Cut now to Jesus standing on a shore of the lake of Galilee surrounded by a vast crowd coming to him for wisdom and healing. When he saw the crowd, Mark says, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. That simile—like sheep without a shepherd—suggests they were looking for a leader, someone not bent on using his power for exploitation and self-aggrandizement but for someone able to guide them into shalom, the fullness of life.
Those of us who have chosen to try to follow the teaching of Jesus do so because we have found in him the shepherd who has healed us and gives us a sense of direction. Most of us have found in many Christian leaders—popes, bishops, priests, parents, teachers—people who somehow mirror and mediate the servant leadership of Jesus. But we are not only members of a church; we are citizens of a country. And those of us in the US are entering a season of presidential and congressional campaigns. It may seem like an unreasonable leap to go from the topic of spiritual leadership to the domain of electoral politics. But it is a fact that, even in the secular realm of public office, we seek leaders to will look to the needs of the people and for whom the prayer of Solomon and the compassion of Jesus would not be out of place. That is why our U.S. Catholic bishops have reissued the message they published four years ago, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” They tell us, once again, to look for candidates who themselves demonstrate consciences attentive to the common good and whose sense of right and wrong hold up well when measured against the full spectrum of Catholic social teaching. The bishops remind us: “Unfortunately, politics in our country often can be a context of powerful interests, partisan attacks, sound bites and media hype. The Church calls for a different kind of political engagement: one shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good, and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable.” Just quoting that last sentence is enough to remind us that the current talk of campaigners and their TV ads generally strike another tone than the prayer of Solomon and the words of Jesus. It is time to read the bishops’ letter again. Putting the title in a search engine—“Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”--will take us there.
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