Politics: the Substance of the Secular, not the Sacred.

Barack Obama has won reelection. It is what it is. I’ll leave speculation about what it means for now, but in this moment I’ll just share a thought that might help some of you in some way, hopefully.

I worked in politics and political activism in DC for a number of years before going to seminary. When I was accepted to seminary I would joke with people that I was “leaving politics to go into the Church….”

A laugh line, of course.

There is a difference, however. An essential, very significant, difference.

Politics, the back-and-forth of compromise and coalition building to craft public policy and move the body politic in a particular direction, is the substance of the state. Sure we have a Constitution, but it’s only as good as it is applied by the legislators, president, and judges, according to their thinking and ideology.

In the Church, the politics are ancillary. Jockeying for position within the chancery, the Curia, the monastery, the parish, the religious education office; pushing your brand of Catholicism, your preferred spirituality, your devotions, your preferred form of the Mass… All important, as far as they go, but none is essential to what the Church is and what it is here for. The Church is the earthly institution of God, guided by His Holy Spirit. The substance of the Church is the life of God in the world, and our actions, machinations, and pursuits will not alter God.

We might believe disaster is about to befall the country, we might think this election signifies a dangerous and possibly irreversible fundamental change in this country, and we may be right.

We may think certain leaders of the Church are failing the Church and therefore the world, and we may be right.

But in both cases the way forward will not be in our own machinations but it will be in embracing the substance of the Church and bringing her to the world and the world to her. We make a difference when we affect hearts, which move minds, and the heart is moved when the Holy Spirit is allowed to move in the heart.

We are children of God before we are citizens of any nation or subjects of any sovereign. We fight the good fight in the politics of the world to bring about the good and true in the world precisely because we are first children of God, and we have been called to affect the good in the world, so that more of us might end up in heaven with God in eternity.

Let us forge ahead with full hope in the promise of God’s love, anchored in God’s Church, affecting the world for the good and the true.

In the end, God has already won anyhow.



  • Coralie

    Thank you Tom for your loving Catholic response to the conditions of our time in this past election. There is a quote I carry with me from Christian Catholic readings that was signed with no author: “Christianity is not dependent on holiness of its followers but on the Divinity of its Founder” and that Founder even today is radical in the love we are to share for each other and all its creations visible and invisible. And our Church’s Catechism throughout the politics of history has always preserved that.



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