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The common good

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This year's elections were not like what we've seen in most other years. There were sharper differences between candidates than there usually are. There were also higher stakes when it came to issues and initiatives. And, there was a much more strident -- and not infrequently caustic -- tone about everything. Most of us will be happy to have the whole thing over, even if we are disheartened by some of the results. We will all try to move on, but there is something that, unfortunately, will linger.

As a nation, we are more divided than we have been in a very long time, perhaps more divided than one nation can be and remain one nation. But it is how we are divided that concerns me. Things that used to be our common ground not so long ago are now the fault lines along which we become adversaries.

Faith, volunteerism, patriotism, civic duty, personal responsibility, pride in honest work: these were values shared by everyone. Free speech, free exercise of religion, and yes, the American dream were what we knew we could count on as we looked to the future. We also knew that even if we didn't agree on politics, we could count on each other. That is now no longer the case.

Our society has changed because we have changed. The upward mobility we have relied on for our children and theirs no longer exists. And by upward mobility I don't just mean economic prosperity. I mean educational opportunity, time for family, friends, and interests, the freedom to pursue a passion or dream. In short, I mean everything that makes each of us more of who we were created to be, and more able to express who we are.

Sure, there have always been inspiring stories of people who beat the odds and overcome a host of obstacles to achieve something wonderful. But when I see a majority of children growing up in unstable and often fatherless families, when drug and alcohol abuse are epidemic, when schools get more and more money only to produce worse and worse results, and average seven year old girls think they're fat and worry about not having a "boyfriend," I wonder just how many disadvantages have to stack up before people conclude that there isn't any real hope of surmounting them. What happens to the human spirit then?

The quicksand of moral relativism is not a foundation anyone can build on, and arrogance goes before a fall. If we think the audacity to vote on things like the definition of marriage, or whose life is worth living isn't that kind of arrogance, we are fooling ourselves. We are also diminishing the lives of those who will come after us.

Moral collapse is a dangerous thing. It creates a vacuum in which people tend to embrace even more dangerous things. Civilization is largely the product and protector of shared values. When values themselves are undermined, or those who hold them are ridiculed, we become inherently less civilized. Politics is a poor substitute.

As Catholics we are called to be good and to do good. We are commissioned to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ into our world, to offer the convincing testimony of our lives, and to lead the way to communion with one another through union with God in Christ. We cannot hope to renew our country without renewing the values which made its founding possible. We cannot serve the common good when what is good is no longer common. In such a world or such a time, we must hold fast to all that we have been given, and give what we have received.

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.

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