What a topsy-turvey world we live in! Over recent months, politics has intruded into our lives whether we want it to or not. Local council elections were rapidly followed by a general election, even more rapidly followed by inter-party negotiations. They say that you should not mix religion and politics but they both affect our daily lives and the choices that we make, so in effect they cannot be separated, as at least one party leader has publicly declared. It has been a difficult time for the media whose official duty is to present an unbiased account, but who repeatedly criticising the, originally anti-Catholic DUP, for upholding Catholic views on marriage and family life. Indeed, most media sources seemed to find these views more important than the DUP policies on the economy, Brexit, devolved power etc. Was this anti-Catholic bias under another name?
There is nothing new about political leaders ignoring the positive messages of Christianity and stirring up public antagonism against Christians in order to protect their own positions – think Pontius Pilate and Nero for starters. St Benedict lived in a time of comparative tolerance and his Rule does not specifically mention political matters. Yet Benedictine monks and nuns today accept that they have a duty to keep in touch with the political world so that they can exercise their democratic duty to vote in elections in an informed way. Does the Rule give them any guidance in this? It seems to me that that section of the Prologue read on Jan 4, May 5 and Sept 4 does just that. Let me repeat it here for your convenience:
Having our loins girded therefore, with faith and the performance of good works, let us walk in His paths by the guidance of the Gospel that we may deserve to see Him who has called us to His kingdom.
For if we wish to dwell in the tent of that kingdom, we must run to it by good deeds or we shall never reach it.
But let us ask the Lord, with the Prophet, ‘Lord, who shall dwell in Your tent, or who shall rest upon Your holy mountain?’
After this question, brethren, let us listen to the Lord as He answers and shows us the way to that tent, saying, ‘He who walks without stain and practices justice; he who speaks truth from his heart; he who has not used his tongue for deceit; he who has done no evil to his neighbour; he who has given no place to slander against his neighbour.’
It is he who, under any temptation from the malicious devil, has brought him to naught by casting him and his temptation from the sight of his heart; and who has laid hold of his thoughts while they were still young and dashed them against Christ.
It is they who, fearing the Lord, do not pride themselves on their good observance; but, convinced that the good which is in them cannot come from themselves and must be from the Lord, glorify the Lord’s work in them, using the words of the Prophet, ‘Not to us O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give the glory.’ Thus also the Apostle Paul attributed nothing of the success of his preaching to himself, but said, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’ And again he says ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.’
So there we have some guidelines to help us to choose our political leaders. First, we must be guided by Scripture (‘pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar’ (Matthew 22:15-22) being the most obvious passage for this discussion – we have a duty not only to pay our taxes but to be involved in the debate on how these taxes should be spent). Then we need to judge the various politicians by the qualities listed in this passage – they must walk without stain; practice justice; speak the truth; never harm or slander their neighbour; dash any tempting thoughts against Christ and give God the credit for any good that they may do.
Of course, before judging someone else, we must judge ourselves by the same standard. I hope that you fare rather better than I do. Thank goodness I have no desire to enter politics!
Oblate of Pluscarden