By Stephen P. White. Missouri: Liguori Publications, 2016. 96 pages. Paperback $9.99, at both Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Every four years, Americans are reminded of a great gift that we have been given, namely, the right to choose those who will represent us at the highest levels of government. This is never a privilege to be taken lightly; I still remember, as a young child, my grandfather, who was a first generation American and a veteran of World War I, reminding everyone he met on Election Day that it was not only their right, but their sacred duty to "get out and vote."
In addition to being Americans, nearly 70 million of us are also Catholic, or identify as Catholic. Even taking into account those who are not yet old enough to cast a ballot, that's a substantial percentage of the electorate, about 32 million or one quarter of the voters in the 2012 election; the question is, does being a Catholic have any bearing on who we vote for and how we live out our other responsibilities as American citizens?
In his new book, "Red, White, Blue and Catholic," Stephen White explores these questions. Though not a very long read – it is only 96 pages of actual text – he manages to hit enough high points to engage the reader in some very probing self-analysis. And although he certainly talks about presidential politics, he reminds us that we are citizens every day of the year, not just on the "first Tuesday following the first Monday of November" in even-numbered years.
Anyone looking for a simple "checklist" of who and what to consider in the voting booth will have to wait until the last chapter – number six – for a summary of that information. In the first chapter, White outlines the Catholic understanding of both politics and civil society; "[T]he four permanent principles of Catholic social teaching [are] dignity of the human person, solidarity, subsidiarity, and the common good" he says. It is crucial that he begins here because without the cohesion provided by this discussion, all the rest could simply be a series of potentially disjointed issues. Once that foundation has been laid, he goes on to discuss things like marriage and family, truth (as opposed to relativism), economics, and finally freedom and the law.
Throughout the book, White emphasizes that we cannot simply be bystanders to this process of representative government; we must, as both citizens and as Catholics, be active participants at every level of society. "In the United States today," he says, "we often blame our social ills on our laws and our politicians. Although they are far from being blameless, we must not shy away from taking a hard look at ourselves to understand the real challenges facing our nation. We need virtuoso citizens. In Christian terms, we need disciples. More than that, we need citizen saints."
Although his approach is not complex or opaque, Stephen White's book is never-the-less not a quick and easy browse – rather, it will cause the reader to slow down, reread passages (and even whole pages), highlight text and underline and jot questions in the margin, and that is perhaps its greatest strength. To be fully appreciated, it's going to demand a little work. By the last page, not only will voting become (hopefully) a more thoughtful process for the reader, but the whole way we conduct ourselves as Catholic Americans will take on new meaning and new importance. As White says at the end, "There is nothing we can do to better serve and defend our democracy than to live every single day as good and faithful Catholics."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephen P. White is a fellow in the Catholic Studies Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D. C. A graduate of the St. Patrick's Evangelization School in London, England, he studied politics at the University of Dallas and philosophy at the Catholic University of America.
White's work focuses on applying Catholic social teaching to a wide spectrum of contemporary political and cultural issues. A regular contributor to CatholicVote.org, his work has also appeared in the National Review Online, Magnificat, the Catholic Herald (UK), TheCatholicThing.org and FirstThings.org.
Since 2005, White has been coordinator of the Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society, a three-week seminar on Catholic social teaching, which takes place in Krakow, Poland, and places emphasis on the thought of St. John Paul II.
"This book 'Red, White, Blue and Catholic' is written out of love for both Church and country," he says in his introduction. "This is a book written to argue and defend what it presumes at the outset: that being a good citizen is an integral part of Christian discipleship and that the greatest contribution we can make as citizens is to live our Catholic faith wholeheartedly and without reserve.'