By Father John Bayer
Special to The Texas Catholic
Ready for election season? As we discern our candidates, I suggest reading the USCCB’s document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. In the meantime, here I try to promote unity in the Church and in our country by offering a meditation that, I hope, will humble us all and thereby draw us closer together.
What follows are sets of verses from Proverbs. After each set I offer some comment for our situation.
First set: “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov 12:18). “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses” (Prov 10:12). “Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge” (Prov 14:7). “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Prov 18:2). “Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare” (Prov 22:24-25).
These verses exhort us to distance ourselves from those who want to vent their opinions and stir up wrath rather than reach understanding. Here we might think of certain figures (like certain journalists, actors, athletes, business tycoons and politicians) and institutions (like certain media centers and other companies) who win their fame and fortune by inviting us to bitter anger. Whether willfully or not, they seem to have no ability to see other perspectives with any sympathy at all, and so they are unable to communicate dispassionately and objectively, or in a way that would actually inform us and help us dialogue with others humbly and fruitfully. Would we have more success if we just ignored them?
Second set: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov 1:7). “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight” (Prov 3:5). “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Prov 12:15). “If one gives answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Prov 18:13).
These verses tell us to look beyond ourselves for wisdom. We simply are not God, and therefore we are dependent upon others for our existence and fulfillment, including for our capacity for making true political judgments. Only a “fool” – so says the Word of God – relies definitively on his own insight. The world wants to believe it is totally self-reliant and autonomous. Listen closely (and especially to your own heart) and you will hear how much we all want to feel certain about our convictions. Sometimes it seems as though a person fears for his life if he sees he ought to surrender an argument! Why is that? Why do we want to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, or live thinking we have an absolute guarantee that we are right and just? Where is our faith? This unwillingness to be dependent – and thus to accept to grow, and above all to rely upon God – steals our happiness. Indeed, how hard it is for such “rich men” as we wish to be to enter the Kingdom of God (Mt 19:23)! Could we find peace if we meditated in faith on our physical, psychological, moral and intellectual neediness?
Final set: “A tranquil mind gives life to the flesh, but passion makes the bones rot” (Prov 14:30). “As in water face answers to face, so the mind of man reflects the man” (Prov 27:19).
Is there “war in our hearts” (cf. Ps 55:22)? Is wrath rotting our bones? What do our minds mirror to us about ourselves? As important as politics is, is it worth gaining the whole world only to lose our souls (cf. Mk 8:36; Mt 16:26)? Of course not. So, how can we pursue political power and promote our eternal happiness?
The root of healthy politics is prayer, which involves the recognition of our frailty in faith, and therefore the re-establishment of our stability on the rock of Christ (rather than on the sands of ourselves). True prayer eviscerates the self-assurance of ideology. Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, once wrote, “When you are led by God into the darkness where contemplation is found, you are not able to rest in the false sweetness of your own will. The fake interior satisfaction of self-complacency and absolute confidence in your own judgment will never be able to deceive you entirely: it will make you slightly sick and you will be forced by a vague sense of interior nausea to gash yourself open and let the poison out.”
Let’s let the poison out. If we trust God and have compassion for everyone as fellow pilgrims, we can learn to work together as the “mixed bags” that we all are, trusting not in any delusions about our perfect wisdom or purity but rather in the ability of God to work all things for his benevolent design.
Father John Bayer, O.Cist., is a monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving.
 Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 195-196.