Editorial: Illuminated by virtue

“I was hoping that we would have a cathedral today full of people who disagreed with the Church’s teaching about immigration. But I don’t think that’s the case.”

These were the words of Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput at a March 19 prayer service for justice for immigrants.

His awareness of the potential for dissent is a worthwhile one as the Church takes on this or any neuralgic cultural issue. Sometimes even our own people require some persuading.

When he spoke to Our Sunday Visitor in February, following the first surge of immigration measures implemented under the Trump administration, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona, noted that “the Church must raise the moral questions.”

This observation contains great wisdom about the role of the Church in shaping any discourse, public or private. That discourse is so often cluttered with staid policy prescriptions, well-worn slogans from one of two increasingly hostile and mutually exclusive ideologic tribes.

Almost worse than being ignored is when the Church’s prophetic witness to the morality and importance of an issue is conflated with support for a political program outright or seen merely as “taking sides.”

In the upcoming July issue of The Priest Magazine, OSV contributor Barry Hudock reflects at length on the value of values, of preachers appealing to virtue in an effort to foster deeper conversion. His words hold up the insights of Dominican Father Charles Bouchard:

“One effective way of both reducing the likelihood of conflict and staying true to the nature of a homily is to keep in mind that most of the principles of Catholic social teaching can be understood as virtues, and to preach on them that way. This, Bouchard says, means approaching them as principles of Christian life, not policy proposals, which goes a long way toward ‘de-politicizing’ the issue.”

The Church’s witness done right connects people’s minds and hearts with the deeper good, the virtues that should underpin all we say and do. Before we delve into the utility of this policy proposal or that, let’s ask: Is it informed by an underlying set of virtues that reflect the abundant generosity of a merciful God, or is it laced with narratives of scarcity, alienation or fear? These are foundational concepts, ones we often breeze past as we settle for the business (or politics) as usual of our lives.

This usually doesn’t come from a sense of malice. People want to do the right things by their consciences and their values. And it’s easy to drift, go on autopilot and become numb to the structures of sin built up all around us.

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Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, said in an address in Brooklyn, New York, on May 17: “As I read the New Testament, Jesus never, or rarely, gets on people’s cases about overtly oppressing others. But he does point out, especially in Matthew’s Gospel and Luke’s, how well-meaning people, even very religious people, cannot see what’s there.”

When we speak to the right virtue at the appropriate moment, it casts a light that helps people see what’s there. It’s a challenge for every Christian to speak and live in a way that gives glory to God, that allows others to see and hear the deep virtues underpinning who we are. This is a witness that brings about true conversion.

Editorial Board: Greg Willits, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor