Sunday, November 13, 2011
The Franciscan Voting Guide to the 2012 Elections
What does St. Francis of Assisi have to do with voting in the United States of America? Or to ask the question another way: What does virtue have to do with elections?
In the last two decades you might have heard the saying, "It's the economy stupid!" Indeed, even to this day if the economy does not do well, the President in office does not fare well in the polls. And to a certain extent, that should be a standard- but not the standard -by which we measure the success of our elected officials. Economic growth and low unemployment rates is the highest of priorities to the voter. No doubt, this gauge has a lot to do with how Americans look at results in the arena of politics.
But what about the qualifications they look for in a President or Congressman? It seems to me that political commentators and operatives put a high premium on intelligence and charisma. To be sure, these credentials prove quite useful in political debates, speeches and decision making. Fine and good. However, Americans have found out the hard way how empty and illusory this can be. The erosion of liberty and economic distress have not been abated by politicians who have been noted for their intelligence and charisma. With that said, there needs to be something more. As the saying goes, American can never be great if Americans are not good. This applies to our politicians as well.
This brings us to a snippet of Franciscan wisdom. In his "Admonition to the Brethren," St. Francis of Assisi wrote that learned men who pursue knowledge without, at the same time, furthering virtue "will find their hands empty in the day of tribulation." He goes on to say that he would rather his brothers be strengthened in virtue, that when the day of trial comes, they may have the Lord with them in their anguish; for a time of tribulation will come, when their books will be thrown away as useless. In other words, character and virtue are even more important than intelligence. In fact, a high degree of intelligence can be a handicap. Certainly, this doesn't have to be the case but it often is. Perhaps this is why our Lord chose fishermen as Apostles and not scholars.
We should keep in mind that intelligence without virtue in a time of crisis quite often leads to a paralysis of will. Whether it be the President of the United States, a Senator or a Congressman, there will come a critical time in our nation's future when intelligence or charisma alone will not be sufficient in warding off danger. Good leadership requires the willingness to endure short-term sacrifices in order that a long-term good may result. But if virtue is lacking in our leaders then political pressures and opinion polls could very well serve as a diversion from doing what needs to be done. We do not want them to have empty hands when tribulation comes.
So, you see, the wisdom of a Saint has a lot to do with politics. A virtuous man makes for a good friar and a good politician. Indeed, Franciscan wisdom can be a guide to the 2012 elections.
Posted by Joe at 3:27 PM