These reflections always start unfolding in my head before spilling onto the laptop screen. For this one, I intended this first paragraph to introduce my desire that before Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and any other politician shared all their plans for governing, they would share some details of their Christian faith lives. Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton are the most prominent faces in American politics right now. Both have said they believe Jesus is who he claimed to be in the Bible.
I would like to hear more than that.
If they love Jesus, I would like to hear them say so. If they have ideas that are born directly from things Christ taught, I would like to hear which ones and how they are linked. And if they have ideas that conflict with some of His Good News teachings – which we all know they do – I would like to hear honest explanations, and not the whole “separation of church and state” cop-out.
I was going to write that truly devoted Christians build their lives and consciences on their beliefs. That should include politicians, lawmakers and policy-setters. When I read Scriptures, I don’t find any “exception clauses” for those men and women.
I was going to write that people of faith should desire a genuine relationship with Jesus, which should motivate such men and women to have a devotion to prayer. I was going to write that from all our leaders – presidential candidates and Congressmen, CEOs and teachers, parents and doctors and all professionals – I would like to hear that the top priority in their lives on this earth isn’t winning office or maximizing profits or making America great again or rewriting history or giving the next generation a better life than the last generation. All those are fine things, wonderful motivators for the ambitious. But I don’t want to hear that as the No. 1 personal priority for those women and men.
I would like to hear certain specific words, just once, from Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump and the others who wield such influence over the lives of so many people. I would like, just once, to hear them say the greatest purpose of their lives is to humbly imitate Jesus, to serve and not count the cost, to give without seeking any return.
I would like to hear someone say nothing – nothing! — is more important than them getting to spend eternal life in heaven.
I have heard many people in my life say that is their overriding desire. I like to think I share that desire. We don’t profess that 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in every conversation with every person we encounter. But we aren’t shy to share our faith and love for Christ when asked. That’s different from many politicians, especially our leading 2016 presidential candidates.
I went Googling for information about the faith lives of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump. Most prominently in that search, I found plenty of commentary about how both of them rarely discuss what they believe about God and what role their faith plays in their daily lives.
Donald Trump has told several reporters that he is a “believer” in Jesus Christ. The specifics of his church affiliation seem to change occasionally, but he generally says he is Presbyterian, that he goes to church every Sunday that he can and never misses on Christmas and Easter. If he’s being honest, then that makes Trump a more regular church-goer than most Americans who label themselves Christian.
However, there is this from an interview with CNN:
When asked about whether he has asked God for forgiveness, Trump said: “I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so. … I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”
For her part, Mrs. Clinton is on record as saying “I am a Christian. I am a Methodist.” She told an Iowa audience that she regularly prays for people by name who are going through tough times. She shared that she has studied the Bible throughout her life and frequently has discussed her convictions “with other people of faith.”
“I pray for the will of God to be known so that we can know it and to the best of our limited ability try to follow it and fulfill it,” Clinton said. Elsewhere, she is quoted as saying “there are many different ways of exercising your faith.”
When this reflection was incubating in my head, I was ready to follow the discussion of Trump and Clinton’s faith claims with criticism. Clinton said she prays on a regular basis daily. How is it that God tells her to exercise her faith by supporting the killing of unborn children, that she hears God’s will one way and so many of us hear it a different way? And never asking God’s forgiveness? Mr. Trump, I’m fairly certain that a big part of the reason Jesus, the Son of God, was born into human history was to offer forgiveness to anyone willing to accept it.
I was prepared to construct this reflection on one important suggestion for Clinton and Trump:
Build your day around prayer and worship.
For a Catholic, that probably should entail Sunday Mass every week and weekday Mass almost every day. Beyond that, a truly devoted Catholic man and woman probably also should have dedicated daily time for prayer throughout the day as well as an examination of conscience at night.
I want a President of the United States who does that. Really, wouldn’t you feel more confident with a leader who based his or her decisions not on a religion but on their friendship with Jesus?
The more I thought about it, though, I realized I can’t criticize Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump or anyone else for anything involving their Christian beliefs and practice of their faith. I can’t judge them in this area. Jesus said so.
“Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)
I’m probably as guilty as they are of fitting my spiritual life into my day rather than building my days around my Catholic Christian devotion. Oh, I’m getting better at it. But I’m not there yet. And I’m fairly certain most Catholics I know aren’t there yet, either. Our reason – our excuse – is fairly common: We’re just too busy. I’m sure that’s what many of our corporate and political leaders would cite as their most challenging roadblock.
Too busy? Um, well, Pope Francis is a fairly busy man, I imagine. And yet … he rises daily about 4:30 in the morning, prays immediately, then meditates on some Scripture reading and prepares his homily for that day’s Mass. He celebrates that Mass at 7 a.m. The rest of his day, filled with audiences and meetings and a variety of other work, also provides time to pray the Rosary and spend up to an hour at Eucharistic adoration. A bit of trivia: Pope Francis hasn’t watched TV since 1990 and spends only about 10 minutes daily reading a newspaper.
What is the difference between me and Pope Francis? What is the difference between many of our corporate executives, politicians and other key leaders in relation to Pope Francis? Let me acknowledge there are many, many differences. But perhaps the most important is that Pope Francis appears to have surrendered his entire life to God.
If you’re interested in building your life around your faith life and not around all the “busy-ness” that currently fills almost all your time, then perhaps you would benefit from this prayer, written anonymously and posted at www.spiritualdirection.com. (Oh, and if you happen to know Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump, someone else running for public office or a corporate leader who might benefit from surrendering in this way, feel free to pass it along.)
I surrender to you today with all my heart and soul. Please come into my heart in a deeper way. I say, “Yes” to you today. I open all the secret places of my heart to you and say, “Come on in.” Jesus, you are the Lord of my whole life. I believe in you and receive you as my Lord and Savior. I hold nothing back.
Holy Spirit, bring me to a deeper conversion to the person of Jesus Christ. I surrender all to you: my time, my treasures, my talents, my health, my family, my resources, my work, relationships, time management, successes and failures. I release it and let it go.
I surrender my understanding of how things “ought” to be, my choices and my will. I surrender to you the promises I have kept and the promises I have failed to keep. I surrender my weaknesses and strengths to you. I surrender my emotions, my fears, my insecurities, my sexuality.
Lord, I surrender my whole life to you, the past, the present, and the future. In sickness and in health, in life and in death, I belong to you. Amen.