It has been several months since I last wrote an article for the bulletin, but I would like to begin anew with a reflection to you on our responsibilities as Catholics in the political process, which culminates in the election of our next president and other governmental leaders on November 3rd.
Every election year I believe that the political process in this country has gotten more painful to watch and more hateful than the previous election, and this year is no exception. In my homily last week I preached on the belief that we are all created in the image and likeness of God. This is revealed to us in the creation story of Genesis. If we all truly embraced this reality in the world, there would be no more hatred, war and evil – replacing those would be love, peace and good. We would truly be living our lives globally as God’s children on earth. Praying for this is not futile – for as we hear time and again in scripture, “nothing is impossible for God.”
We have a responsibility and a privilege as Americans to participate in the political process by voting for our leaders in government. Which candidate best represents the ideal of promoting our being made in the image and likeness of God? That is the question we as Catholics are called to consider when voting.
Several years ago, the US Bishops published a document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, and they have updated it with each election cycle when necessary. This document offers US Catholics a template on how one should vote. There are certainly many voting guides, opinions, homilies, podcasts, YouTube videos and articles published that also offer opinions on how (or for whom) a Catholic should vote, but the US Bishops, our leaders in the Church, ask that we utilize their wisdom at times like these:
The political realities of our nation present us with opportunities and challenges. We are a nation founded on “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but the right to life itself is not fully protected, especially for unborn children, the terminally ill, and the elderly, the most vulnerable members of the American family. We are called to be peacemakers in a nation at war. We are a country pledged to pursue “liberty and justice for all,” but we are too often divided across lines of race, ethnicity, and economic inequality. We are a nation of immigrants, struggling to address the challenges of many new immigrants in our midst. We are a society built on the strength of our families, called to defend marriage and offer moral and economic supports for family life. We are a powerful nation in a violent world, confronting terror and trying to build a safer, more just, more peaceful world. We are an affluent society where too many live in poverty and lack health care and other necessities of life. We are part of a global community charged with being good stewards of the earth’s environment, what Pope Francis calls “our common home,” which is being threatened. These challenges are at the heart of public life and at the center of the pursuit of the common good. They are intertwined and inseparable. Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship – Part I – The U.S. Bishops’ Reflection on Catholic Teaching and Political Life # 2
Given all the realities highlighted above, it is our role as Catholic voters to cast our ballot only after forming our conscience reflecting human reason and the teaching of the Church. The US Bishops add: we bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote. Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth. We recognize that the responsibility to make choices in political life rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election. Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship – Part I – The U.S. Bishops’ Reflection on Catholic Teaching and Political Life # 5
The Church equips its members to address political and social questions by helping them to develop a well-formed conscience. Catholics have a serious and lifelong obligation to form their consciences in accord with human reason and the teaching of the Church: Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere “feeling” about what we should or should not do. Rather, conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil. Conscience always requires serious attempts to make sound moral judgments based on the truths of our faith. Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship – Part I – The U.S. Bishops’ Reflection on Catholic Teaching and Political Life # 17
It seems each election cycle is making it more and more difficult to filter through all the issues and platforms candidates espouse. Others would say, particularly on the issue of abortion that candidates are making it easier to choose. The US Bishops say the following: Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods. A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions, redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning, or racist behavior, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases, a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship – Part I – The U.S. Bishops’ Reflection on Catholic Teaching and Political Life # 34
Is it fair to vote against a political candidate over a single issue? After all, the quote above would seem to indicate that there are so many issues to sort through when determining which candidate to support, or not. The US Bishops say the following: As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet if a candidate’s position on a single issue promotes an intrinsically evil act, such as legal abortion, redefining marriage in a way that denies its essential meaning, or racist behavior, a voter may legitimately disqualify a candidate from receiving support. Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship – Part I – The U.S. Bishops’ Reflection on Catholic Teaching and Political Life # 42
I quoted heavily from “Faithful Citizenship” in this article, because the political climate is such these days, that I wanted to make clear to you all what our bishops, the leaders of our Church in this country, are teaching us, the faithful, about the responsibility of forming one’s conscience before voting for a political candidate for office. There seems to be a discouraging movement growing in our country to discard the wisdom of our leaders. Certainly the scandal of sexual abuse in the Church has contributed to this within our Church, as has the growing influence of opinions expressed by a wide variety of people on social media and other internet platforms. However, the bishops represent the teaching authority of the Church, and while we may not care for a particular bishop’s personality we must respect their office. In addition, “Faithful Citizenship” represents the collective wisdom of ALL the bishops of the United States of America, not just one local bishop. It is not to be trifled with.
There is one additional resource that you may find very helpful in forming your conscience this election cycle. It is too long to quote here but just two pages in length. As we grapple with single issue voting, particularly as it pertains to candidates who are pro-choice and pro-life, please see the addendum to “Faithful Citizenship,” by going to the USCCB website (usccb.org) clicking on “Faithful Citizenship” on the home page, then scroll down and click on “Church Teaching,” then scroll down to click on the document, “Catholics in Political Life” It is a very well done article.
Let us pray fervently these next few weeks, that God will give us the grace necessary to lead us to an informed conscience, so that we can vote for the best candidate for office which fulfills the teachings of the Catholic Church. Let us also pray for the politicians elected on November 3rd, whether we voted for them or not, that the Holy Spirit will form them into leaders of faith, justice and peace…. That they might truly recognize that the people they serve as well as themselves, are indeed created in the image and likeness of God.
May God bless you all.
To view the entire Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship document: CLICK HERE
To go to the USCCB’s Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship website: CLICK HERE