The two disciples were despondent.

The way they saw it, they had just lost a big political battle, and they were headed out of Jerusalem, fast. On the road, they told a stranger how disappointed they were with Jesus: “We had hoped that he would be the one who would redeem Israel!”

The stranger rebuked them: “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!”

Then Jesus — for that’s who the stranger turned out to be — reminded them that his mission was never about politics in the first place.

If you are feeling despondent yourself after Nov. 7 brought blow after blow to pro-life candidates and causes, it might be good to review a few lessons ...

Lesson 1: Politics isn’t everything.

Don’t get us wrong. We have always been keenly aware of how important it is to fight for just laws. But Catholics can’t make the fundamental error those Emmaus disciples made. They hoped Jesus would come and solve this world’s problems here and now.

Instead, they got the cross.

Christ didn’t become the political ruler of Israel. Instead, he invited his disciples to go back to Jerusalem on the eve of its destruction, to build the Church. Christ didn’t crush the Roman Empire like a warrior messiah. Instead, he invited his disciples to take it on from within — through martyrdom.

Anyone who thinks God will work in large part through one political party or the other for the ultimate good he has in store for us is destined to be disappointed. Politics is terribly important — it sets the rules that govern us. But capturing the hearts of the people is crucial — it decides whether or not we are able to be governed at all.

If that more important work isn’t done, it doesn’t matter what political battles are won and lost. And if it is done well, the rest will follow.

Lesson 2: Follow the Pope.

Catholics had a lot of hope in President Bush’s Republicans early on — because he seemed to put a lot of hope in Catholics. Shortly after his election, he met with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Charles Chaput, the Sisters of Life and others. He told them he planned to start a flurry of private-sector good works. He hoped helping unwed mothers would be a good precursor to anti-abortion legislation. It was a great idea.

After 9/11, that fell by the wayside, but Catholics had no objections as Bush went after the Taliban. The Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano practically gave him the thumbs up. Operation Enduring Freedom started on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

But when Bush started heading loudly toward Iraq, the Church began to object, strenuously. John Paul begged him not to send troops there, and every bishop who spoke on the subject — with a very few exceptions — agreed. But Bush didn’t stop. We went into Iraq hoping to build Democracy in a culture without respect for human rights.

Don’t get us wrong. The war was not fruitless. The troops who died there at the hands of al Qaeda truly gave their lives so that our families wouldn’t be the targets. But many Catholics felt that Bush was trading all our high hopes at home for the distant hope of democracy over there.

Catholics should be attentive to the Church when it speaks with unanimity on an important, Fifth-Commandment matter like war. It’s up to us to transmit that teaching in the world where we live, not shrug it off with the claim that it isn’t strictly “binding.”

Lesson 3: Purify yourself.

The election should cause both parties to look deep in their souls.

Democrats got into office because voters were upset about the Iraq war. But when Congress made the decision to go into Iraq, the Democrats voted almost unanimously for it. When push came to shove, their push went in the same direction as the GOP’s shove.

If the Democrats want to become a force for good in the country, they need to develop principles that are deeper than opposition to Republicans or fidelity to their favorite special interests. A good start would be to strip the draconian pro-abortion, anti-marriage language from their platform.

Republicans got into office in large part because pro-family voters trusted that they were the pro-life, pro-marriage party. We are grateful for the two additions to the Supreme Court — but why did the GOP refuse nearly everything else we asked for: the marriage amendment, more pro-life legislation, and a Senate leader who opposes clone-and-kill research?

After rooting hard for a party that ignored us, and coming up short, Catholics shouldn’t be despondent.  We should go back to Emmaus.

There we find the one whose success doesn’t depend on the whims of political parties. And his agenda won’t lose.