In the shadow of last week’s election we are reminded that our citizenship does not exist in a vacuum of universal or unwavering agreement on social issues. Instead, we are empowered to raise our voices in opposition of or in agreement to any trending issue. You may be partisan, or not; controversial, or not; patriotic, or not. As Catholics, we are empowered to exist from a platform of universal participation in the human experience. We are reminded and called to be a Church of faith in action
As Catholics we are given the gift of grace while at the same time inheriting the responsibility of caring for one another. Each day our lives are filled with many people, but how many of these people that surround us do we love fully? Can we say that we are truly pursing love with depth that Christ has given us? The Catechism of the Catholic Church
challenges us that, "To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren" (no. 1397). This week, as we find ourselves in the midst of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week, we are challenged to rekindle this charity that Christ models for us in the Paschal Mystery.
Our inheritance in the kingdom of God and our lineage among the community of saints ask us to live charity in all that we do. But, I find myself asking, how can any one person love so completely, tirelessly, and compassionately? How can anyone ask this of an impatient waitress-social worker-jogger-cat owner-caffeine dependent- graduate student? As an individual, I cannot love like that. In the past day alone, I have acted without love more times than I am willing to admit. Why do I act so constantly without the intensity of love I was born to fulfill? First, I should drink less coffee: it agitates me and makes me much less loving. But second, we cannot alone achieve this life of charity.
The Bishops remind us that, “Our commitment to the Catholic social mission must be rooted in and strengthened by our spiritual lives. In our relationship with God we experience the conversion of heart that is necessary to truly love one another as God has loved us.”
God asks all of us to love with unending depth. It is only through working with one another, serving one another and celebrating one another that we may live and love in the depths for which we have been so created. With this great love, we will share our human experience. It is then that we will doubtlessly uncover the answers to our growing social inequities and ideological rifts and discover the underlying nature that connects us all.
This week as we join with our nation to raise awareness of those most marginalized, let us rekindle charity and come to know Christ in our most vulnerable brothers and sisters. May we strengthening our spiritual lives in hopes of having a conversion of heart and begin to truly love another as God loves us. Samantha Alves is working toward a M.S.W. at Boston College and currently works for the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.
Decisions made in the voting booth are deeply personal and reflect a combination of our experiences and beliefs. And as Catholic American citizens, now is a critical time. The outcome of the presidential election will have far-reaching consequences and it is our responsibility to seriously consider our choice of leaders and policies that will guide our nation and our state.
Catholic voters are once again caught between their desire to participate in civic life and the choice of candidates for elected office falls short of a vision of the common good as rich and full as Catholic social teaching presents. Consequently, many have become subject to the mentality that being Catholic and politically active are incompatible. But this is not so. Catholics are called to understand and accept the Church’s teaching as a means of becoming more engaged in political life. It may be challenging, but it is something we have to
At an address this past month, Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia said, “We believe in the separation of Church and State, but that is not the same thing as separation between faith and politics. Faith is what we believe, politics is how we act.” He advised Catholics to “apply the principles of Catholic social teaching – such as the common good and subsidiarity”, to their voting decisions. We have the duty as citizens to participate in our own governments for the sake of the common good. By not doing so, we abandon the political process and risk unjust laws being formed. Poorly formed legislation and leadership may come about anyway, but it should not come about as the result of Catholics disregarding the process. Casting an informed vote is one of the best things we as Catholic citizens can do for our country.
It is the duty of citizens to contribute – along with the civil authorities – to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity and freedom. “The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity" (CCC 2239).
And so as Catholic citizens, we enlighten and develop our consciences as citizens in accordance with the principles of Catholic Social Teaching
. One straightforward and immediate way Catholic voters can make a meaningful contribution to public discourse is to draw the larger public’s attention to issues that are essential to Catholic social thought. The most essential of these is the dignity of every human person and each one’s basic right to life from conception to natural death. Respect for human dignity has an essential role in the respect of all human life, especially the fundamental right to life. It is a natural principle that is supported by our beliefs; it is our faith, as His Holiness states in Porta Fidei
, that “opens our eyes to human life in all its grandeur and beauty.”
As Catholic voters, we have to see ourselves as bridge builders. According to Bishop Richard Pates
of Des Moines, Iowa, and Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace for the USCCB, “The Catholic vision is one of collaboration, not coercion, among individuals, governments, businesses and other institutions.” Voting in this election is not based on profit or having a winning ideology. Our “Catholic vision” is one that creates an environment in which all
people can develop and ultimately flourish.
Along with tens of millions of fellow citizens, I urge you, Catholic voters, to cast your ballot today. Commit yourself to creating conditions that fully respect the dignity God has bestowed upon all of us. Our political responsibility doesn't stop at the polls this Election Day. We must always respond to the social issues, locally and nationally, that affect the dignity in which we are all created. Sarah Morris is a senior Politics major at The Catholic University of America.
In the recent “Faithful Citizenship” lecture on the foundations of Catholic political theory, Dr. Stephen Schneck (CUA politics professor and Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies
) presented Thomism as an alternative to the radical positions held by groups at opposing ends of the ideological spectrum. While the two extremes disagree about particulars, according to Schneck, both “Ayn Rand conservatives” and “pro-choice liberals” are motivated by a “hyper-individualism,” which is in direct contradiction to the social teaching of the Church. If we are to believe Dr. Schneck’s premise, it seems that faithful Christians are left between a rock and a hard place in the current political landscape. Thankfully, the political philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas offers Christians an authentic alternative.
Synthesizing ecclesiology and political philosophy, St. Thomas understood the nature of a political community as being deeply Christological. Drawing from St. Paul’s imagery, St. Thomas perceived the political community as a reflection of the Mystical Body of Christ: “For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ
and individually parts of one another” (Romans 12:3-5). This image of a political community as a corporate whole is in stark contrast to the Lockean image of a group of individuals that is held together solely by an externally imposed contract, rather than internal unity. The Thomistic political community is held together by solidarity among its members, a unitive desire for the wellbeing of the whole, rather than individual self-interest. In Thomistic philosophy, the object of this desire is referred to as the commonweal
, or the common good.
But why place more importance on the common good than individual goods? Because, as Aristotle said and St. Thomas affirmed, we are political and social beings; the meaning of our lives transcends beyond who we are as individuals. As John Donne observed in his oft-cited Meditation XVII, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
After Dr. Schneck had concluded his lecture, a question-and-answer session followed. A young woman from the back of the lecture hall politely asked, “What can we do as individuals
to combat the pervasiveness of hyper-individualism in our society?” Ironically, this question demonstrates what is at the root of the problem of hyper-individualism: we cannot cease thinking of ourselves primarily as individuals! This shift in thinking does not mean that we must give up our own individual rights; to the contrary, our solidarity with one another should engender a greater appreciation for the individual rights of a group’s collective members. In fact, it is our individual freedoms that allow us to choose how we prioritize our actions and intentions. Through our individual liberties, we are given the opportunity to look and act beyond ourselves.
During this Easter Season, may we all be reminded that through our baptism and as members of Christ’s Body, we have truly been raised with Him! (cf. Ephesians 2:6) In order to more fully participate in God’s divine economy – i.e. His comprehensive plan for Creation – may we “not think of [ourselves] more highly than [we] ought to think” (Romans 12:3), but instead humbly unite ourselves to our fellow members in the One Body of Christ. Brett Garland is the Program Development Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
A major contention that many people – both young and old – have with the Church is that it is an institution of “Thou Shalt Nots” and other moral imperatives that have little or no relevance in the modern world. In essence, the Church is seen as little more than an outdated social services agency, or even worse, a dismal and ahistorical museum perpetuating a false sense of reality. This emerging perception of the Church parallels a larger cultural shift from the acceptance of objective truth toward a secular relativism.
In a recent address
to a group of U.S. bishops in Rome for their ad limina
visit, Pope Benedict XVI proposed that the Church’s response to this “eroded” perception of reality is one of the greatest “spiritual and cultural challenges of the new evangelization.” Because of the Catholic Apostolate Center’s commitment to being an instrument of the new evangelization, this bears much significance on the direction of our work. But what impact does – or should –
this emerging situation have on our daily lives?
In the words of the Holy Father, “the Church in the United States is called, in season and out of season, to proclaim a Gospel which not only proposes unchanging moral truths but proposes them precisely as the key to human happiness and social prospering”. As Catholics, we are called to uphold the perceptive vision of reality that has been gifted to us by the Holy Spirit through Divine Revelation. It is only through upholding this vision that we can ever hope to accurately understand our place in the world around us and “the deepest truth about our being and ultimate vocation, our relationship to God.”
As Catholics, we are beneficiaries of an astonishing intellectual legacy that was developed over the course of two millennia by scholars who examined these mysteries through the complimentary lenses of faith and reason. Contrary to popular opinion, the Church’s moral teaching is not merely a hodge-podge of archaic prohibitions, but a doctrine that is congruent with the logical nature of reality and informed by Divine Revelation. As the Pope explained in his address, the moral teaching of the Church “is not a threat to our freedom, but rather a ‘language’ which enables us to understand ourselves and the truth of our being, and so to shape a more just and humane world. She thus proposes her moral teaching as a message not of constraint but of liberation, and as the basis for building a secure future.”
If we are to succeed in being apostles of the New Evangelization, then one of our most critical objectives should be to proclaim the beauty, consistency, and relevance of the Church’s moral teaching, without which we would be left with an incomplete view of our own humanity. Informed by this teaching, it is also important that we serve as prophets in the public sphere of these truths. As Pope Benedict XVI emphasized, “it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres.” Even more pertinent to the work of the Catholic Apostolate Center, the Holy Father went on to say that “the preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a primary task of the Church in your country; as essential components of the new evangelization, these concerns must shape the vision and goals of catechetical programs at every level.”
Blessed John XXIII was once quoted as saying the following: “We are not on earth to guard a museum, but to cultivate a flourishing garden of life.” The New Evangelization is not concerned with re-presenting a forgotten memory from the past, but with re-proposing the living and eternal truth of Jesus Christ that continues to sustain His Church. The Church’s moral teaching is just one part of this truth, but as the Holy Father makes clear, it is an essential part to humanity’s self-understanding. Brett Garland is the Program Development Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
Audio of the Holy Father’s address available here.CNS Report about the Holy Father's address.