Choose to love. I don’t just mean finally propose to the woman you want to spend the rest of your life with or to remember your first love — what made you fall in love with your husband? Though those do seem like excellent ideas. We’re not getting any younger and all, and there’s great treasure there. I mean: Look around. This election season may actually be on the brink of ending — though that’s certainly a conditional prediction, a little bit of a gamble. Regardless, this is the election that demands something different as we go forward. Most of us, it’s probably fair say, are voting against someone — even two someones. So let’s do something good for America and think about getting better.
During the fall, I lead a few conversations on virtue (sponsored by the National Review Institute in conjunction with the Catholic Information Center in D.C. as well as the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at my alma mater, the Catholic University of America). An election discussion just a week before voting day included counsel to get beyond yourself. Humility became the takeaway word. In a book on the virtues, Father John Wickham, S.J., writes that “the joyful freedom of Christian humility liberates us to do our very best in the limited situations of ‘now and the months ahead.’” Being humble includes seeing yourself and others as gifts, of value before and beyond anything we can or cannot do. It involves a self-forgetfulness that can put others’ needs before our own, a healthy counter to the hyper-individualism (that keeps us, among other things, with eyes locked to our phones).
In terms of now and the days ahead, that could mean calling a friend you may have vowed to “unfriend” or avoid because of vocal election decisions and saying you’re sorry and coming up with a project or social occasion that will raise spirits or help people in your community or a world away.
The conversation on civility and renewal on the Tuesday before Election Day at Catholic University happened just yards away from where Pope Francis celebrated Mass last September. At the time, he said, among other things, that people have become “anesthetized.” His counter to that was the example of Father Junípero Serra, the founder of the California missions, who, he said,
was the embodiment of “a Church which goes forth,” a Church which sets out to bring everywhere the reconciling tenderness of God. Junípero Serra left his native land and its way of life. He was excited about blazing trails, going forth to meet many people, learning and valuing their particular customs and ways of life. He learned how to bring to birth and nurture God’s life in the faces of everyone he met; he made them his brothers and sisters.
He also cited Serra’s motto: “Keep moving forward!” Pope Francis explained:
For him, this was the way to continue experiencing the joy of the Gospel, to keep his heart from growing numb, from being anesthetized. He kept moving forward, because the Lord was waiting. He kept going, because his brothers and sisters were waiting. He kept going forward to the end of his life. Today, like him, may we be able to say: Forward! Let’s keep moving forward!
During that visit the pope also visited some women down the block, the Little Sisters of the Poor, who care for the elderly. It was a boost for a community of women who found themselves having to go to the Supreme Court because of the abortion-drug, contraception, female-sterilization Obamacare mandate — this is a Barack Obama-administration legacy item that might not make all retrospectives but ought to, if we’re going to be honest about religious liberty in America today. But perhaps what is most important to know about the Little Sisters is their love. Father Wickham writes about this particular virtue:
Love between human persons anywhere . . . will call for forgiveness and reconciliation. What we need more than anything else is compassionate treatment, and this cannot be exercised except among people who speak truthfully to one another about their own weakness and sinfulness. The love taught by Jesus Christ is always very humble in its daily exercise, very patient and kind, willing to share one another’s burden’s to the very end.
As the burden of this election nears an end, humility and love won’t veil differences, but see the richness there and more. We’ll get down to our common identity as created beings called to good stewardship of gifts, most especially of our lives. It’s a start at beginning again — avoiding a repeat, or worse. It’s a way to keep moving forward.