9/26/12 | 2 comments |
Bearing witness in the public square
With just 40 days until Election Day, the noise of the campaigns, ads, and political discussions are all around us. While it is certainly understandable to try to tune it out, or at least turn down the volume, as Catholics and with much at stake at this unprecedented time, we must join our voices to the debate.
The Catechism teaches that “(Christians) reside in their own nations, but as resident aliens. They participate in all things as citizens and endure all things as foreigners.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2240). And though our gaze should be fixed on the Truth of the Life, Death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, our love for Him and all His children requires us to witness to our faith. And so, my brother bishops and I have exhorted Catholics to participate fully as citizens and bring our vital insights to the public square:
Faithful citizenship calls Catholics to see civic and political responsibilities through the eyes of faith and to bring our moral convictions to public life…All believers are called to faithful citizenship, to become informed, active, and responsible participants in the political process. (Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2003).
I have said many times, that we are, first and foremost, Catholics, not Democrats, Republicans or Independents. We must utilize our Catholic identity as the prism through which our decisions are made. And while this can be at times a complicated endeavor, it is nevertheless disheartening that some seem to make decisions primarily according to a political party, and not in accord with one’s conscience, properly informed by the Church’s official teaching.
To aid you in your deliberations, our Virginia Catholic Conference has designed a very helpful resource, “Civic Responsibility: A Resource for Catholics in Virginia.” This two-sided document excerpts from a summary of the U.S. bishops’ November 2007 statement, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, and includes seven key themes of Catholic social teaching that provide a guide as Catholics ponder their role in public policy decisions. You can view or download here from the Virginia Catholic Conference website, www.vacatholic.org. I encourage you to read the document and stay connected with the Conference, which will provide additional election resources in the weeks ahead.
I have heard from a number of you over the last month that you are distressed about the actions or statements of some of our fellow Catholics and religious in the political arena. The line between constructively engaging the culture and capitulating to it may seem difficult to discern at times, but we can be thankful for the example set by Timothy Cardinal Dolan in addressing both the Republican and Democratic conventions. He was a stalwart voice for the Truth, and, most vitally, for the unborn, in Tampa and in Charlotte. In his benediction at each convention, the Cardinal revealed a pastor's heart and a distinct equality that is objective.
Sadly, the same could not be said for Sister Simone Campbell’s address three weeks ago to the delegates in Charlotte. Reflect on the following comparison as we evaluate Sister Campbell’s statements. Addressing the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. in 1994, before the President and Mrs. Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and 4,000 others, Blessed Mother Teresa spoke clearly and at length for the weakest among us and declared, “the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion.” On the other hand, Sister Campbell, in nearly seven minutes of advocacy for the Democratic Party, in the most far-reaching platform she will likely ever have, could not utter one explicit sentence for the unborn. As a bishop, I cannot but consider such a grave omission anything less than an affront to the Truth.
You and I, however, must be strong, confident voices for truth and goodness in the public square, even in the face of a world that wants to close its ears to our message. We must be joyful in our strong advocacy, avoiding shrill tones born of anger and fear, because our true hope is in the Cross of Christ. We know that regardless of outcomes, our victory is in fidelity to Him and His law of truth and love. Those who oppose the Church’s assertion of truth in public life like to see and hold up dour, angry Catholics in order to discredit and distort the message of reason and justice. Further, the witness of a charitable and serene assertion of truth in public debate that clearly refutes the errors that wound our culture but treats our opponents with respect and kindness may be our most convincing argument. This is especially true in our region where so many among us work in politics and civic life and are sensitive in debate because they may be deeply and personally invested in political parties and candidates.
I will continue to speak to out in the weeks ahead on the issues that confront us, but as always, I remind you that we must never lose sight of prayer and penance in all that we do. Saint Thomas More, Pray For Us.