Monday, September 7, 2020
Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ
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.