Looking toward November 8

To redeploy a phrase from President Ford, our “long national nightmare” – in this case, the semi-permanent presidential campaign – will be over in eleven months, or at least suspended for a year or so. It’s not been an altogether edifying show to date; one may hope that, as the fields get winnowed down, a measure of the serious debate that befits a great republic might emerge. With a view to encouraging that, here are two suggestions for what Catholics in America might ponder before November 8.

(1) The most important numbers to keep in mind between now and Election Day are “78,” “80,” and “83.” Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will be 78 by November 8; Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy will be 80 by then, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be 83. If the actuarial tables mean anything, those numbers suggest that the next President of the United States is likely to get two, perhaps three, and just possibly four nominations to the Court.

This demographic reality creates an opportunity, unprecedented since the disaster of Roe v. Wade, to make significant advances in rebuilding the structure of legal protection for human life from conception until natural death in the United States. It also creates the possibility of reversing more than a half-century’s jurisprudential malpractice in the matter of Church-and-state and reaffirming the truth about the First Amendment, which is that “no establishment” serves the goal of “free exercise.” And it just might mean getting the question of what “marriage” is, and who may “marry” whom, reconsidered as a matter of constitutional law, not public policy preference.

It will thus make a vast difference who makes these nominations, and how the Senate that will advise and consent on them is configured. For if real progress on reaffirming the right to life, securing religious freedom, and defending marriage rightly understood is possible under one scenario, it is just as possible that the alternative scenario will produce a Court that deals potentially fatal hammer-blows to these causes for the foreseeable future.

(2) When the new president gets his or her first intelligence briefing in the Oval Office on January 21, 2017, he or she may wonder what demon possessed him or her to want the job. For the world is almost certainly going to be more dangerous that day than at any point since the height of the Cold War, and perhaps as long ago as 1947. The dismantling of the international security architecture that has guided the North Atlantic democracies since 1949 has proceeded apace for the past seven years; those responsible for that dismantling stubbornly refuse to consider the evidence before their eyes and hold steady to a lemming-like march toward disaster; the new president will thus face a challenge unlike any since Harry Truman confronted the consequences of the collapse of British power after World War II.

There are lots of reasons to think America should be ashamed of itself if it considers what taking a holiday from history has done to the world since 2009. The government has failed to take the measure of a newly aggressive Russia that operates by stealth aggression and lies before it gets down to the real aggression; meanwhile, the United States sends military junk to a Ukraine that is begging for help in building democracy and prosperity. The Middle East is a boiling cauldron of violence, murder, and ideological madness, in no small part because the United States decided that it had had enough of maintaining order there. Meanwhile, the State Department has gutted the notion of “religious freedom” in U.S. international human rights policy, preferring to emphasize the export of American lifestyle libertinism while threatening to withhold foreign aid if poor countries decide that they’d just as soon not imitate western decadence – which seems to them (and not without reason) to have caused an awful lot of unhappiness.

The campaign consultants will tell candidates that, when it comes to what we might call the Presidentiad, it is, was, and always will be about the economy. Serious Catholics will know better. It’s about our national character. It’s about building on, not wasting, the victory of freedom in the Cold War. It’s about responsibility.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash