Reflections on loving God, being Catholic, being a woman, being ill, loving life and anything else that comes to mind.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

They Work For Us

Where are the leaders we need right now?

In my previous post, I erred in asking, where are the leaders particularly since I was actually asking, Where are those who will take over the job of leading this country so I can get back to my life? Like most Americans, I am still learning to be an American. An education in this country has provided me with much misinformation. I am now re-educating myself so that I am an informed and fully participating citizen. Assisting me are friends such as Fallen Sparrow who pointed out that in the United States of America, we don’t have leaders, we have representatives. The preamble of the Constitution begins: We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union... We the people are sovereign. We the people are the leaders. Those we elect represent us. They are our servants.

Most Catholics (and I think most people) seem uncomfortable with servants. As Christians, we are taught to be servants. As Americans, we've been taught that we live in a democracy*, that "all men [and women] are created equal", that here, there are no servants (and therefore no masters). The very idea of having servants conjures up images of Cinderella, “let them eat cake,” and a level of wealth that translates into Scrooge's treatment of poor Bob Cratchit or the monstrous Simon Legree**. I get the impression that most Americans believe it’s immoral to expect someone else to be their servant. But in reality we have all sorts of servants. They collect our garbage, chlorinate our water, sweep our streets. But we don't usually feel that those who do such jobs are servants. We think we have become egalitarian. Actually, we have only learned to lie to ourselves better. We pretend that servants don’t exist and so pretend we have no role in regards to them.

Most of us think our primary job as citizens is voting, Many Catholics know we must also be informed so that we choose candidates who adhere to Church teaching or at least, natural law. Some of us vote to limit evil and/or for those who espouse sound economic and foreign policies. On the whole though, we vote and then believe we should be left alone to live our lives while those we elect get on with the business of running the country. But public servants merely represent us. They speak with our voices, carry out our decisions within the confines we set. They cannot and must not make decisions for us. Since we are sovereign, an integral part of living our own lives is running our country.

That is a great difficulty for many Catholics, for many Christians. The Church teaches us that we are to obey the state. That’s not a unique teaching of the Magisterium, scripture teaches the same. But in America, we the people are the state. In America, we the people must govern our own lives. In America we must set standards for ourselves and must teach those standards to our children. We must be the masters of this country, must be good stewards of the unique gift we have received.

I often encounter Catholics who tell me, when they find a candidate who adheres to Church teaching, they will vote for him/her. We have the expectation that others will present us with the right platform. But we forget, it is our job to set the standards, to tell our potential servants what they should be doing. In at least a general sense, we need to create the platforms, the policies and the positions that potential servants will flesh out and fulfill. To do so, we must be well educated and well informed. We must be involved in our communities: unmarried people must participate in decisions that involve children, married people must participate in decisions that involve those who are not married. And not only because those issues involve taxes but because the decisions made for others in our country affect all of us. We must encourage those in our community who can serve to run for public office. We must remain aware of what our servants are doing, of whether they are performing their duties responsibly. We must make certain they have what they need to do their jobs and pay them fair wages.

To ensure that our home is well cared for. Before we ask whether a particular candidate can do the job, we must know what that job entails. We must know the standards for those jobs and make certain candidates have shown evidence that they will live up to them. We must approach elections as if we are reluctantly hiring someone to care for our fragile, infant children; we must not be frivolous in choosing public servants. And, as those of us who have hired staff know, when our servants don't do their jobs we must replace them. We must realize, here, to be a good Catholic, to be a good Christian, we must do the work of governing, we must be faithful masters – that this is an integral part of stewardship.

Our Constitution sets forth the laws by which America exists. All other laws must be in accordance with it. It is not scripture but it is a certain guide within which we, the individual citizens, are able to govern her. Within it, we are the masters. This is the grace God has bestowed upon us through American citizenship. The grace and also the job, because as masters, it is our responsibility to keep our eyes on our servants. If we are not diligent, the servants will take control of our home and they will behave no better than the servants in the parables Jesus told.

* Again, Fallen Sparrow reminds me that the United States is a Republic not a democracy.

** I highly reccommend Harriet Beecher Stowe's, Uncle Tom's Cabin. It is an amazing book that was instrumental in abolishing slavery and is most useful for self re-education. I wonder if modern works such as this one might help change hearts in re abortion.

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