You might have heard about the interesting “homily” given at St. Sabina Catholic Church in Chicago this past weekend. As part of a celebration of Black History Month, Father Michael Pfleger invited the Rev. Al Sharpton to come and give the homily at Sunday’s Mass.
Nevermind that only priests or deacons are allowed to give the homily or that Sharpton is unapologetically anti-life and a presidential hopeful to boot. Saying that Sharpton was there to help parishioners “think outside the box,” Fr. Pfleger insisted that there was nothing improper in the invitation.
As a priest, letting your church be used as a campaign stop for a clearly un-Catholic politician is one thing; as a bishop, letting your priest willfully lead his parishioners astray is quite another.
Chicago’s archbishop Francis Cardinal George said in a press release that he didn’t approve of Fr. Pfleger’s actions, but he decided that “making a case of this invitation at this time would be a futile gesture and a waste of effort.” It’s too bad that he didn’t go ahead and cancel Sharpton’s appearance. Cardinal George had the opportunity of joining other bishops such as Weigand, Keleher, Cupich, Sheehan, and Chaput who have recently made strong stands against pro-abortion political candidates.
The news was particularly interesting to me, especially since I just gave a talk on the importance of Catholic activism in political life. I spoke with a group of Catholic executives at the national Legatus convention about how they could help make their voices heard in a culture that is often hostile to the Catholic message. I wanted to share a few of my thoughts with you, since they now seem so relevant.
Catholics have always had a sort of love-hate relationship with politics. Some Catholics are so eager to be involved that they throw away their religious identity in pursuit of that particular office; others are so turned off by the corruption of the system that they refuse to vote or be involved at all.
Obviously, not all Catholics think this way, but both of these approaches have been detrimental to a true Catholic witness in public life. How can we infuse our culture with a profound respect for life if we’re too afraid to stand up for our Catholic identity in the public sphere?
Isn’t our calling, “Be not afraid”?
That’s the real problem too many Catholics are afraid to speak their minds. This goes for the clergy as well. As I said at the convention, when wass the last time you heard of anyone higher than a monsignor standing up to a Kennedy? And yet Sen. Ted Kennedy is the most visible “Catholic” congressmen in politics today.
Now I know what some people will say that I'm just campaigning for the president, and all this is another pitch to make us all “Catholic Republicans.” But the problem goes way beyond party lines.
We as Catholics have a solemn duty to act on the Faith we profess, but too often that responsibility goes unnoticed. As long as Catholics are either too shy or too ashamed of their identity, they will have little impact on politics. Nobody will take us seriously. And why should they?
This is why the two most important aspects of our public witness have to be commitment and action: commitment to our Faith, and action taken on behalf of those principles. Otherwise, we are left with the hypocrisy of Ted Kennedy and the other 77 pro-abortion Catholics in our Congress.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued its “Living the Gospel of Life” in 1998 urging Catholics to act on their commitment to the Faith, specifically saying that, with regard to our public leaders, “Their virtue or lack thereof is a judgment not only on them, but on us.”
Not only do we get the politicians we deserve, one might add that we get the political respect and influence we deserve. Too often we forget that the responsibility to spread the Good News is ultimately ours. It won’t do us any good to complain about the politics of Al Sharpton if we as Catholics are not willing to voice our disapproval both publicly and politically.
Surely, the defense of our precious Faith can never be “a waste of effort.” Let us then go forward and be not afraid.