It’s usually considered an unspoken rule to avoid conversations about religion, politics, or money with strangers—to address all three at once would be sheer madness. However, last Thursday night in the Heights Room, Father Kenneth Himes, O.F.M. artfully made the case that— counter to public opinion— consideration of one’s faith and morality should play a prominent role in civic life.
In his talk, “The Catholic Voter and the Signs of Our Times,” Himes addressed members of the Boston College community on behalf of School of Theology and Ministry’s Continuing Education program and the Church in the 21st Century Center. The event was open to the public, in order to promote a discourse about the upcoming election.
“Inevitably, we miss the connection between our role as people of faith, and our role as citizens in a democratic society. What we lack is a spirituality politics,” Himes reflected.
Vatican II's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World encourages Catholics to look for "signs of the times," to find the presence of God in the public sphere. According to Himes, this year’s electoral season reveals a number of significant social issues; he stresses that these issues ought to be thoughtfully considered by Catholic citizens as they head to the polls in a couple weeks.
The five “signs” observed by Himes include the state of the economy, the neglect of the working class, pessimism in politics, inequality, and race relations. Himes believes these five areas have contributed significantly to the current state of American politics. The signs can be used to explain the unexpected results of the primary process, as well as the polarization that permeates modern American political life.
Particularly, Himes stressed how economic and political systems in recent years have led certain groups to feel isolated from political life. Looking at the situation through a spiritual lens, these groups of people suffer from a lack “solidarity, community, and a sense of unity” with the rest of the country. They have been marginalized through job loss, sector shifts of the economy, and growing racial tensions. Himes believes that the working class and minorities have felt particularly experienced this unjust alienation.
Not helping the situation is the pessimism that continues to permeate politics. “I think this year, it is going to come down to character politics. It won’t be about who you like, but about who you detest less,” said Himes. “I worry it not being sufficiently about the issues.” Himes went on to explain the concept of mandates—a candidate’s promise to the American people to perform a certain action, such as a piece of legislation. Past presidents have centered campaigns on a central issue to excite voters; that is not the case this year. Instead, Himes worries, the winner of the election will not know what to do first when in office.
While his analysis seemed bleak, Himes ended the talk with hope for the future. Seemingly, faith can provide some answers to the challenges posed by the daunting ‘signs of the times.’ “It is by improving our society and world that we can assist the distant neighbor, whom we cannot personally touch, and yet whom we seek to serve and love,” asserted Himes. “Viewed this way, public life becomes a vehicle for acting upon the Gospel.”
Through the political system, Catholics can seek justice on a greater scale. “As Christians, love and service to our neighbor is how we express love to our God. Love of others can be expressed in a variety of ways, of course, but to help promote the common good, supporting public policies that provide for human beings, defending policies that safeguard life and human dignity—surely, these are some of the ways that love defines public expression.” According to Himes, Christians have a duty—and a moral responsibility— to participate in politics, in order to actively pursue justice and the kingdom on God.
Finally, Himes reminded the audience of how one’s democratic citizenship is a vocation. Even when disappointed with the political process, Catholics are called to fulfill their duty to be responsible voters. Just as a commitment to married or religious life “trains and shapes our hearts and minds, so, too, does public life transform those involved in the process. Simply put, there are moral obligations to being a citizen in a democracy, just as there are moral obligations to being a spouse in marriage or a parent in a family.”