By Frank Wessling
Successful people are generally devout about their field of success. Long-time marriage partners are said to be devoted to each other. A good student is devoted to her studies. Saints find their holiness niche through devotion to God. An outstanding athlete puts devout attention into his game and skill.
Where the heart is, where our focus holds steady, there is our devotion, our love. It might be an ideal, like feeding the world or building a fortune in money or becoming president of the United States. Whatever the dream or goal, it becomes the compass point that keeps a life on a specific track.
The other day one of the many Republicans running for that party’s presidential nomination was described as “a very devout Catholic.” These weren’t the candidate’s words; they came from an old friend, presumably meant as a high compliment and recommendation to Catholic voters.
This person doesn’t have to be named for everyone to know something about him. All of the candidates could be described as politically conservative, focused on the fiscal health of this country, anxious to cut back or eliminate federal social programs along with those rules and regulations that irritate the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. As a group they are devoted politically to the idea of unfettered commerce as key to the common good.
They also tend to believe that this political vision of glory for individual initiative is the proper fit for citizens’ personal responsibility.
A very devout Catholic might be comfortable in that group.
But what about the Catholic who lives with poor and marginal people, seeing this society and its politics from the bottom up rather than top down? This view might focus more on social needs, recognizing through personal experience how wounded and weak people need special attention.
This person would believe that everyone in a society should share in two enterprises: providing the immediate assistance needed by the poor, and eliminating the causes of poor social conditions — which include extreme inequality of resources.
This Catholic might have seen the effects not only of war but of how preparation and training for war affects the individual persons caught up in its desensitizing brutality. He or she might take what others would see as great risks to find alternatives to war.
This Catholic might be devoted to those recurring themes in the Gospel where Jesus identifies himself with the neediest among us. As a candidate for political office, he or she might have an ear more attuned to the great social encyclicals of modern popes than to chamber of commerce direction.
There is a tendency to equate the “devout” religious person with all things conservative. While a certain conserving quality belongs with religious devotion, that alone is not enough. Devotion to God must include an openness to the more, the beyond, the future that we want to make present, especially for the poor, because it better represents the rule of God.
People — including political candidates — dedicated to that side of the religious vision also deserve to be known as “very devout.”