Politics and Homilies
I have received second-hand feedback that sometimes my homilies are too political when it is not the right time or place to bring up certain issues. Therefore, I decided to explain my thinking and open myself to critique on its faults, weaknesses and/or strengths.
As in any discussion or debate, I find it very helpful to begin by defining terms. Let’s start with the big one: politics. My critics might have other definitions, but those I find best are quite broad: the assumptions or principles relating to power and status in a society; achieving and exercising organized control over a human community (often a country or municipality). Most generally, politics is the process of making decisions that affect members of a group. By these definitions, it is hard to imagine much that is not political.
Too broad? I don’t think it is for this context, because I think anything more specific can be inappropriate for a homily. A homily should be scripture, tradition, and church teaching based. While it can present guiding principles based on those elements, it should never take sides in endorsing a specific candidate or ballot proposal. While one may infer for oneself what vote or advocacy might flow from basic principles or teachings, the Church has no business instructing members on how to vote.
The principles of Catholic Social Teaching (Life and dignity of the human person; rights and responsibilities; option for the poor and vulnerable; the dignity of work and the rights of workers; solidarity; care for God’s creation) are often seen as too political, even among Catholics themselves. Yet they are as much a part of essential Church belief as are any other established teachings. It is hard to imagine any of them outside of a political context.
For example, the Church is adamantly pro-life. However, when homilies include but speak beyond the single issue of abortion, Catholics who consider themselves pro-life might find themselves getting uncomfortable. They should! Life includes many more issues! Calling for action to eliminate school shootings, lessen the income gap, effect prison reform, care for the planet, feed the hungry… - all have political implications and are not to be avoided in proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel.
When public policy ignores Christian core values such as humility and empathy and care for the poor, it is irresponsible not to say so and to call the congregation to action, in my opinion. This is not to say that politics must be consistent with Catholic values but when it is not, preachers and teachers must point that out and those who profess the faith must consider those factors when making their political decisions.
Of course, I need to know what critics consider too political and cannot know what modifications I need in my preaching unless they tell me. But I do hope these reflections might begin such conversation.
Steve Newton, CSC