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Faithful Stewardship Requires An Authentic Catholicity

November 12, 2017 Featured Today No Comments

By SHAUN KENNEY

While most of the nation is happily recovering from (or still celebrating) the 2016 presidential election season, Virginia and New Jersey have the wonderful Jeffersonian tradition of off-year elections.
And by wonderful, I mean the “wow did we get our backsides walloped” sort of tradition.
Now, of course, in the sense that I mean “we” one should interpret this in a strictly Catholic sense of the word. For those who have read this column under my stewardship, one is aware that I am intensely conservative and traditionalist in my outlook. Rum, Romanism and Rebellion sound like a great time. Frankly, I would rather settle for coffee, books, and my farm.
So when it comes to the things we care about as Catholics, we are all called to a certain form of faithful stewardship — something we “first teachers” and all teachers especially need to bear in mind.
For those of us who are attuned politically, this typically acquires a sense of the pragmatic (if charitable) or the capricious (if accurate). Stewardship becomes a game reserved for the flexible conscience, where the rights of children in the womb can be abrogated in the name of social justice or the “preferential option for the poor” can be sacrificed for individual initiative and a certain sort of sub-service to corporate masters — or at least the ones whose view of Confession is a checkbook and whose Purgatory comes in quarterly credit score checkups.
Honored rightly, Catholic values in the public square have a right not only to be heard but the right to be defended by Catholics — as Catholics. Yet faithful stewardship really isn’t about the outward act of voting. Our primary task of stewardship — long before we yield it to the polity, to our peers, or even to our loved ones — is to the preservation of our own soul.
In this sense, our moral flexibilities in the voting booth are dangerous indeed. Yet we can’t expect every candidate to be perfect, can we? Even if a candidate gets it right on some things, some nagging sense that a candidate is imperfect or that a politician might lie (perish the thought) allows for that tiny bit of latitude to wiggle a bit.
Of course, one line of thought being pursued among those at the Vatican is the abandonment of power relations altogether, and with it one’s duty as a citizen to participate in the polity itself. Yet as Romano Guardini warns us, no true Catholic can be separated from society anymore than society can either forcibly atomize or socialize us as individuals. Individuals exist within a society; societies are made up of individuals.
When we, as Catholics, refrain in some way either large or small from operating as Catholics, we lessen either our duties to society or our duties to self. In short, when we do not act in a way that upholds and defends the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, we are in effect being improper stewards. Not bad stewards, mind you — merely imperfect ones.
Such is the human condition. Thus the reason for two kinds of wisdom, prudence (prudentia) and holy wisdom (sapientia). As good Homo sapiens, there is always the tendency to slouch toward something beyond prudence — something that St. Thomas Aquinas defined as cleverness and that Cicero merely defined as im-prudence.
Too often, the argument for prudential judgment over wisdom argues for the consequences. Yet Pope St. John Paul II in his masterful encyclical Veritatis Splendor rejects this clever casuistry as mere proportionalism. In short, one cannot do evil to effect a good. In doing so, one becomes complicit in the consequence — and such consequences will always be imperfect, failing, short of the goal.
In this imperfection lies the root of most human behavior, especially as we act on our own devices and in accordance with our own will. It is only when our will is linked — and not linked, but wholly subsumed — by the will of God that humility overtakes the pride that causes the imperfections of sin.
Inasmuch as our elections are a confession of conscience, one must seek to do as little harm as possible. The freedom of the Church to operate is paramount — to preach, to offer the sacraments, to travel freely — and the ability to effect the Church’s charitable work is necessary and laudable. Yet without the basic fundamentals in place for marriage, family, and above all else the utmost and primary defense of the basic human right to exist? None of the material provisions matter.
In the United States, the threats to the Catholic faith remain legion. The government seeks to subsume the activities of the Church and borrow its reputation. Catholics seem to wage a war of words against fellow Catholics. The Holy Father himself at times becomes a target as if he were some cheap politician. Perhaps the most alarming development is that the secular religions are doing their insidious and infecting work of co-opting the Catholic faith to narrow and short-termed gains.
It would give me no greater pleasure than to vote my conscience without thought to temporal consequence. Yet we are in the world, not of it, and we are called to vote our conscience among certain values (not principles) that inform the whole of who we are as both individuals and as a society.
My only counsel? Do not trade the Deposit of Truth and Faith for the trinkets of political religions and the cheap glamour of temporal power. Vote a clear conscience and not the cleverness of propagandists. Humility, not pride or power, is the only antidote that clarifies foolishness from faithfulness.

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A reader from The Netherlands helpfully encourages our readers to dive into giving $10/month to your favorite Catholic charities in an effort to restore Catholic culture.
Some excellent charities that I missed: Relevant Radio, Aid to the Church in Need, Food for the Poor (an excellent charity that does precisely what it says it does — feed poor people), Steve Woods and the Family Life Center, and a host of Catholic legal rights organizations such as the Thomas More Law Center, and the Protestant-led Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) headed up by my friend and veteran from the Virginia political scene Mike Farris.
Either way, for those looking around for solid Catholic charities to support, please don’t forget your local charities either. Many St. Vincent de Paul Societies run almost exclusively on local charity and are worth every penny, stitch of clothing, old set of plates, or whatever you feel could be reused and recycled. Monasteries and convents as well require the alms of faithful Catholics, and $10/month can buy a lot of fruitcake and cheese.
More to the point, if every Catholic family found just ten solid Catholic organizations to sponsor each month, we would start commanding a far more serious voice in the public square. Give it some prayerful consideration. It may not seem like much, but united with millions of faithful Catholic families, such gifts are a quiet reminder that mountains are moved by millions of little raindrops rather than by one flash of lightning.

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Of course, I am succeeding (but not replacing) the inestimable Mr. James K. Fitzpatrick for the First Teachers column. Please feel free to send any correspondence for First Teachers to Shaun Kenney, c/o First Teachers, 5289 Venable Rd., Kents Store, VA 23084 — or if it is easier, simply send me an e-mail with First Teachers in the subject line to: svk2cr@virginia.edu.

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