The key message of the 2019 Federal election? The laity have the responsibility, and have been gifted by God, to intervene in politics, media and public debate.
We sometimes hear about how lay people ‘need the pastors to give them’ a greater role in the Church. Firstly this is patronising: the laity don’t need the bishops’ help to be ‘introduced’ into the Church – they have that already, by virtue of their baptism, and being created in the image and likeness of the Creator.
And secondly, they, just like the pastors, already have a role to which they have been called by Christ himself. It’s not to be pastors – that is what pastors are for. The Church’s pastors have a very limited role in ecclesial and civic life – to shepherd the Church, keeping her together in questions of faith and morals. That’s basically all we can do.
The laity, by contrast, have a vast, far more influential role: to be in the world, at the coalface, bringing the light of the Gospel into every facet of human life. Where?
Well … the fields of work, repose, family life, politics, media, the sciences, engineering, the arts, healthcare, the economy, sport, education, public service; caring for the materially and spiritually poor; working with, caring for and – if necessary, fraternally correcting and praying for their pastors; and proclaiming the Gospel to those among whom God has placed them – their family, friends, neighbours, fellow parishioners, and work colleagues.
They are meant to do this in order that, by their unity with Christ, He, through them, saves them and brings order to the world. Unlike pastors, many laypeople are also given by God that noble mission to be parents – to raise and educate human beings.
It’s not uncommon to hear Catholics bellyache about politicians, journalists and the quality of civil discourse: often for good reason! What’s uncommon is to hear of Catholics involving themselves in these areas.
If there is one thing that the recent federal election reminds us of, it’s the power of ordinary citizens, and the critical importance to the health of our society – and to its respect of basic human rights – of good politicians, critically-thinking journalists, and informed and numerous participants in civic discourse.
And as the teaching of Christ reminds us, and the rituals of baptism and confirmation make possible, Catholics have really received a lot of insight into what it means to be human, how to experience happiness in this life, and how we can work together better as a society.
As for all its citizens, Australian society expects us to share what insights and lights we have in order to improve the care and conditions of all.
There are obviously countless ways we can do this, too many to catalogue here. But some key ways we can do this are:
1. Be political: Join a political party, association or union. Know your local member. Take time to find out what party policies are. Challenge party policy. Think about having a candidate poster in the yard, or volunteering to support a candidate. While there can be nastiness, politics is not as such a bad thing: it is an essential and generous public service.
2. Know what the Church teaches on different issues, and why she teaches those things. We don’t need to wait for Father or the Catholic school or university to come around and teach us personally. There are things called books, blogs, podcasts, online videos and audiobooks which we can integrate into our rest, ride home from work, etc. In this way the light of Christ can inform our thinking, decision-making and conversations. Christianity is not bad news – it is Good News, and so can only be helpful for our lives personally, and also for our society.
3. Speak in the public square: This doesn’t first of all mean getting on a soap box in the Domain, nor becoming a social media junkie. It means first of all, when the occasions present themselves at our BBQ or workplace, of (with the greatest charity) saying what we really think, and what God really thinks about situations, challenges and issues. It’s true this is not easy to do – and sometimes requires great courage and wisdom. That’s what Christ’s teaching and sacraments are for: they strengthen us and free us to act with integrity all of our life in all situations. Don’t be afraid!
4. Consider a career in journalism or politics (if you are in a position to do so). Politics is a noble profession of public service. Journalism too is a public service: journalists are in a certain sense the civic priests of our society – mediating part of reality to us: that’s why they are called the media. We need good, critically-thinking and courageous politicians and journalists.
5. Finally, of course, pray. How often do we pray for the Prime Minister? For the Opposition Leader? If we don’t present them to God, what do we expect? Pray every day for our political leaders, especially for those who most annoy us. Pray for our society, that the Lord intervenes to solve our problems. And also pray for the good of yourself: time spent in silence with God is time I give to allow God to form my heart, make it like his, with his wisdom and freedom and love. Wise, free and loving citizens are a society’s greatest asset: and time spent with the Lord only accelerates this for us, and only benefits our society.
Fr Miechels is a priest of the Emmanuel Community.