Unless one lives under a rock, we are all aware that we are in an election season. Over and over again, the media hoists our choices before us in the most negative ways possible. One pundit said, “What a choice we have: Lord and Lady Macbeth, or Ivan the Terrible!” Many see the choice in that way, unfortunately.
We have to remember that what sells papers are the fantastical aspects of human existence and those are usually negative.
But the word ‘election’ has another, theological meaning. It refers to God’s choice of someone or some people to accomplish a special mission. The classic example is the election of the Hebrews to be His Chosen People; but even though the Jews (as the Hebrews became subsequently known) were chosen by God, it all began with the choice of an individual man: Abraham. It is to his descendants that the honor and the burden went. The burden of this calling or election was humorously cited in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” when Tevye, the poor Jew living in the village of Anatevka says (in the midst of his many troubles): “I know we are the Chosen people, but once in a while couldn’t you choose someone else?”
Why does God do this? It seems so undemocratic! Everyone should get this gift of being chosen as special. Why only a select few? On what basis is the choice made, and is God being unfair in doing things this way?
When God chooses, there is always a reason for that choice which will in fact benefit everyone. God did not choose the Jewish people because He just liked them better. These nomadic desert peoples were a tough lot. God calls them “stiff necked”. God, in fact, makes a habit of choosing the weaker ones to shame the ones who think they are so strong.
The Jewish People were elected by God not to bask in being chosen, but that they may be of service to the rest of humanity; and they have given us the revelation of God and, of course, Jesus Himself, the Incarnation of God.
Within this revelation of the Torah (translated either as ‘Teaching’ or ‘Law’), God called or elected the great prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah to summon wayward Israel to her true God. These men spoke the truth in great peril of their very lives because of their election.
Once we receive Christ in the New or enlarged Dispensation or Testament, God still elects individual saints to speak the truth to a specific historical situation. In doing this we notice that there are two kinds of saints. One is the ‘local’ kind who has a specific message to a specific area of the Church. I think of the election or call of St. Katherine Drexell here in our own country to work for the education of African American and Native American Youth. She may have less import in Finland, but may still be venerated. There are some saints that are called Ecclesial in that they call the whole church by their example and witness. Such a saint was St. Francis who in his ideal of Lady Poverty mined the very essence of the Christian calling, which has a direct import in every country, not just in his native Italy.
The recent canonization of the St. Teresa of Calcutta provides a clear example of what an ecclesial saint is meant to be. God clearly elected this amazing woman to say something of the direction He wants humanity to go in the modern era. As an Albanian in an Irish congregation working in India, she highlights the centrality of the poor in the concerns of God. Her call to go into the slums with nothing but faith and her institutional expansion of the order that God founded through her says very clearly that in this global age, we will be judged by how we treat the poor. With the modern forms of communication (TV, Internet), we can no longer be ignorant of the plight of so many of our world. Our inaction in the face of all this misery is inaction in the face of the suffering of Christ. On this every one of us will be judged.
This is the real type of ‘election’ that is the most important of our time. All other ones, including the current presidential one, are little more than side shows.