What This Catholic Wants In a President (And How the Candidates Measure Up) – Part One

Welcome to my very first series!

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I’m excited to be undertaking this little project – something of a departure from most of my recent posts, which have waxed sentimental on home and love and my three beautiful little boys.

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Sniff, sniff. Maybe it’s the pregnancy hormones.

Anyway, this series is not a departure from my most recent post, nor will it be surprising to anyone who’s clicked over to this tab.

This week you’ll be getting three posts from me on the topic:

  • Tonight I give you Part One, in which I describe where I come from, politically, and explain why my Catholic faith has had a major influence on my political outlook.
  • Tomorrow you’ll get Part Two, in which I’ll discuss some of the qualities I want in a president, the kind of experience I want him or her to have had, and a few broad issues (government size, taxes, bipartisan cooperation) that tend to have an impact on the more specific, exciting ones.
  • Friday you’ll get Part Three, in which I’ll get into those more specific, exciting political issues – ones like abortion, immigration, the environment, etc.

Beginning next week, and going on for however long I have the stomach for it, I’ll be periodically posting my thoughts on how the individual candidates stack up to my little (okay, long) list of qualifications. I doubt I’ll get to all of them (sooo… maaany… caaandidates…), but I hope to get to most, including all of the frontrunners.

Thanks for joining me today! I hope you’ll come back to check out the rest of the series.

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As a refresher to long-time readers and an introduction to newer ones, let me start by sketching out why this stay-at-home mom makes a habit of writing about politics. And Catholicism. And the meeting of the two.

First and foremost, I grew up in a political family who happened to be Catholic. (Not the other way around.)

My Granddad, who has been involved in Republican politics for most of his life, served as a local elected official through most of my childhood. My aunts and uncles served as treasurers and campaign managers on Granddad’s and others’ campaigns, and we all pitched in on election days. My childhood memories are full of political fundraisers, campaign signs, parades, and the Republican booth at the county fair. It remains rare for us to have a family gathering in which politics isn’t discussed.

In college, I majored in political science. After graduation, I worked for the federal government. Later, I worked as a lobbyist.

And through it all, ever so gradually, my Faith grew more important to me.

In high school, I defended the Church – and especially her position on abortion – from precocious friends who delighted in the debate. In college, I was exposed to devout Catholics (some of them seminarians) who were far more grounded in the Faith than I was. I was challenged by professors (representing a range of religions and political persuasions) who expected logical, well-formed arguments. I interned for an organization that represented the Church’s positions on political matters. I wrote my thesis on why and how the faithful American Catholic fits neatly into neither political party.

As a young professional, though I worked a very staid, governmentish government job, I dabbled in buzzing, what-do-you-do, who-do-you-know Washington. And I was sorely tempted by it. Ultimately, though, I found my place advocating on behalf of the Church, for the poor and the immigrant and those whose religious freedom was under threat. I remained there for over five years, until full-time motherhood beckoned.

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I may be a lifelong Republican, born into a solidly, actively Republican family, but I wouldn’t say I’m your typical Republican. (As if any member of the party of Lincoln and Reagan and Tea Partyers and Pro-Lifers and farmers and Wall Street’ers can really be called ‘typical’.)

Because first and foremost, I’m a Catholic. And that designation will always mean more to me than that of ‘Republican.’

For one, my Faith forms and encapsulates my convictions on God and goodness and justice and salvation and eternity. (And really, what can be more important than those things?)

For another, political parties change their stripes all the time. What was liberal becomes conservative, what was conservative becomes populist, what was popular becomes unpopular. Polls change, trends change, issue positions slip and slide all over the place. But the Church – and the Truths she defends – they remain steady.

So if I attach myself to a thing so of-this-world as a political party at the expense of the Truths and rights and wrongs of particular issues and particular candidates – well then, I think I’ve erred, not just logically, but morally.

So I no longer go down the list and think that anyone with an (R) after their name is good enough. I no longer look for my crop of political priorities in the platform of the Republican Party.

Instead, I start with the fundamental Truth that underlies the Church’s position on most of the issues that people consider ‘political’: All human life is sacred.

All human life is sacred – no matter its age or condition or station.

That means the unborn baby at risk of abortion, the pregnant woman with no financial or emotional support, the child growing up in poverty, the black man unjustly targeted by police, the police officers who risk their lives for the safety of their communities, the undocumented immigrant, the refugee abroad, the serviceman completing his third tour, the murderer on death row, the cancer patient living out her remaining days in hospice care – all of their lives are sacred.

And I’m obliged to favor policies that respect the importance of those lives.

So that’s what I try to do. And that’s what I want ‘my’ presidential candidate to do – because yes, I want a president who reflects my values.

Why, you might ask, do I still identify as a Republican when I no longer agree to always toe the Republican line? I suppose it’s because I still want a place in our imperfect, limited political system. (And specifically, I want to be able to vote in primaries.) The fact remains that we have just two major political parties in this country and most anyone who wants to make a difference has to choose one or the other. Between the two, the answer for me is still clearly: R.

~~~

To close, allow me to clarify two points:

  • First, though I prioritize the Church’s teachings in my own political decision-making, and though I used to lobby for the Church, I do not claim to speak for it. For the Church’s official positions on national-level policy questions, please see the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Some of the issues I discuss in this series will have a clear connection to those the USCCB advocates on. Others will not.
  • Second, though I may hold a degree in political science, I am no political scientist. I’m a stay-at-home mom who pays a greater-than-average attention to the news. Feel free to call me out on anything you think I’ve gotten wrong.

Thanks again for joining me. I hope to have you back here tomorrow!

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Seeking Home

Laura Kelly Fanucci recently wrote a beautiful post on the concept of going home and the question of where home is: Is it where you were raised? Where you hang your hat? Is it, ultimately, where you hope to rest when your days are done?

Right now I am home.

Sitting in the house that we own. Where we are raising our children. Where mail arrives daily bearing my name. Where we welcome family and entertain friends. Where I pull weeds and paint walls. Where my car pulls into the driveway and my shoes slip off in the doorway.

And I am writing about going home. Which is not here.

(Go to Laura’s blog, Mothering Spirit, for reliably beautiful writing. Every time I stop there, I feel as if I’m opening a book of poetry.)

I’ve given a lot of thought to the concept of home.

There is, of course, the home in which I was raised. My parents moved away from it a couple of years after I graduated from college. The change was hard for me to take and I was kind of bratty about it: Once when my mother asked whether I’d be coming home (to their new house) for the weekend, I sniffed that I’d be going to visit my parents – not home.

Home is where the parents are, Mom retorted.

During my single twenties I referred to a series of apartments as “home,” though none of them felt like it. Even my first house with my husband didn’t feel much like home: He’d bought it long before we met and it was nothing like what I would have chosen.

When we moved into this house a few years ago, I knew that it was our real, solid opportunity to build something that would be a home to our family for years to come – possibly for the rest of our lives. So surely there should have been a light switch or something – a switch that would flip on the feeling of home? Right?

This house contains our things and ourselves and our goals and even our dust, but I think it will take some years before it truly feels like home to me. More than ten years after my parents moved, it’s still our old house on Paradise Road that creeps its way into my dreams.

But through all my years – even those before Paradise Road – there’s been another place that feels most like home. It’s at once vague and particular. In the broadest sense, it’s Maryland. The Maryland of rolling hills and gauzy landscapes, of roadsides bordered with trees so draped with vines they seem like jungle, of farms that look a little rough around the edges, messy from long grass and wildflowers.

I crest a hill and catch my breath at glimpses of that Maryland – my version of it, which leaves off the urban and the flat and even the mountainous. For that’s the one that means home to me.

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More particularly, that version of home is embodied in my grandparents’ place. It used to fit the bill perfectly: a farm with a stream and clumps of forest and an overgrown back field, a barn that smelled dusty and sweet – hay sweet, old manure sweet. But since the end of my college days, this place, too, has become removed from that golden image of home. My grandparents are still there, but the farm has been developed. We enjoy the most important elements of that home – family and love and time spent together – but the fields are gone, the barn is gone, the cattle are gone, and so the feeling is different.

A couple of weeks ago, I drove up to what we still call “The Farm” via a road I don’t usually take. At first it felt so familiar, so like what I knew growing up. But as I neared that home, the one most dear to me, I saw trees growing where cattle once grazed. I saw my grandparents’ fields dotted with huge houses plopped here and there, spiting the natural curve of the land. I saw nearby hills marked not by tree lines, but by rooftops.

I sighed. It’s so hard to seek a home that can no longer be found.

There was a time when my sigh would have turned into a grumble, a growl of resentment. But just as this place has grown up, so have I. The new roads and traffic lights and neighborhoods and shopping centers may signal a loss to me, but to many others, they signal promise.

So it goes. Things change. Places change. People change.

It’s better to focus on the family and the love and the time spent together. And to accept that maybe promise is spread around to more than the newcomers – that maybe my future depends more on the new people than on the old fields.

I return home – to this home, the home of my husband and our boys and our dust. It’s a beautiful place. It’s full of the tradition and detail and imperfection and aged wood I long for. It’s sheltered by one of the loveliest old trees I’ve seen and it’s bordered by fields that remind me of those I used to gaze at through my bedroom window, chin propped on my arms in the dark, putting off sleep a little longer.

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I suppose I’ll know my feeling of home has caught up with reality when I dream of an 1860’s Victorian rather than a 1970’s rancher. Or maybe when I return from a trip and catch my breath as I mount our long driveway. Or perhaps it will be when I approach my grandparents’ neighborhood and forget to think of it as a farm.

Until then, I’m just so grateful to be here in this beautiful place, where I’ll surely someday find my home.

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Splash

It’s so hard to be four years old.

It’s exhausting to feel all of the emotions, with all of the intensity that could possibly be mustered, only to have your mother banish you to the dining room until you can pull yourself together.

It’s frustrating to possess the creativity to build a replica of Elsa’s ice castle out of wooden blocks, but not the fine motor skills to prevent you from knocking it over.

It’s maddening to want so badly to help your father move a refrigerator, but, in his estimation, to be too small and fragile (and wiggly?) to be trusted with the task.

But tonight, mostly it’s tragic to have suffered the indignity of standing on your tippy-tippy toes to tuck the hand towel back onto its ring, only to lose your balance…

and reach down to catch yourself…

to find that you didn’t put the toilet lid back down.

SPLASH!

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It’s so hard to be four.

~~~

I know it’s been quiet around here lately. I have lots on my mind, lots I’d like to write, but last week my mother-in-law (who lives with us) underwent a knee replacement surgery. We have family in town to help with her recovery and we’re trying to help in our own ways too. Hopefully soon we’ll all get back to something approaching normal. If you would be so kind, we’d appreciate your prayers that Hilde heals well and gains mobility quickly. Thank you!

What Matters To Him

This weekend I was laid low by a fever and a few other bothersome symptoms, so today I took myself to the doctor to be checked out. Diagnosis: sinus infection. It’s my standard affliction – all-in-all, not such a big deal.

While I waited for my new insurance information to be processed, I noticed a sign on the counter:

“IF YOU HAVE VISITED AFRICA IN THE LAST THREE WEEKS AND YOU HAVE A FEVER, PLEASE INFORM THE STAFF IMMEDIATELY.”

Ebola. How awful that we – that anyone – should have to be worried about that horrible, alienating disease. I’d thought about Ebola victims over the weekend while in the chilled, achy throes of my fever. How much worse they must feel. How scared they must be. How much they must want to be helped and comforted by those they love.

Heck, I only had a 101 degree fever and I texted “Wah! I want my Mommy!” to that lucky lady.

On the drive home from the doctor’s office, the news program I was listening to also focused on Ebola: this time on the nurse in Dallas who’s been infected and that city’s efforts to keep residents informed and the disease contained. I was thinking on all of it as I walked to my back door.

But then I opened it and my beautiful little four-year-old turned his head to me with a horror-stricken look on his face. Someone had died, surely.

“I don’t get my treeeaaat!”

He had tears running down his face and peanut butter smeared all over his mouth. His hand was stuck in mid-air, holding a spoon full of the stuff. I looked to Brennan for an explanation.

“He was crumbling crackers – he made a huge mess for me to clean up, so he doesn’t get a treat.” (Please know that this is a long-standing issue with this child. Anytime we give him a food that crumbles, he crumbles it. Not in the normal, accidental way that any child is expected to do – no, this guy delights in crumbs; he makes piles of them and pushes them around the table and they go ev.er.y.where. We’re working on it. And part of working on it is, you don’t get treated for good mealtime behavior when you don’t, um, exhibit good mealtime behavior.)

Anyway – Ebola. Here I was, stewing on death and fear and serious, grown-up issues, when I walked into my kitchen and found my little boy, devastated because he wouldn’t be allowed to have dessert.

I couldn’t help but smile. I hid my face while I tried to stop myself from laughing. It was just so beautiful, so delightful. My child was so safe and healthy, so loved, that he felt the loss of a handful of M&M’s as if it were a great tragedy.

What matters to him is being able to eat mediocre milk chocolate in a colorful candy shell. What matters to him is being able to play with his little brother’s new metal airplanes. What matters to him is getting to dump “avalanches” of animal and dinosaur toys onto himself and his brother. What matters to him is giving his father and me the right number of kisses on our cheeks.

These things matter greatly to him, and how I love him for that. He feels deeply. Someday he’ll mourn the wars and diseases of the world, but for now he’s consumed with treats and play and the people he loves.

Once I’d gotten my laughter under control, I walked over to my stricken little boy and held his face in my hands. I whispered some words to him, words meant to comfort but not to undermine his father’s authority. I hugged him and wiped the peanut butter off his face.

How lucky we are.

And how lucky this boy is, to have these be the things that matter to him. (Matter so much that his father’s heart softened and he gave the boy another chance.)

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On Authority

I have always known (or at least, my brother has always told me) that I’m a bit of a dork. Growing up, I never quite felt like I fit in with people my own age. With babies and old folks, I was golden. But from the ages of, say, 8 to 25 (dare I admit it lasted that long?), I felt a general sense of unease with my peers. It’s a good thing I’m not the least bit shy and I have a pretty healthy sense of my own worth, because if I’d been a timid, insecure little thing, I imagine that unease would have made for a miserable childhood.

As it was, I had a very happy childhood: I had a loving family and lots of close friends who were kind, funny, smart – all sorts of good things. When I did encounter classmates who saw through to my unease with the middle school sense of humor or the teenage sense of fun and gave me a hard time about it, I was usually able to stand up to them.

My adolescent social standing, though, was not helped by the fact that I was born with an innate distaste for anyone and anything “popular.” You know all those images of screaming, crazy-out-of-their-mind teenage girls waiting to greet the Beatles? And subsequent crowds of girls swooning over New Kids On The Block, Justin Bieber, etc? Umm… yeah… that wasn’t my thing. Not only did that obsessed-fan behavior kind of baffle me, but I had a knee-jerk reaction against anything that smacked of a fad. Torn jeans? Six-inch-high bangs? My response was almost desperate: “No! It’s a fad! Get awaaayyy from it!”

I also didn’t have the teenage rebellion thing going for me. When my classmates were sneaking out to go to parties or driving around with forbidden friends, I was… exactly where my parents thought I was. Behaving nicely.

I know – I probably sound very boring to you. (And yes, my brother would assure you that I was/am.) But I promise that I do indeed know how to have fun, if perhaps a tamer version of fun than you prefer. In high school my friends generally congregated at my house, playing volleyball in the summer, board games in the winter. In college my house was also the gathering place, full of friends and good food. It still is.

Reflecting on all of this afterward, in my late twenties or so, I couldn’t quite figure it out. Why did I have no rebellious impulse at all when it came to my parents, but a strong aversion to being influenced by my peers?

After a while, it came to me: It’s all down to authority.

Because really, I know how it feels to have that rebellious, “Don’t you tell me what to do!” attitude. I experience it frequently. I experience it when I feel like all the lovely ladies are obsessed over some new trend in fashion, when everybody’s talking up a new diet or exercise regimen, when all the mommies seem to be jumping on some new parenting method bandwagon, when my Facebook feed is alight with the latest “it” political cause. I get this stubborn urge to do just the opposite of whatever it is everybody is so excited about.

I know – it’s pretty ridiculous. You don’t have to tell me that it’s just as silly to dislike something because it’s popular as it is to like something because it’s popular. I know that. And I recognize that sometimes (many times?) I reject something that I might otherwise enjoy, just because everyone else seems to be enjoying it. Silly.

When it comes to rules handed down by institutions, however, I’m usually onboard. Parking signs, using your blinker every single time you turn, underage alcohol laws, college rules regarding who is allowed on which floor after which hour, Church precepts on sex or marriage or mass obligations… I’m fine. I have zero rebellious impulse when it comes to people/institutions I perceive as having authority over me. (That is not to say I never struggle with following their rules. I simply feel no urge to rebel against them.)

The lack of a rebellious impulse in that respect is part of my nature. It’s just how I’m built. But I also have a rationale for my obedience to authority.

Let me pause here and draw attention to that word for a moment: Obedience. We don’t seem to like it much these days, do we? I certainly don’t like its relatives – follow, conform, imitate – when they pertain to people in whom I do not recognize authority. We are each the protagonist of our own story, are we not? I am the central character in my own life. I determine how I view the stage; I decide the direction I take. So shouldn’t I also be the authority? Why should I be obedient to someone or something else?

Back to my rationale… As an example, let me sketch out my line of thinking insofar as it relates to the Church: Do I believe that God created the heavens and the earth and little ol’ me to boot? Yes. Do I believe that God’s son, Jesus Christ, came to earth to live among us and that he suffered a horrible, painful death to redeem humanity – including me – from sin? Yes. Do I believe that Christ established the Catholic Church and that it continues to hold the authority He gave it? Yes.

If I really believe those things, what choice do I have? What is more important to me – to view myself as the ultimate authority, or to submit to the authority of the Church? I choose the latter.

I recognize that to a lot of people – especially young people, and perhaps especially Americans – the idea of submitting oneself to the authority of a church is… shocking, maybe? Horrifying, even? Inconsistent with our society’s secular ideals and sense of personal independence?

Okay, then – call me a rebel. (If one can be both rebel and dork, that is.)

I would wager that very few people lead lives completely independent of outside influence. Few are genuinely self-determined, free spirits. Most people submit to something – perhaps to parental or institutional authority, perhaps to the advice given by experts in the sciences, perhaps to the trends handed down from celebrities. We may not think about it much, but we follow, we conform, we obey. It’s just a matter of to what.

Certainly, my personality (my “Don’t you tell me what to do, popular person!” personality) predisposes me to favor obedience to parents/church/state over peers/culture. But I still make choices. I think. I assess. I keep my eyes and mind open, aware that parents and institutions make mistakes. That sometimes they act unjustly. That evil exists and each one of us is vulnerable to it.

So I walk the line, I suppose. Perhaps it’s not a very neat philosophical ending. When I recognize authority in a person or an institution, I obey. I trust. I do not rebel, but I do watch. Trust and watch: I can do both.

When I do not recognize authority, however, I run. So if you ever want to get me to do something, for heaven’s sake, don’t tell me it’s popular.