31 Ordinary B – November 4, 2012 – Voting for the Common Good
How many believe that God is responsible for absolutely everything that happens to us? Was God responsible for hurricane Sandy? No matter what your answer is we will never understand why bad things happen to good people. Some surveys say fifty-six percent of all Americans agree that God is in control of everything. However, most Americans do not believe that natural disasters are a form of divine punishment. Only thirty-eight percent believe storms like Sandy are signs from God. 
The remarkable but paradoxical thing about disasters like hurricane Sandy is how we Americans, who are typecast as being individualists, come to the rescue of other human beings. For those who believe in God it could be said that these benevolent works of compassion and mercy are stunning revelations of God; God at work in us. Do we need emergencies to show our care and concern for our neighbors? What about the rest of the time, all year long?
We are urged to vote this coming Tuesday for government leaders on the local and national level. If you, like others, are suffering from voter fatigue, relax, it is almost over. A collective distaste for campaign rhetoric, the lies, the vitriolic advertisements do not however excuse us from thinking about the importance of this election in our lives and the lives of others.
While some will vote for their party of choice no matter what the platform is, others will a cast an independent vote. Some will vote on single issues. Others will consider all the issues. Ideally, as Catholics, our vote is based on 1) our study of the issues, 2) how political proposals measure up to our moral standards, 3) how the candidate’s platforms differ and 4) our overarching preferential option for the common good.
While we are not voting for a national pastoral leader or a spiritual director we are voting for officials who will make laws nationally and statewide that will not only affect our lives now but potentially the lives of future generations. Right now this country is divided on many issues, some of which are important moral issues. No matter who wins these elections our next task will be to pray for harmony and healing in our nation.
In a recent statement innumerable theologians from Catholic universities across the country wrote that the “stewardship of the common good rests upon all of our shoulders, that we fulfill this obligation in many ways but, indispensably among them, through the policies of our government.” How true this is especially as victims of Sandy’s storm will need federal and state assistance to rebuild their homes and their lives.
While no elected officials or candidates for public office would disagree that the responsibility of government is to serve all citizens, there are major disagreements on how to go about doing so. This tension between political philosophies and policies can be a good thing that actually distinguishes our country from those where alternate viewpoints on government are forbidden. What principles do we adhere to?
In today’s gospel from Mark Jesus answers a question from a Jewish scribe about the most important commandment. The scribe (a lawyer), whose job it was to interpret laws, was not trying to trick Jesus. Perhaps he was just trying to understand the law more clearly. Jesus quickly repeats a familiar prayer of the Israelites found in the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy — Hear O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. Jesus then adds a line from the Book of Leviticus (19:18) — love your neighbor as yourself.
Old Testament prophets believed the diligent observance of these laws would shape the theological witness of the Israelites among the nations of the world. In the time of Jesus the word “neighbors” meant those in your own ethnic group; those who lived next door in your neighborhood. Throughout his ministry Jesus challenged people to detach themselves from such provincial, xenophobic attitudes.
These same commandments serve as the basis for Christian living today and how we shape the world we live in. To love God is to accept God’s call to a life of holiness. Our response involves advancing the kin-dom of God here on earth in everything we do. Our participation in the eucharist gives us strength to bring about that kin-dom, that place where all of God’s creatures are respected and cared for.
We hear about these two great commandments all the time. Loving God is the easier one. Loving our neighbors is much more difficult. Is there a fresh way to understand what loving our neighbors means today? The videos, photographs and stories of those who are trying to help people hurt by Hurricane Sandy remind us that they are not concerned about race, gender, nationality or income. Further no one is asking anyone how they are going to vote on Tuesday.
Some do believe God is in charge of everything. I think it is safe to say that God is not going to pick the next president or state and local officials. We will. Our right to vote is a privilege and an opportunity to uphold the human dignity and the human rights of all God’s people.
1. Public Religion Research Institute – Faith in the Numbers