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Most people probably wish they could flip on the television this week and next without having to see or hear anything about national political conventions. But I love this stuff. The pageantry, well-rehearsed rhetoric, and appeals to the virtues of the common that which epitomize our electoral process always make me feel good about being an American.
For me, that's a big deal. When I was a kid nobody was proud of our country. I'm pretty sure it was the aggregate effect of the nightly news Vietnam body counts, and the Watergate scandal. The first time I saw genuine patriotism, I was in my twenties.
It's easy to be cynical about politics, because political answers just aren't deep enough for the questions we have and ask. But whether the room is filled with Republicans or Democrats, conventions have the potential to do more than take up all the primetime slots. They aren't just a week long string of wine and dine events for party delegates from you-name-it or never-heard-of-it, USA. Conventions are meant to accomplish something. They have a purpose.
Political parties gather their members for several reasons. Together they hammer out a platform that articulates shared values and beliefs. Together they celebrate those beliefs, and choose candidates who will work to implement those values. They listen to speakers who shape the coming debate by defining challenges against a backdrop of images that inspire and motivate people to face them. And they come together to both forge and express the unity they will need to reach out and carry their message forward.
If you take away the smoke and mirrors, the media hype, the red and blue balloons, patriotic pride, and the political goals and processes, what happens at a national party convention begins to look strangely familiar. Unity, shared values, and mission are not foreign to the Church of Jesus Christ. We are all about the message, all about values, all about mission, and all about a unity so deep it can be only be called communion.
People will leave Tampa and Charlotte motivated and prepared to spread their perspectives and ideas with anyone who will listen. They will knock on doors, hold signs, make telephone calls and take donations. They will show up at rallies and write letters to the editor. They will get excited and stay informed, and they will vote.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we Catholics could spread our faith with that much willingness and dedication? Wouldn't it be amazing to see -- and be -- the Church awake and on fire with a zeal for the salvation of the whole world? Our message is so much more significant than a party platform ever could be. Every earthly leader pales in the glory of our Risen King. Our unity with him and in him answers the longing of every human heart.
Even with the talk of a "new evangelization," many would doubt that anything like this could ever happen. I wonder how it could not. When we gather in the presence of Jesus, we are empowered by the Word of God and encouraged by the testimony of those whose lives witness to the salvation they have found in him. Our hearts are set aflame with passion for the truth. Our faith is awakened to its deepest purpose. And our feet are ready to take the road, to the cross and beyond.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.