Accompany, don’t argue: a personal reflection as we approach election day

By Br Mark O'Connor FMS, 19 May 2022
Pope Francis with youth. Image: Shutterstock.


A personal reflection as we approach Election Day

As the People of God journey through history, they encounter all sorts of challenges.

Currently, one challenge we Australians all face, is to properly form our consciences, as we prepare to vote.

These days pundits abound, who are essentially ‘shouting’ at our politicians and even their fellow Catholics.

The ‘end’ they are trying to achieve about some particular issue, may be laudable, but their tone of voice is just all wrong.

When I read such commentary, I always ask myself whether the author possesses a truly ‘Catholic imagination’.

That is, are they capturing the genius of Catholicism, which is always ‘both/and’ and only rarely ‘either/or’?

Or are they ‘culture warriors’ trying to ‘argue’ with others rather than ‘accompany’ them on the journey of love, faith and hope?

For the context of many such so-called ‘controversial’ issues, centre around how we Catholics communicate to others who disagree with us in a pluralist society. That means we cannot mandate our Catholic views, we must persuade.

It is true, that there are times when prophetic voices do need to speak out boldly and denounce injustice and mistakes within and without the Church.

But prophets do not just denounce, they also energise and affirm the presence of the Holy Spirit everywhere. And the Holy Spirit speaks not just in the Church, but in the authentic yearnings and desires of all women and men of goodwill.

And very clearly, the Holy Spirit is telling us Catholics, that our first priority is to speak words of hope to our fellow Australians. That’s the essence of our baptismal vocation and mission!

In all these pastoral matters of the common good, where faith, politics and culture intersect, let’s remember the wisdom of  ‘Good’ Pope John – St. John XXIII.

Papa Giovanni was a fine historian and trenchant observer of human nature, who wryly observed on 11 October 1962, in his Opening Speech of the Second Vatican Council that:

“In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen, much to our regret, to voices of persons who, though burning with zeal, are not endowed with too much sense of discretion or measure. In these modern times they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin. They say that our era, in comparison with past eras, is getting worse, and they behave as though they had learned nothing from history, which is, none the less, the teacher of life … We feel we must disagree with those prophets of doom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand.”

Yes, we are certainly living through a crisis of culture and politics. But too often ideas and theories can be a monologue delivered with no ’emotional intelligence’ at all. They are simply used to hide agendas that have more to do with people’s personality structure, wounds and deeper resentments, than anything to do with Gospel truth.

When we Catholics do speak, especially about political issues and voting, let’s make sure we do it with gentleness, sensitivity and that above all, we communicate hope. 

In 2022, let’s heed Pope Francis’s advice and personal witness: to ‘accompany, don’t argue’, as we decide our future at the ballot box.

Br Mark O’Connor FMS is the Vicar for Communications in the Diocese of Parramatta.


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