Fidelity to Christ transcends politics

by Omar Gutiérrez

The election is upon us, and if the news reports and my own experience are accurate, the vast majority of us will be glad when it is over. I am not exaggerating when I say this has been the worst election cycle I have ever experienced, but I may surprise you when I say I think the reason is partly my fault. Before I get there, however, let me share once again the story of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter.

Franz was an Austrian farmer who was a conscientious objector during World War II. He refused to fight for the Nazis and so was given the death penalty. But, he has been recognized by the church as a Christian example because of who he was before that.

A third order Franciscan, he led a simple, pious life. Every night he would gather the leftovers he and his family had, go door to door to gather more from neighbors and then distribute that food to the poor in the village.

Franz was the only member of his village to vote against the joining of Austria to Nazi Germany. His parish priest, his bishop and even the Cardinal of Vienna all encouraged Catholics to vote for Nazi take over because, so they argued, Nazi rule from Germany would be better than Communist rule from Russia.

Franz rejected this binary choice. Resist both, he said.

While in prison, he often wrote to his family. In one letter to his godson, he wrote, “I can say from my own experience how painful life often is when one lives as a half-way Christian; it is more like vegetating than living.”

In another letter he wrote, “Therefore we must do everything in our power to strive toward the Eternal Homeland and to preserve a good conscience. Then, even if our enemies attack us and even if they are armed, they will not be able to tear us away from this Homeland.”

I bring up Blessed Franz for two reasons. First, about 22 percent of the U.S. population claims to be Catholic. We’re the largest denomination of any religion in the country. Yet, despite our huge presence, this election cycle produced the two most deeply disliked candidates in the history of the nation. I think we bear a whole lot of responsibility in that, because I think we have allowed ourselves to be fooled into the same binary thinking that the people of Austria had back in 1938.

We’ve let the world transform us instead of the other way around. Franz’s rejection of the world’s way of thinking ought to be an example to us.

Second, Franz lived the Catholic life not in protest against the state, not with conspiracy theories, not with bashing the bishops he disagreed with. He was actually quite sympathetic to their plight. And he certainly didn’t toss crude and belligerent verbal hand grenades on Facebook. No, he lived with and for his neighbor out of his love for Christ Jesus.

I have failed to be a better neighbor, a more patient father, a more attentive husband, a more prayerful example of Catholic manhood. I have allowed myself to live as a half-way Christian too often, and my frustrations about this election cycle are my frustrations because I have failed to trust in the Lord. That’s my fault.

But I and we can be better. Let’s all work harder to break out of the world’s thinking and stick to fidelity to Jesus Christ and to his church that transcends partisan politics.

Our homeland is eternal. Let’s never forget that.

This column first appeared in The Catholic Voice.