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 wrestle with.
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.