Considering the topic of his lecture on American citizenship – specifically faithful citizenship – it is important to note that Cardinal McCarrick had a key role in developing the USSCB document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” In his lecture, His Eminence led us on a journey to discovering what “faithful citizenship” is and how we can live our lives as faithful Catholics and faithful citizens.
Since the 1960s, our culture has been marked by questioning and doubt of authority. The authority of both the Church and the State continue to be questioned as people begin to wonder: What is real necessity? What is real authority? And this attack on authority also extends to an attack on the family and why it exists as the model for all families. In some ways I believe this culture of questioning can be good for our generation – we are quick to identify what is false and reject it. This calls us as people of faith to constant renewal because if we are not living our faith authentically then we are seen as hypocrites.
We must ask: is there a common standard that tells us who we should be and how we should form our consciences? As Christians, we believe that the Gospel is our standard; it should be our guide and the measure for our lives. The Cardinal points out that the Gospel leads to civil society and serves the common good with the “do unto others” mentality. Jesus calls us to love our neighbor because our neighbor is made in the image and likeness of God. This is why the Church argues strongly against abortion and for the right to life, because how can any other right be protected if one has no right to be alive? Cardinal McCarrick said, “You cannot be authentically Catholic unless you are pro-life, but being pro-life is not enough to make you authentically Catholic.” Being pro-life means valuing all the lives of all our fellow human beings: the unborn, the worker, the prisoner, the immigrant, and we must uphold the “life and dignity of every human person.”
We must form our individual consciences by the Gospel and the teachings of the church in order to make decisions in the course of our lives. The USCCB’s document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” provides resources for this formation. Cardinal McCarrick emphasized that having a well-formed conscience is freeing. It provides freedom to know who you are, where you are going, and what God wants you to do.
The challenge for us voting Catholics is that there is no political party or politician that will be with us on every issue, and in saying this the Cardinal emphasized that we shouldn’t be bound to a specific group anyway. This comment reminded me of St. Paul’s comment in his letter to the Philippians that our citizenship is not on earth but in heaven. As dual citizens, we are called to develop our consciences and vote with them so that our Father’s “will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”
Our religious liberty protects our rights of conscience against government intrusion. Cardinal McCarrick remarked, “You should never allow a government to define religion. It doesn’t work” because they don’t do it logically, but according to their own desire. This is why the HHS mandate is an issue of religious freedom, because the government would seek to define a religious employer as one who primarily hires and serves its own people. Our Church is the largest provider, after government, of charitable service in the U.S., but this regulation would require the Church to ask “are you Catholic” before healing the sick, feeding the hungry, or clothing the naked. Such a requirement is unconscionable.
So where do we go from here? I pray that reflecting on Cardinal McCarrick’s words and through the guidance of the USCCB’s document, we may all grow to become better citizens and better people of faith. The Cardinal emphasized that “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” is not only a political document but a moral document which can help us understand the Church’s teachings on how to care for the elderly, for the sick, for the poor, for the marginalized, and for each other. With a fuller understanding of Catholic social teaching and developed consciences, we can see through the errors in partisan platforms and seek to bring about a culture of life as faithful citizens of this great nation.
Nick Wagman is the Project Management & IT Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center.