Loving Politics

by Kathryn Jean Lopez
Whether the issue is immigration or abortion, love is essential.

‘Was Jeb Bush right to insert love into a political debate?”

Such was the gist of a question I was asked on talk radio in response to the former Florida governor’s assertion that some immigrants come into the United States illegally as an “act of love.”

It would be clichéd to echo the Beatles a half-century later and say, “All You Need Is Love.” It would also oversimplify and obscure serious policy differences. But it also could be a start.

It was decades ago when I first heard someone suggest “build the fences higher” — and add some electricity — as the optimal solution for any and all immigration problems. He may have been half-joking in a youthful moment, but the sentiment exists, and it slouches toward inhumanity. To borrow a phrase from Boys Town, He’s not an illegal, he’s my brother.

That’s the point Cardinal Seán O’Malley and others were making on April 1 when they celebrated Mass at a border crossing near Phoenix.

For two decades, starting in 1973, the man who is now the cardinal archbishop of Boston worked with immigrants in Washington, D.C. At the Mass, Cardinal O’Malley said: “I often share the story of my first days at the ‘Centro Católico,’ when I was visited by a man from El Salvador who sat at my desk and burst into tears as he handed me a letter from his wife back in El Salvador, who remonstrated him for having abandoned her and their six children to penury and starvation.”

The man had been putting nearly all his earnings in an envelope with stamps and putting it in what he had been told was a mailbox on the corner. In truth, it was a fancy trashcan, and his money was being stolen.

When we talk politics, this is what we ought to bear in mind: people, humiliations, hopes and dreams, pain and heartache. And, yes, love.

To circle to another contentious issue, thanks to the relentless conscience work of the Chiaroscuro Foundation, it was recently revealed that tanning salons in my homeland of New York City are visited by health inspectors more frequently than abortion clinics. There are 225 abortion providers in the city, and only 17 of those clinics were inspected over a period of 13 years. For an industry that claims the mantle of women and women’s health, that’s quite the scandal. As Chiaroscuro points out: “There have been 1,145,261 abortions reported in New York City alone since 2000, during which time the Department of Health executed only 45 inspections.” Will New Yorkers insist on something better? Will they reject attempts to expand abortion access in the state and instead work to protect women and children and celebrate and encourage fatherhood and marriage?

This, again, isn’t a mere matter of which side of a political debate you identify with for one reason or another — very often, on this topic, for reasons that run quite deep.

At the Mass at the border, Cardinal O’Malley and other bishops of the United States were following a model set by Pope Francis last June on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa. There he implored us to stop ignoring our brothers on the side of the road, to refuse to be indifferent to the plight of our brothers and sisters in pain.

Maybe, just maybe, that’s what Jeb Bush had in mind. Maybe, just maybe, that’s why there’s very possibly a woman praying right now outside the abortion clinic a few blocks down from the White House, and another standing outside a clinic in Boston, offering to help anyone who is looking for an alternative. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why Bishop James D. Conley, of Lincoln, Neb., recently wrote a pastoral letter titled “The Language of Love.” He, too, like Pope Francis and Cardinal O’Malley, is imploring people to embrace the sacramental life of the Church in its fullness. The topic of his letter was contraception. At a time when religious freedom, abortion, and contraception are in the news because of the Obama administration’s abortion-drug, contraception, and sterilization mandate, Bishop Conley addressed the topic directly. And he did so as a proposal.

“We live in a world short on love,” Conley observed. “Today, love is too often understood as romantic sentimentality rather than unbreakable commitment. But sentimentality is unsatisfying. Material things, and comfort, and pleasure bring only fleeting happiness. The truth is that we are all searching for real love, because we are all searching for meaning.”

Who could disagree?

He continued: “Love — real love — is about sacrifice, and redemption, and hope. Real love is at the heart of a rich, full life. We are made for real love. And all that we do — in our lives, our careers, and our families, especially — should be rooted in our capacity for real, difficult, unfailing love.”

All that we do includes politics. And it starts on the front lines — in beacons of service and civil society where women and men know they are not alone. Where they know there is a pastor who cares for their souls and their lives and a doctor who will bring their baby into the world and a team at a local maternity home that will help them with the skills they need to face the challenges of parenthood.

Conley goes on to explain that what the Catholic Church teaches about contraception is about being all in, in love. “The Church continues to call Catholic couples to unity and procreativity,” he writes. “Marriage is a call to greatness — to loving as God loves — freely, creatively, and generously. God himself is a community of love — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Christian marriage is an invitation to imitate, and to know, and to share in the joyful freedom of God’s love, an echo of the Holy Trinity.”

Love keeps us from abandoning our neighbor and makes us work harder to craft policy that always keeps the human person and his dignity in mind. Maybe love remembers a fake mailbox with some humility and compassion. Love makes it intolerable for us to let a governor campaign for extending abortion access, as Andrew Cuomo has been doing, in a state where the rates are already abysmally high, and we’re so clearly looking away.

As Christians begin the holiest week on the calendar — Holy Week, leading up to Easter and the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday a week later — embracing an unending, sacrificial love can make a world of difference.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a director of Catholic Voices USA. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.