I find myself in the odd position of being grateful this summer for a moment in the public life of both Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Donald Trump. The two celebrity politicians may have more in common than we realize. First, AOC did the unexpected — she put Saint Damien of Molaki in the news, accusing the martyr of being part of our problems, representative of “patriarchy and white supremacist culture.” She’s a bit impossible to have a conversation with if her argument is “no white men allowed,” which is certainly what it sounds like and what the trends may be.
Meanwhile, we should all aspire to love with the kind of selfless love Father Damien did. Writing to his brother about six months into his arrival in Hawaii, he said: “This may give you some idea of my daily work. Picture to yourself a collection of huts with eight hundred lepers. No doctor; in fact, as there is no cure, there seems no place for a doctor’s skill.” He would go to the homes of people — half of them were Catholic. He would offer them spiritual and temporal aid (the temporal not being contingent on the acceptance of the spiritual). They would have wounds full of maggots, some of them. Sometimes he wasn’t quite sure how to administer the final sacrament “when both hands and feet are nothing but raw wounds.”
Clearly, when people have had to die because of the coronavirus (particularly in nursing homes), he should be a patron saint for these times! This is the man whose example can show us how to love better. His witness will encourage us all not to get the coronavirus but to remember who we are. In a sense, there’s something so dark about the very phrase “social distancing.” By all means, do it — and out of respect for others — but do not let the necessary barriers separate us from the love of God and our fellow man. (And, yes, woman, Representative AOC.)
For his part, Donald Trump has now infamously talked about hurting God. He, of course, was making a case for his reelection — and, it would seem, giving a gift to Joe Biden, who can now use his Catholicism to his advantage because of the president’s over-the-top characterization. And yet, the fact of the matter is we do hurt God. We hurt God with our sins. And, goodness, politics today is a seemingly endless occasion of sin — this culture of contempt that often seems one with our politics.
And, frankly: An election year that has already seen a pandemic and rioting is a terrifying reality for many of us who think about it for a moment too long. Donald Trump is playing to a base that knows that what some progressives consider religious freedom is not the robust first freedom we have long protected. But the problem, of course, with what Donald Trump said is that it is not only the evil of legal abortion — which Joe Biden has come to embrace with all the expansive abandon of the most radical elements of his party, despite CNN’s describing him as a “devout Catholic” — that hurts God. Cruelty and contempt hurt God. Immorality hurts God. There are degrees, to be sure, and distinctions. And they are important. But so is integrity and humility in leadership. The fact of the matter is that we all hurt God.
Maybe the locked churches on Good Friday this year did us some real damage. There are annual read-throughs of the Passion of Jesus Christ on that day, a focused reminder that it’s not some crowd from two millennia ago — “them” — who crucified Christ. It’s what I do when I sin. That is the most brutal, humbling reality. And right now, this should be the air we are breathing.
These are times for an examination of conscience, personally and culturally. Whatever one’s beliefs, we’ve been given a treasure in life itself. What have we been doing with it? Are our priorities right? We’ve got one shot at this and time is running out. That’s a political question, too. How is it that our presidential choices are a Joe Biden who should be in retirement — and the Democrats insult our intelligence when they pretend their presidential candidate isn’t really his vice-presidential pick — and Donald Trump? In this culture of cancellation, how many of us wouldn’t like to cancel this reality-TV show that has become our politics?
Demand better choices. This isn’t entertainment. We’re here to be good stewards of great gifts. Repent and renew. Rebuild. With a new respect for life, and rejoice in, not be repulsed by, differences. We can learn from one another if we would have a little mercy.
A writer recently dubbed AOC the future of the Catholic Church. Breaking news, though: The future of the Catholic Church is Jesus Christ. And He could help us about now. The most dangerous place to be is to expect from politics what politics has no business providing. This is a culture that makes saviors of politicians. So, thanks to AOC and DJT for pointing in the direction of God, whatever their intentions. Contempt destroys. Grateful creatures, on the other hand, move forward with hope.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.