Recently, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be a human person. What began as a key theme of theology discussed in one of the graduate courses I teach, this has become something that has stayed on my mind during this particularly divisive electoral season. The way that some people talk about others—and one thinks of demeaning and sexist remarks, insults about the way people look, critical comments about others’ intelligence, deeply racist and xenophobic comments that dehumanize, and so on—makes it is hard to recognize where God fits into any of this. It is especially difficult to see where the goodness of humanity is to be found.
And yet, as a Christian in general and a Franciscan friar in particular, I am challenged to do what seems at times impossible: to recognize the inherent goodness of others, even if I cannot see it so easily and even if the other person cannot see it in themselves.
One thing that has been helpful in this regard is to remember what the great 20th-century theologian Karl Rahner, SJ, taught us about the starting point for any theological reflection. Namely, that each and every woman, man, and child is created capax Dei—that is, each person has the capacity for God. Simply put, we are all made for God.
God created all human persons with the ability to enter into relationship with God by “saying yes” to God’s invitation of relationship. The way we “say yes” to God does not always take place in terms of verbal affirmation. Sometimes, in fact, most times, our affirmation of God takes place by our deeds or actions. We affirm God’s relationship with us when we, as Jesus said in John’s Gospel, do the will of the Father and follow in the footprints of Jesus Christ.
But many times instead of “saying yes” to God, we simply say “no!”
Saint Augustine in the fourth century wrote about this, speaking as he often did from his own experience about disordered loves. Instead of loving God and other people properly as the end of our affections, we find ourselves loving things, power, money, status, and the like. This prioritization of lesser goods as the primary objects of our love leads us to “say no” to God in order to “say yes” to the passing things of this world.
Thinking about this great gift of freedom we have been given by God to choose God or refuse God for something else, I am reminded that we all “say no” to God at various points in our lives. The fact that all human persons experience sin does not justify the sinful actions that comes with disordered loving and selfish behavior. But such awareness can serve to remind me that even as some choose something other than God, we always have the opportunity to turn back to God. The capacity for God, the fact that we are always already made for God, never goes away.
During these last days of the election cycle, as the post-election transitions quickly approach, let us remember that all politicians and the whole electorate are made for God and despite the temptation to demonize, dismiss, or reject others, we should encourage one another in love and trust. As Saint Paul writes to the early Christian community of Rome, we should “pursue what leads to peace and build one another up” (Rom 14:19) rather than pursuing selfishness, acting out of fear, and tearing one another down.
Our responsibility as sisters and brothers to one another in Christ is to support one another in living out that relationship with God by “saying yes” with our whole lives, reminding each other that we are all made for God.