“In 1988, our Holy Father issued his encyclical on the vocation and mission of the lay faithful. In it we were reminded that the vocation of the laity is personal sanctity. The mission of the laity is the sanctification of the world, and given the state of affairs in the world, the Pope told us ‘it is not permissible for anyone to remain idle. We are laborers in the vineyard who must work to transform the world.’ We are all called upon to evangelize popular culture.”

Thus began Kate O’Beirne in her lecture on “Why Politics Matters,” delivered at Christendom College on April 7.

O’Beirne is National Review’s Washington Editor, a regular on CNN’s Capital Gang, appears as a substitute host on CNN’s Crossfire, and is a featured contributor to CNN’s Inside Politics. She writes principally about Congress, politics, and domestic policy.

Before joining National Review, O’Beirne was vice president of government relations at the Heritage Foundation, responsible for keeping Washington policy-makers abreast of Heritage proposals and research findings in all areas of the foundation’s study, while serving as a contributing editor for the magazine. A native of New York, O’Beirne began her political career working on James Buckley’s successful U.S. Senate campaign in 1970 and later served as his staff assistant. She also worked for the New York Senate.

“A recent re-reading of the encyclical was encouraging,” said O’Beirne. “I found it ennobling. With respect to my own activities, I now realize that I am not merely arguing with thick liberals in soundbites for the benefit of people who have nothing better to do at 7pm on Saturday nights. I am actually engaging public debates – attempting to defend what’s true and just – laboring in the vineyard of the Lord!”

She spoke of a number of individuals who are making a difference in the world with their pro-life, pro-family advocacy groups. “They are not just engaging in politics – they are literally ‘keeping a watchful eye on the world’ as the Pope’s encyclical exhorted all of us to do,” she said.

Quoting William F. Buckley, Jr., O’Beirne said that “you can ignore the Great Society, but the Great Society won’t ignore you.” In short, people who lose interest in government will still have one. “This is a terribly important reminder because conservatives in particular frequently denigrate the importance of politics,” continued O’Beirne. “Whey they hear that half of the population doesn’t vote – many of them think that this reflects sound priorities. They seem to think that the citizens who aren’t paying attention to politics are doing more important things, like running businesses, creating jobs, raising families. All very important – but who is determining what kind of business environment they will face, and most importantly, who is going to impact for good or ill the environment in which they are raising children?”

She continued by explaining that everyone, including our children, are swimming in the same cultural waters. “Are we going to share a society that respects the rights of the most vulnerable among us, that respects traditional notions of right and wrong, that upholds parental prerogatives, and honors the principle of subsidiarity?” she asked.

“Politics is not just a matter of who’s up and who’s down – that merely reflects a fight over power by two political parties without a dime’s worth of difference between them. The issues that will be decided through politics include war and peace, life and death,” said O’Beirne. “Abortion policies have been so decided over the past thirty years, and now we are on the verge of the brave new world of cloning human beings. Politics will decide whether this great country will engage in the creation of human life to serve utilitarian ends.”

If ever there was a definition of working to ensure the common good, it must be to join the fight to prevent human cloning. “To ensure that on our watch – and as the Holy Father reminds us – it is our watch, we don’t witness the utter collapse of our nation into a culture of death. War and peace, the very definition of life, the defense of human dignity and religious liberty – this is the stuff of politics. It is one of the tools we are obliged to use as Catholic laymen to, as the Pope reminds us, ‘transform the world,'” concluded O’Beirne.

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