Catholics urged to bring their faith to the election
October 15, 2020
There’s more to voting than penciling in little ovals on a ballot.
For Catholics especially, it’s a solemn duty.
Faithful Catholic citizens are to be educated on issues and candidates, make decisions prayerfully and based on well-formed consciences, and are called to vote with the heart and mind of Jesus, to help bring about his Kingdom.
That’s according to the U.S. bishops, including Archbishop George J. Lucas, as well as other local Catholic leaders.
Catholics – particularly lay Catholics – have a role “in shaping the institutions, the policies, the customs of our nation,” Archbishop Lucas said in a podcast on faithful citizenship, recorded for the occasion of Independence Day.
“We together can … help shape the society, shape the common good, shape our country, the direction of the future of our country, in a way that will mirror more completely God’s plan for the human family and God’s designs for how we live and work – and we hope – prosper together here.”
Faith should be central to voting and citizenship, said Tom Venzor, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC), which represents the public policy interests of the three Catholic dioceses in the state.
“Faithful citizenship, what it really means, is how we, as Catholics, are going to vote with the heart and mind of Jesus Christ,” Venzor said. “It’s really about us taking our informed understanding of our faith to the ballot box, to the public square, to the state Capitol, to Washington, D.C. It’s about taking our faith and applying it in the political sphere.”
Deacon Omar Gutiérrez, president and co-founder of the Evangelium Institute and the archdiocesan director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, said being a faithful citizen involves voting, but also prayer and engaging with others, including political leaders.
The Catholic Church teaches that its members have a moral obligation to advance the common good, he said, and that includes being involved in the political process.
“The poor need to be served and the vulnerable protected,” Deacon Gutiérrez said.
God builds into each person an instinctive ability to understand the difference between right and wrong, Archbishop Lucas said in his July podcast. People are to go further, though, taking the teachings of the Gospel and of the Church and using them to “shape our own lives, our own thinking, our choices, according to the plan of God, as well as we can understand it.”
Cullen Herout – a pro-life, pro-family writer, radio host and speaker – said that to “follow our conscience” can be misunderstood.
“That remains true insofar as our conscience is formed well,” he said. “But a poorly formed conscience ought not be followed.
“One of the easiest ways to tell if a conscience is well-formed is by examining whether our beliefs or any action … is aligned with God’s law or contrary to God’s law,” he said through email.
The Catholic Church has a lot of resources to help inform voters’ minds and shape their consciences.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has an updated version of its document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”
The NCC puts out an election guide and guidance on issues like abortion, religious liberty, marriage and family, poverty, immigration, health care and more. Those resources can be found at necatholic.org/be-an-advocate/resources/faithful-citizenship.html.
Information also is available on the archdiocesan website, archomaha.org/faithful-citizenship/.
Other helpful information can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Catholic Voice, on Catholic radio programs, videos, podcasts and websites. And the Evangelium Institute offers classes in moral theology that also can help form consciences for the long term, Deacon Gutiérrez said.
People who might be struggling to understand Church teaching on an issue can also turn to a priest, an archdiocesan official or a well-formed Catholic friend, said Venzor.
“The challenge is we’ve got to take the time intentionally to form our consciences so that we’re prepared to be faithful citizens,” he said. People have busy schedules, but he invites them to spend any available moments “to get the right formation to be a faithful citizen.”
ROLE OF THE LAITY
Bishops, priests and deacons have an obligation to teach faith and morals, Venzor said, but lay people have the primary obligation to bring the faith out into the world, including the political sphere.
“That doesn’t mean that the Church and the bishops and the clergy don’t have a role in that sphere,” he said. They should talk about issues that impact political life, he said, though they are not allowed to endorse particular candidates or political parties. Mostly it’s the laity who are called to be “prophetic voices on matters of principle, faith and morals” in talking with friends, family, co-workers and political leaders.
“As lay Catholics, Christ has empowered us by our baptism to be a disciple, to be a priest, prophet and a king,’’ Venzor said. “And so we have the ability, we have the power, given to us by Christ … to speak truth in the world, to engage with the world in a way that fills it with truth and peace and love.”
When Mass ends, lay people are sent out to bring Christ to the world, including through the democratic process, Deacon Gutiérrez said. Traditionally, religious leaders have helped to provide guidance for lay people. Pastors, in fact, have an obligation to help form consciences, he said.
PRIORITIZING THE ABORTION ISSUE
U.S. Catholic bishops have said abortion is the preeminent issue for Catholic voters.
Catholics cannot ignore any serious threat to human life and dignity, such as poverty, the death penalty, environmental issues or racism, the U.S. Bishops wrote in the introductory letter to “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”
But “the threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.”
Some have objected to giving abortion such a voting priority, but Bishop Joseph G. Hanefeldt of Grand Island has pushed back.
“Abortion is a direct attack on human life, and its permanence in our culture is destroying our society,” he wrote in an Oct. 1 statement for Respect Life month.
“While Catholics debate where abortion should be ranked in the hierarchy of issues, there is NO dispute among those who oppose God’s design for marriage and family life,” he wrote.
“Abortion is THE preeminent non-negotiable issue for those in this country who are attacking traditional family values. If you do not think it should be the Church’s preeminent priority, watch what proponents of abortion on demand will do to ensure that this evil never goes away!”
Supporting candidates who “prioritize unlimited, unregulated taxpayer funded abortion on demand” because “one agrees with them on other issues is to disregard the deepest flaw of moral character: the willful affront to the sovereignty of God as the Lord and giver of life,” the bishop said.
“Abortion is so essential to the agenda of those who oppose traditional family values that they force taxpayers to pay for this evil act, which is an affront to their religious liberty. This is anything but the just ordering of society!”
Faithful Catholic citizens help build a culture of life by keeping “our identity as sons and daughters of God at the forefront of our conversations and at the forefront of our minds in our decision-making,” Herout said. “By keeping this truth front and center, we can ensure that we are always mindful of the dignity and sanctity of each human life.”
Prayer is indispensable to the Christian life, Venzor said, and “an authentic prayer life will necessarily flow into being engaged in politics, as well as many other things, whether that’s charitable works or fulfilling the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. But one of the places that certainly prayer will flow into is the political world … and the beautiful responsibility and privilege to vote.”
“Sometimes we don’t associate prayer with the practical, but prayer is the most practical thing we can do,” Deacon Gutiérrez said.
Prayer puts people in a place of humility, so they can look at Scripture and Church teaching without a personal bias, but with an openness to their teachings, he said.
Lives of prayer should seep into political conversations, too, Deacon Gutiérrez said. “There’s a tendency in our political climate to condemn those we disagree with,” but charity and the goal of winning souls should prevail, he said.
“All that we undertake as faithful citizens should be oriented toward conversion of hearts and minds not for the sake of politics, but rather for the sake of salvation, said Herout. “When we see the other as an eternal soul desired by God, it becomes nearly impossible to deprive that person (of) the dignity due him or her as a child of God.”
“Our participation in politics is not an end in itself, but rather a means to spread the Gospel, protect the dignity and sanctity of all God’s children, and bring souls to Christ,” he said.