Paul Fahey – July 18, 2016
You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. – Matthew 5:14-16.
If you haven’t noticed, it’s a presidential election year. Are you looking forward to November? Are you tired of all the political conversations or does discussing politics get you excited? Are you feeling hopeless, frustrated, or angry at how this election is going? Do you look at the candidates before us and want to move to Canada, eh?
Today begins the Republican National Convention where they will, barring a miracle, nominate Donald Trump to be the Republican candidate for president. Likewise the Democratic National Convention will be following shortly thereafter and we will see Hillary Clinton as their presidential candidate. In light of that, I wanted to take some time to write a few posts about how we as Catholics are called and empowered to act. Specifically, I want to explain some of the foundational principles that guide a Catholic understanding of politics and then use those principles to lay out the options that we as faithful Catholics will have come November.
Before I dive in, though, I want to touch on two things. First, we all have deeply held political, economic, and moral priorities. So before you start reading this, I want to assure that my goal is to present to you what the Catholic Church teaches and not simply my own thoughts and opinions. My primary source is the wonderful USCCB (United States Council of Catholic Bishops) document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” If you’re interested in politics, frustrated with this election, or totally confused about what to do come November, then this document is for you. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Second, I urge you to approach what the Church teaches with an open mind and heart. We are called to be docile in the face of the teaching of Christ and His Church. We are called to make Christ’s priorities greater than our own. It’s good to feel challenged by the Church’s teaching because the Church is a mother who instructs us and always urges us to more fully mature into images of Jesus Christ.
So what is a Catholic’s role in politics? Our bishops say, “In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation…The obligation to participate in political life is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all we do.” Let’s unpack that.
Jesus calls all of His followers to be light for a darkened world. Because of the grace given to us through the Sacraments and in having a personal relationship with Christ, Catholics are specially equipped to be bearers of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in all areas of our culture, which includes politics. Also, because of the centuries of rich teaching from the Catholic Church regarding human nature, ethics, and social justice, Catholic are uniquely qualified voices of reason in the political arena. Therefore Catholics have a “moral obligation” to participate, at least at a minimal level, in the political system that they find themselves in. So here in the US, where we have a representative government, voting is that minimal participation.
However, just showing up and voting isn’t good enough. If we don’t act any differently from anyone else, then how are we lights in the darkness? We do a service to our country when we vote, but only when we vote as Catholics. The US Bishops say:
“Unfortunately, politics in our country often can be a contest of powerful interests, partisan attacks, sound bites, and media hype. The Church calls for a different kind of political engagement: one shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good, and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable…As citizens, we should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group. When necessary, our participation should help transform the party to which we belong; we should not let the party transform us in such a way that we neglect or deny fundamental moral truths or approve intrinsically evil acts. We are called to bring together our principles and our political choices, our values and our votes, to help build a civilization of truth and love.”
So how do we do this? How do we vote as Catholics and not like everyone else? How can we participate in politics so that our political party and our society are transformed for the better rather than us being transformed for the worse? That is what I will discuss in Part Two.
Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and professional lay person. He is a student of Theology, History, and Catholic Studies. If you like what he has to say, check out his other articles or follow him on Facebook.