When a housefly landed on the pate of Vice President Pence during his debate with Senator Harris earlier this week, people seemed more interested in it than the exchange of ideas that was otherwise taking place on stage that evening. Attracted to hair product, it seemed content to linger as a symbol of the sad political state our nation finds itself in this election cycle.
William Goldings’ 1954 classic, Lord of the Flies, tells the story of boys who get stranded on a deserted island. Their interactions, that begin as games, develop into fierce battles as they discover the frightful reality of self-governance. Some try to remain individuals, but they eventually get sucked into opposing camps that illustrate the worst side of groupthink and dark aspects of social sin. Some of them try to remain moral, but eventually fall to immoral actions as neurosis overtakes emotional stability and negative impulse overpowers rational thought. The head of a dead pig attracting a swarm of flies becomes the symbol of their demise as they fall from grace and from the innocence of their childhood.
I hope our nation is not now in a similar position as each side of the political spectrum convicts the other of manifesting the prince of darkness and lord of lies. Though we are all children created in the image of God who seek to dignify the sanctity of life, many Catholics follow a similar polarizing pattern to that which unfolded on the island. Some are convinced that President Trump is the most pro-life president in the history of democracy while others point to a grading scales that shows former Vice President Biden outscoring him 10-1 on life issues. Every four years bishops, as spiritual fathers to us children, put out statements encouraging Catholics to vote according to conscience and offering their guidance to help us do so; and every four years they get immediate pushback from well-informed Catholics who challenge their thinking, if those bishops favor one side over the other. It’s a dangerous game for all.
Like many priests—probably most—I hear sad stories from good-willed parishioners who are sickened by the politics but, often, are entrenched themselves. Some wonder how a Catholic leader can think it’s okay to murder babies while others contend that a worse show of disrespect for life comes from one who continually insults and degrades God’s children at other stages and conditions of life. Both sides genuinely believe that the opposition represents the dark prince of lies who will lead us to doom. Since I probably cannot convince you that Trump and Biden are both persons of goodwill who make great sacrifices for the sake of this country that they love, I will, instead, offer what I present to those who contact me in hopes of expelling a demon from their life or home (real or perceived). Based on the Prayer of Exorcism at baptism, I suggest you pray that the demon gripping our political society would, likewise, be removed: “Almighty God, you sent your only Son into our world to cast out the power of Satan, spirit of evil, to rescue us from the kingdom of darkness, and bring us into the splendor of your kingdom of light. We pray that you will set us free from this current evil and send your Holy Spirit to dwell in our world.”
May the Good Lord help us, as individuals, to rise above tribal games of destruction and bless our nation to, once again, overcome the worst of ourselves and recommit to the grace of being one nation under God.