Last week a friend and I were watching football together and we started talking about how unprecedented of a year 2016 has been. At that moment it seemed like anything was possible—the Cubs were headed to the World Series, a feat that last happened in 1945! My friend even joked that maybe the Bears would win the Super Bowl! Well the Cubs have won the World Series, first time since 1908, and the Bears still look dubious for the Super Bowl. There are countless examples of how different this year has been, but none more so than our current presidential election. This long and winding election will finally be over and our Facebook newsfeeds will return to their usual mix of cat photos and recipe videos. During this election cycle I have often been asked by a lot of my friends what a Catholic is supposed to do. Some people have made up their minds completely independent of the magisterium of the Church, while others have decided to completely remove themselves in the process by not voting.
As faithful Catholics, participating in our electoral system requires a formation of conscience. It demands that one know and understand the different issues and the Church's teachings of various issues. It is not something that can be broken down into a simple check box format, but demands an understanding of the teachings of the Church. In response to this situation, the bishops of the United States have written a pastoral letter, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship outlining several key teachings that are important to today's political climate. We at the Catholic Apostolate Center have created a special portal dedicated to this document. I highly recommend visiting the page and exploring its various topics. Exploring these issues and positions is critical to making an informed decision. The document goes into detail regarding the very nature of Catholic involvement in our politics. This process includes a formation of oneself both as an apostle and a citizen. A few months ago, Bishop Robert W. McElroy, Bishop of San Diego, wrote about this formation. Saying "It is for this reason that the central foundation for an ethic of discipleship in voting for the Catholic community in the United States today lies not in the embrace of any one issue or set of issues but rather in a process of spiritual and moral conversion about the very nature of politics itself."
The other common thing I hear from some people is that "so many people vote, mine can’t possibly matter." These individuals are choosing not to participate in their right to vote as a citizen of this country. Everyone has that right to not participate, but before making this decision there are things to consider. One should remember that the Church encourages our participation. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington expanded on this further last week in a column in The Catholic Standard discussing Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship "Civic participation is not a simple task for faithful citizens It requires a willingness to listen to Catholic social teaching, and then conscientiously apply it to the political sphere. We must pray for guidance in our civic choices so as to uphold the dignity of all life and the common good. We must learn about the issues and where candidates stand. We must vote in recognition of the important contribution that every voice makes on Election Day, and we must remain engaged to build a civilization of justice, peace and caring for one another.
Tonight, we should know the results of the election and a portion of the country will be disappointed. Whoever is elected will have the enormous task of unifying this country and moving forward. That task will not be an easy one, but is possible. One only needs to look at the example Pope Francis gave last week in Sweden. He traveled there to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and spoke of the hope for reconciliation between Catholics and Lutherans: “We have the opportunity to mend a critical moment of our history by moving beyond the controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another.” Catholics in the United States are also called to similarly work hard to build bridges to our neighbors. I have no doubt that this country will unify but it will take understanding, prayer, and time.
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 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.