Truth, Love & Politics: A Warning from Popes Francis, Benedict XVI & St. John Paul II

A popular meme has a person exclaiming “Don’t confuse me with the facts – my mind is already made up!”

I’ve ReasonsForHopethought of that a lot during this election cycle because it reminds me of an important warning from Pope Benedict XVI, “Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell… it falls prey to… subjective emotions and opinions, the word ‘love’ is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite…” (Caritas in Veritate, 3).

Without truth love degenerates into subjective emotions and opinions – into mere sentimentality. It is distorted and abused to the point that it comes to mean the exact opposite. This echoes the Catechism, which tells us that emotions and passions can lead to either good or evil (CCC 1767, 1772-75). In other words, they cannot be trusted to lead us to the truth by themselves.

In one of his first audiences Pope Francis built on this theme when he noted that “God is not something vague or abstract, but has a name: ‘God is love,’” and this love “is not sentimental, not emotion” (Vatican, May 26, 2013).

Yet it seems that most political discussion today focuses on emotional appeals and subjective opinions. On one Catholic Facebook page someone asked if anyone could clarify the actual policy differences between two of the leading candidates. What followed was a series of nearly two dozen posts that never even mentioned either candidates’ policies. Instead there were comments like, “I just feel like this candidate… In my opinion this one has… But I feel like this one cares more…” as if feelings and opinions were in and of themselves guides to truth or valid criteria for deciding who to vote for.

As Catholics we are called to be salt and light in our society, in other words, to help preserve it and to show the way of truth within it. But if we rely on subjective emotions and opinions to guide us in our political decisions, we “lose our saltiness, and are no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled” (Mt 5:13-15).

Thus the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) cautioned that “American Catholics have long sought to assimilate into U.S. cultural life. But, in assimilating, we have too often been digested. We have been changed by our culture too much, and we have changed it not enough” (Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics, 24).

St. John Paul II further warned that “Freedom negates and destroys itself, and… lead[s] to the destruction of others, when it no longer recognizes and respects… the truth. At that point, everything is negotiable, everything is open to bargaining… The democratic ideal… is betrayed in its very foundations…”

“This is what is happening [in]… politics and government… In this way democracy… moves towards… totalitarianism. The state is… transformed into a tyrant state, which arrogates to itself the right to dispose… of the weakest and most defenseless members” (“Evangelium Vitae”, 19-20).

So it is no surprise that the most recent Rasmussen poll found that 65 percent of Americans believe our country is on the wrong track and 81 percent believe that the federal government is corrupt (Feb. 8, 2015).  Yet as the USCCB pointed out, in a Democracy “We get the public officials we deserve. Their virtue – or lack thereof – is a judgment not only on them, but on us” (Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge… 33).

The good news is that the margin of victory over the last seven presidential elections has averaged only 5.2 percent and Catholics still make-up fully 22 percent of the population. Thus we have it within our power to change things for the good. As Pope Benedict XVI noted, Lent is “a time when we must make up our minds and decide to accept our own responsibilities… It is the time for mature decisions” (Vatican, Feb. 25, 2012).  It is time for us to make our political decisions based on the truth that sets us free (Jn 8:32), rather than on subjective emotions and opinions. In future articles we will provide practical tools for doing this.


John LaBarbara is an author, speaker, adjunct professor of Scripture and Apologetics, and Founder of the Center for Advanced Leadership Consulting and Catechetics (CALC Inc.), Twitter: @JohnLaBarbara

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