In the Second Vatican Council’s pastoral constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, the first sentence, concerning “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age” is much-quoted. The second sentence says that “nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo” in the hearts of the followers of Christ.
Along similar lines, the document goes on to state that “all believers of whatever religion always hear God’s revealing voice in the discourse of creatures”. (GS 36) In this country, with a general election looming, can it be said that God’s voice can be heard in the discourse of political parties and debates?
One place to start such an inquiry might be in the various slogans used by political parties. What sort of vision of this country do they point to? Can any be seen as pointing towards God in any way?
Some might object – they are only slogans, and, as such, it is difficult to deduce a vision from them. That is a reasonable enough objection. But surely, in sum, they should point to something other than empty rhetoric? They cannot mean nothing or point nowhere.
Without identifying any particular party’s slogan, here is a list of some that are currently adorning billboards throughout the country. “Back your future.” “Change your future.” Think ahead. Act now.” “Let’s keep moving.” “Believe in You. Believe in Me.” “Your nation. Your Voice.” “Strong team. Better Economy. More jobs.” “Vote different.”
So where is God’s revealing voice in this? Well, reference to movement brings to mind the Exodus, and the giving of God’s law. As one translation of Job 17:9 states “The righteous keep moving forward, and those with clean hands become stronger and stronger.” Can we say this of our candidates and political parties? Maybe this is not a bad yardstick to use when making assessments about which way to cast one’s vote.
Reference to thinking and acting brings to mind Cardinal Cardijn’s “See, Judge, Act” – which was pivotal in the Catholic Youth Movement in this country, within living memory. Are we seeing what needs to be seen in our society, or are we lulled into complacency? What standards should be used in judging the best way forward? What actions are appropriate? A properly formed Christian conscience and real knowledge of the Church’s social teaching are called for. Do all Catholics possess the wherewithal to put “see, judge, act” into practice? It is to be hoped that Catholics will take the time to read and reflect upon the election statement put out by this country’s bishops.
Speaking of one’s “voice” brings to mind the words spoken by the Son of God here on earth, of which Jesus said, “the words that I speak to you, they are spirit and light”. (John 6:63). The many words that are used in political campaigning can be empty rhetoric. Promises made on the campaign trail can dissolve in coalition negotiations. People should reflect upon the words used. Are there any hints of “spirit and light” in them? What might such words sound like? Do they offer hope for the poor? Do they promote the common good? Are they good for family life? There are many questions to ask.
References to “voice” recall the words of the apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. “If I speak in tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
Are we hearing lots of gongs and cymbals, especially as election day draws near?
Finally, speaking of the future serves to remind of the true nature of what is to come, as expounded in Revelation 22:13, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” And to remind of Matthew 28:18, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me”.
And that is a comfort for Christians at a time when our society is drifting towards an ever-greater secularism. Especially comforting – and therefore energising – is the Risen Lord’s final statement in Matthew’s Gospel: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 20).