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Presidential qualities

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NOTE: Many of the following ideas were taken from Chapter 8 of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, “The Political Community.

On Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, the American people will go to their four-year meeting at the polls to elect the president of the United States.

The Church, “expert in humanity” (St. Paul VI), illuminates the political process with her social doctrine. She teaches that the social nature of human beings makes them political persons at the same time. Every organized society becomes a political community whose members must seek the common good. Sovereignty resides in collectivity, which delegates authority to a few, the so-called rulers. They must fulfill the mandate to lead within the limits of morality and in accordance with a legitimate order that enjoys legal status.

Authorities will govern always bearing in mind the dignity of the human person and the demands of right reason. The delicate task of combining human rights with human duties is the responsibility of the leaders.

Those aspiring to become president of the United States must ask themselves if they have the necessary credentials to carry out a mission of such great responsibility. They need a solid academic education. Studies in law and economics tend to provide a robust basis for the political endeavor, but the candidate must have a broad general culture. Being familiar with great literature, as well as knowledge in subjects such as psychology and history, helps greatly. Cicero considered history to be “magistra vitae,” that is, “teacher of life,” and there is a lot of truth in the expression, “Those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it.”

Those planning to enter the electoral arena should examine their motivations. Anyone seeking to satisfy an ego hungry for recognition and power over others should not run for office, much less aspire to the position in order to profit. They should seek instead to serve the people, not to be served by the people. The Christian politician is inspired by the maxim of Jesus Christ, “I have not come to be served, but to serve” (Mk 10:45).

They should examine themselves to see if they have the necessary equanimity to withstand the inevitable criticism inherent to public service in democratic countries with a free press, and see if they know how to distinguish between opposition to their ideas and personal attacks. There are those who take offense in discrepancies with their points of view. A lot of self-control is needed to govern; they should be guided by the advice of the Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang, “Never speak or write when you are angry.” When responding to unfair criticism, they must do so with moderation, avoiding insults and words more typical of the ill-mannered and the foulmouthed than of political leaders.  

They need to surround themselves with competent and honest collaborators, and never demand unconditional loyalty. Such loyalty is reserved only for God.

The presidency of the country demands that the incumbent see no one as an enemy. In politics as in sports, there are adversaries or opponents, but not enemies. No one should be in government to act against anyone, but on behalf of everyone and everything reasonable. Universal love should be the engine of all presidential action. The president will always work on behalf of all, although resigned to the impossibility of pleasing everyone. Unfortunately, the fragility of our fallen human nature, so inclined to selfishness, will always obstruct the work of the best qualified and well-intentioned leader.

The presidential candidate must be an intelligent, healthy person, of jovial character and who sleeps well.

The president of the country should not despair when facing difficult situations. There are problems that have no solution other than learning to live with them until the light appears at the end of the tunnel.

If it is important for a president to be intelligent and cultured, it is much more important to have a noble heart full of love towards God and towards others.

It is easier for a top leader to live within the moral order if he (or she) sees that such order has God as its source and end. Nothing helps a politician so much as accepting that transcendent, supreme and final instance that is God. The love of God and the holy fear of God will give him light and strength when facing the challenge of the most disconcerting crossroads.

Comments from readers

PAUL SCHLACHTER - 09/13/2020 06:45 PM
These comments could better be applied to kings and princes of a bygone age who acted unilaterally on behalf of their realm. Nearly every country today, including ours, is endowed with institutions that share governing power. In addition citizens today are much better informed and better able to express their opinions on public affairs. In the face of these realities, an executive and his/her advisors should possess the ability to communicate effectively with legislators and jurists (as well as the people), and must earn their respect as someone bound by the country's founding principles. A keen listening ear was of great value for a wise monarch, of course, but it is much more indispensable today.
Kevin Kelleher - 09/12/2020 11:05 AM
Father, My heart goes out to my dear Catholic Democrat friends, especially those who despise our President. After much research, I see no possible path for a well-informed Catholic Democrat to vote for their candidate without grave moral consequences. They can use prudential judgement to decide ONLY between the President, a write-in or abstain. I say this knowing: life begins at conception, abortion is an “intrinsic evil”, over 50 million lives taken since 1973, millions more in the future, the party’s platform & past actions on abortions, being at the crossroads where the selection of judges will matter and our US Bishops seeing this as a preeminent threat to human life and dignity. For this election choice, there is nothing that can offset the real platforms & past actions of those involved regarding the intrinsic evil of abortion. Issues do not have the same moral weight and can be debated BUT there is no choice on the intrinsic evil of abortion. It must ALWAYS be rejected. This is not just an “issue”, it’s the very lives of millions of innocent children of God. For this election, I pray for specific guidance about all the critical choices. I hope this helps & we all strive to do God’s Will in the voting booth. Our votes will matter to God’s children. God Bless
Angela - 09/11/2020 03:27 PM
Dear Father, Thanks for writing this article. I see that the article contains facts and personal opinions. Fr., in regards to your statement: “ They must fulfill the mandate to lead within the limits of morality and in accordance with a legitimate order that enjoys legal status. Authorities will govern always bearing in mind the dignity of the human person and the demands of right reason.” Two key words come to mind: “morality & dignity” to lead in politics. The characteristics of a good politician, thus, a president. The meaning behind these two words are obviously found in the first and foremost important commandment: “ Thou shall not kill.” He didn’t say maybe, sometime, if necessary, etc. He was very clear. Again the word “clarity.” Something we all need to hear more of from our church leaders. Not vagueness. And with clarity one has to choose and let it be known to the flock, because not doing so brings confusion and sin to the messenger as well as to those who act on their trust. If f there is no conscience, no regard to God’s most important creature / creation, if there is no “morality,” no respect for the “dignity” of life, then there is absolutely no other humane issue that are of grave importance. Nothing! If not, would not of written this commandment first. As Catholics, we have to start with the basics. Human life. Respect for it under all circumstances, no excuses! I hear so many reasons of why to abort, all lies from the devil. No wonder women are so scared & confused. No hope is given. Only lies. I invite anyone here to visit pro-life pregnancy centers that help both parents, or single moms with so many things. Education before during and after birth, financial assistance, free medical aide, supplies for a baby/s (mostly new), career advisement, education & placement. Christian teaching. So many things! All mom’s that keep their babies are happy they did. Thus, the choice is simple. Pro-life candidate (with pro-life judges), or pro-choice = death.
Jorge Suarez - 09/11/2020 12:50 PM
Interesting article by Father, but there are trivialities that concern me. While the Church should remain impartial, the Holy father has not done so. While the Eucharist is our greatest gift, and life is a gift from God, bishops lack the backbone to stand up and state the truth and prevent the scandalous distribution of the Eucharist to venomously pro-abortion and pro LGBTQ supporters, and tell the truth about the abuse of children, young adults and seminarians. Jesus deserves better, and the people have come to a point where we do not trust our bishops because they are weak, lie, and are not trustworthy. We are looking for leaders who are not afraid to speak of SIN and MURDER and who are against COMMUNISM, SOCIALISM and support FREEDOM OF RELIGION. While I respect and was taught by many Jesuits, the Jesuit Order in general has been corrupted to a point where they have strayed from the church's teaching and magisterium. We need a president who stand for LIFE, LIBERTY, FREEDOM OF RELIGION, and who is not a communist or socialist. We need bishops who tell the truth and protect the eucharist from scandal. It's time that our expectations of our bishops comes to fruition. God Bless America, and may Our Lady of Charity protect us from socialism and communism.
Gustavo - 09/10/2020 11:19 AM
My fellow Catholics please read “The Decree Against Communism. ” it is a 1949 Church document issued by the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, and approved by Pope Pius XII, which declared Catholics who professed The Communist doctrine (I.e, modern day Democrat’s)to be excommunicated as apostates from the Christian faith.
Miles Codias - 09/10/2020 10:34 AM
To clarify, while the Catholic Church can not endorse a political party nor candidate, it has the weighty responsibility to be perfectly clear as to how Catholics are to identify the most Catholic candidates. Our God is a God of clarity. Right now, the confusion among Catholics is being exacerbated by the unnecessarily voluminous and unclear USCCB publication, “Faithful Citizenship”. This document must be made clearer (immediately) so that all faithful Catholics will vote and speak with one voice: Pro-life, anti-LGBT pro-heterosexual marriage, pro freedom of religion, anti-Socialism/Communism (as every pope has proclaimed since The Communist Manifesto was released in the mid-1800’s. Additionally, since the issue of helping the poor via our vote sometimes falls through the cracks due to the fact that life issues supersede poverty issues, an excellent and effective plan (of outreach and evangelization) for the laity (to take *personal* responsibility for the poor) must be drafted and promoted from every pulpit in the 17,000+ parishes we have across our nation. We need our leadership to lead us in this pressing calling.
Evelyn Diaz - 09/10/2020 09:41 AM
I am concerned that the shepherds are gingerly evading the 2 most important issues in the upcoming elections; (1) sanctity of life, and (2) religious freedom. The Church has had a history of holy men that spoke firmly and with rigor, i.e., St Paul, John the Baptist. Even Jesus overturned tables and whipped the hypocrites from the temple's foyer. The flock needs clear guidance. Our eternal salvation is at stake. "You can not be a Democrat and be Catholic"- Fr Altman
Gustavo - 09/09/2020 07:43 PM
Let's see what Bishop Strickland has to say on the matter: https://www.star-telegram.com/news/nation-world/national/article245560245.html
Ana Rodriguez-Soto - 09/09/2020 09:25 AM
Just to clarify: the Catholic Church takes no position to recommend or object to individual candidates or political parties. As stated in the U.S. bishops' document, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" #41. "Catholic voters should use the framework of Catholic social teaching to examine candidates' positions on issues affecting human life and dignity as well as issues of justice and peace, and they should consider candidates' integrity, philosophy, and performance. It is important for all citizens 'to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or mere self-interest' (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 33)."
Vivian Gonzalez - 09/08/2020 05:21 PM
https://youtu.be/3-7eoTN2vNM You cannot be Catholic & Democrat. Period.
Guillermo Arrindell - 09/08/2020 01:39 PM
Father Barrios your article on the processes one must follow to determine the right candidate to become president falls short because in the end you know who the candidates are and you should be able to recommend your choice for the position. As Catholics we tend to forget all you have said and just concentrate on whether the candidate is Pro Life or Pro Choice. As Catholics we should be on the side of the Pro Life candidate, but if this is the only reason we decide to vote then your article is a wasted message, but one which I believe we must pay very careful attention to. Your article fails to tell us who the candidates are and what their position means to us. Many of us will probably vote for Trump, because he is the Republican Candidate, but if I recall he chosed to be the Trump Candidate and not Republican. The other alternative is that he is against the communists, and therefore the right candidate for our Cuban heritage. The other candidate is a devout catholic, who lost a wife and daughter in an unfortunate accident, and a son to cancer. He seems to fit your description of the one candidate who seemed to have examined himself thoroughly. I am Pro Life, but my heart and soul tells me that Trump is not the candidate we should be voting for. Thank you so much for your well written article, but I believe that the church should help guide us to the right candidate and your silence doesnot help your parishioners or followers.
HECTOR GONZALEZ - 09/07/2020 08:53 PM
It is very easy to say no to abortions. But we have to consider that all teenagers girls, young women and all women in general that get pregnant against their will or simply do not plan to get pregnant in a specific relationship needs help. Plenty of help. We need Social Programs at all levels in the Nation and at the Church and Parishes to assist them, orient them, secure them for making the human and correct decision on this issue. So "no abortion" is great but very easy by itself. But how about the support and help those girls and women need during that process???
Rafael M. Calvo Forte - 09/07/2020 07:27 PM
Padre, muy oportuna su reflexión, equilibrada y actualizada. Ilumina en momentos de confusión;; pero me enseñaron que ante una elección confusa, debería elegir el mal menor. Si sólo hay dos opciones,no puedo inventar una tercera y, no votar sería quizás, dar por omisión el voto al candidato equivocado. Muchas gracias.
miguel hernandez - 09/07/2020 05:56 PM
II am a grandfather of a boy studing in Belen Catholic School, and I thinkthat your comments are not very clear.We have to vote for a candidate for president that is pro life , not abortionist that is the democrat candidate. Is the only president that have been in the pro lifeconference this year in January in Washington D.C. ALSO HE IIS AGAINST THE COMUNISTS THtN WAN TO TAKE OUR NATION. We have a very bad experience about that in CUBA. Hoping that you organize and clarify all your thoughts' I hope the archidiocesis will take care of this problem.
Maria Alemany - 09/07/2020 02:26 PM
There’s no greater oppression then to live without freedom.If you live without freedom you are oppress. If you you are oppressed you will experience all sorts of discrimination including but not limited to racism. Most of the immigrants coming to the United States are seeking that freedom because they don’t have it in their native lands. There’s no room for freedom in socialism or communism. We have to live in the real world. Only one of two candidates in this upcoming election is against socialism and communism. Only one of two candidates is pro life. The choice is very clear
Antonio Fernandez - 09/07/2020 01:01 PM
We need to overcome the frequent temptation to limit our position regarding a very limited situations, frequently we hear and read Catholics expressing their political options only regarding the dangers of abortion or communism. There are others topics we should not ignore such as the xenophobia, the racism, sexual discrimination, the destruction of our environment, the introduction of hate, offensive language, oppression of the free expression... etc.
Rodrigo Rodriguez - 09/07/2020 12:46 PM
According to this article, which I find utopic, no one can be found and since we have as usual the (2) major candidates of the (2) largest political parties. Thus we have one that defends the life of the unborn and the other one that promotes abortion and lies regarding being a catholic, a courageous priest in North Carolina refused to allow him and his divorced wife to receive the eucharist, this time around the choice is clear according to the teachings of our catholic church.
Maria Theresa Lage - 09/07/2020 12:15 PM
I should pretend from the President to be against abortion and communism (which you have omitted) instead of "who sleeps well."
Samuel Diaz - 09/07/2020 12:12 PM
muy bien aclarado que las cualidades personales, de un lider influyen en su actuacion. La actuacion en la vida de una persona, familiar, profesional, humana, nos indica quien es . " por sus frutos los conocereis"
Miriam - 09/07/2020 11:22 AM
Tiene toda la razón y su articulo ilumina grandemente la búsqueda de líderes apropiados. Al mismo tiempo es un ideal, pero en la realidad nos limitamos a escoger el menos malo, debido a la pobreza de vida actual si la comparamos con el ideal presentado.

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