Friday, September 13, 2013

Desperately Seeking Participation: The Role of Civil Engagement in Discipleship

By Deacon John De Gano
St. Catherine of Alexandria, Riverside

In an effort to encourage more participation in government (i.e., ‘transparency’) local residents have been given the ability to tune in to government access TV (GTV) and watch their civic leaders in action from the comfort of their barcaloungers.

While not nearly as popular as professional sports, G-TV has a small but loyal fan base.

I know this because I get fan mail. Or an occasional bewildered voice over the telephone, “Was that you I saw at the City Council meeting last night?”

“Yes!”, I respond enthusiastically, “That was me (on G-TV).”

That’s twice this month (A new record for me).

“If it happens a third time,” I tell my co-workers, “I may have to get a SAG-AFTRA union card!“ (This, of course, is a joke, since I would not qualify since I’m not being paid for any of my ‘performances’).

And the truth be told, I’m not that good at it. I’m not polished (like many a seasoned politician); I do not have a voice coach nor have I secured a hair and make up posse to hide the twelve o’clock shadow or the beads of sweat that sunk one famous (or infamous) TV personality and political debater of my adolescence.

The grace of ordination has not prevented my voice from cracking occasionally when I speak. I may even become self-conscious or concerned that my three minutes to speak will end before I finish my prepared comments, but I trust in God and, as they say, ‘keep it real’. I do not try and be anyone other than who I am… A baptized, disciple of Jesus Christ, called to live a life of love in service to God and my church and to be a witness of faith in my community.

And I invite others to do and be the same.

When Jesus called together his small band of disciples, he did not choose the most eloquent speakers he could find. Nor did he choose people of great power and influence in the community. He chose the outcasts, the misfits, those who desired to be more than a ‘big fish in a small pond’.

Fishermen, who had trouble catching fish. A despised tax collector. A zealot who advocated the overthrow of their Roman oppressors. Every day people who were hungry to know God better. Who, in time, were emboldened to act by the Holy Spirit and proclaim God’s concern and care for the poor and powerless in society.

And they were able to make a difference in the lives of the people they touched.

That challenge remains ours today.

Jesus’ commissioned us all to “Go. Preach, teach and baptize.” Not just for the apostles (modern day priests, bishops, etc.), or the seven deacons (who were waiting at tables), but to all the baptized. The born and future born.

This was affirmed fifty years ago in the Second Vatican Council document, Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (published in 1965) and reiterated this last year in the document on the New Evangelization.

Even the document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” published by our U.S. Bishops, stresses the need for people of faith to engage in the political process in order to provide a moral dimension to issues and laws affecting them and the ‘common good’ of all.

Often times, these ‘life’ issues (abortion, euthanasia, death penalty, education, immigration, housing and health care to name a few) are intentionally politicized by the politicians seeking office to divide (along party lines) rather than as a way to bring the community together and seek just and meaningful solutions.

Jesus was counter-cultural. He didn’t differentiate between the haves and the have nots. He offered the kingdom of God to all who would accept it. And the powerful rejected his message of hope and love.

Jesus calls us to action today. The message remains the same. Our elected officials are eager for our presence and our participation. So what’s to hold us back?

Let us rise out of our comfort zones (and comfy chairs) and be seen, counted and heard.

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