by Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv
Bishop-President, Pax Christi USA
I doubt that any of us expected to wake up on November 4th ready to hold hands and sing Kumbaya with the neighbors whose yard signs offended us for the last several weeks. But I for one was hoping for a resounding vote for participatory democracy as we know it, for a measured and scientific approach to the current global pandemic, for humanitarian and life-affirming policies at our southern border, for affirmation of human rights and dignity, for confirming the importance of three separate but equal branches of government in our constitution, for civility and decency, for facts and the truth, for progress in dismantling systematic racism… for normalcy. Instead, even with final results hours, days or weeks away, I feel like I woke up on Christmas morning with coal in my stocking. Not only a letdown, but an occasion to ask, “what did I do wrong?” or “what did I get wrong?”
Was it misplaced to think that our American values and ideals, never fully realized but always a solid point of reference, would drive the majority of voters? Was I naïve in trusting that people know better than to accept as fact that which is clear and obvious fabrication? I hope not, but I still find myself questioning. As a person of faith, I look towards God for answers knowing full well that God is pretty mysterious when it comes to methods of revelation. Still, God speaks. And the words that came to me so clearly in prayer this morning are from 1 Thessalonians 5:18 —words I am much more comfortable recommending to others than putting into practice myself — “in all circumstances give thanks.”
Gratitude is an attitude changer for sure. When I began to figure out how to give thanks, I thought of our Black sisters and brothers joined by hundreds and thousands of others on the streets of our cities and rural communities to affirm that Black Lives Matter. I thought of the Parkland High School students who worked so hard to remind the nation that we are to be self-governing and want so badly to spare others the horror that they experienced. I thought of Dreamers who continue to work hard and study hard and embody all of the values, effort and energy of my immigrant grandparents and those who came to this land in previous generations. I thought of the outcry that this nation made so loudly that the separation of children from parents at the border had to stop — at least temporarily. I thought of groups of people all over the nation who joined in prayer and with an eager desire to reconcile their highest Catholic morals with the choices in front of them on the ballot. And I thought of the women who first took to the streets to demonstrate that in a democracy all voices have to be heard. I thought of Pope Francis in his latest encyclical asking aloud why we didn’t allow the global threat of a pandemic to solidify our global solidarity. I also thought about the wisdom, if not the impracticality of the path forward that he indicates, of the recognition that we are all brothers and sisters needing to work for the common good.
I am grateful to be associated with Pax Christi and ever-more appreciative of the three-fold process employed by our members: prayer, study and action. While my first instinct this morning was to act, I realized it was better to start with prayer—and what could I do anyway? Prayer will lead to study as I realize the need not just to complain about the way things are and what didn’t happen, but to ponder and discern a way forward. The time for action will come soon enough. Whoever attains the magic 270 electoral votes will need to be held accountable. Whoever leads us forward will need help in uniting a bitterly divided nation. Whoever emerges as president will need to be reminded that our democracy is fragile, to be cherished, and needs serious repair.
Waiting is never easy. At the end of this month, we enter into our annual liturgical waiting as the world around us rushes to celebrate the commerce of Christmas. When we wait in Advent, we are told it is not merely a passive waiting — we are to wait and watch and discover the signs of the Messiah’s nearness even as we wait. I hope we can transfer that lesson to our present political circumstances.
We pray for a just and peaceful conclusion to these elections and for all who will be affected by the outcome. We study the story of our democracy, the teachings of our faith, and how they work together to promote the dignity of the human person and progress for the common good. And we will work to make that vision become real, and to be instruments of healing for all who have been excluded and do not have the luxury of waiting.