be created anew.”
St. John of the Cross taught us that human desire is unlimited. The heart of a human being is not satisfied with anything less than Infinity—God himself. Our deepest human desire is a desire for God. When we turn away from God, we no longer consider God’s creation and all that it encompasses as sacred. Then our unlimited human desire for God expresses itself in materialism and consumerism.
We have lost our connection to God. Our national divide centers on the unhealthy emphasis on the self. We have stopped, as St. Clare suggested, “being an imitation of Christ” and acting based on the common good. We have come to define ourselves not by whom we love but by whom we fear and hate.
We are called not only to change ourselves but also to be agents of change in the larger community. On the morning after the 2016 election Pope Francis tweeted, “May we make God’s merciful love ever more evident in our world through dialogue, mutual acceptance, and fraternal cooperation.” Perhaps we should all copy Pope Francis’ words and place them by our bedside. Then, when we awake on the morning of November 4, we can take a moment, read and reflect on Psalm 30 and Pope Francis’ words, and start being Christ to others.