2020.9.26 – We Must Vote
Tuesday is the first of three presidential debates; and with these debates each of us must think deeply about the issues affecting our society. It is providential that the debates happen on the feasts of the Archangels, St. Theresa of Avila, and John Paul II; and the vice-presidential debate happens on the feast of the Holy Rosary! May their intercession benefit our country.
The topics of this first debate include: the Supreme Court, Covid-19, the economy, race and violence in our cities, and the integrity of the election. These topics, therefore, are going to be on our mind as Catholic Christians. And we need to ask ourselves how the Gospel of Jesus Christ helps us discern these topics.
As citizens of the United States we are morally obliged to vote (CCC2040), and to do so with a conscience formed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our faith is not merely a private matter. As a building is made up of individual stones, so a society is made up of persons and families. In the same way, as a building’s integrity depends on the integrity of its individual stones, so too, a society’s integrity is built upon the integrity of its individual citizens. The Gospel teaches about two primary social values: ‘fundamental rights of the human person’ and the ‘common good’ (CCC2237). For this reason, in forming a Catholic conscience that guides our voting, there is an intrinsic connection between the good of the person as well as the common good of all people together.
Our moral obligation to vote has always been a part of our Church. Several weeks ago, I published the Letter to Diogenetus, written in the year 130 AD, which said,
Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine… They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens.
As this letter says, we ‘champion no purely human doctrine,’ rather, we champion the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a Gospel which affects, not only individuals, but also the cultures and societies to which individuals belong. As the letter goes on to say, our teachings are not ‘based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men.’ We live in a day an age of incredible ideological battles. (Ideologies that Cardinal Sarah directly addressed his book called The Day is Now Far Spent, which I strongly encourage you to read.) We see the conflict of these ideologies violently exploding both in our nation and throughout the world, inflamed by the current pandemic. But, as Christians, the Gospel of Jesus Christ precedes all ideologies, and, any ideology is true only to the degree that is based on the person of Jesus Christ, who is ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6). As St. Paul taught,
See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition, according to the elemental powers of the world, and not according to Christ (Col 2:8).
Our faith is not based on philosophy, but on the “Christ Event”: Jesus Christ, human and divine, having entered the world to convert the hearts of men to himself, vanquished the world of sin and evil through his life, his preaching, his death, and his resurrection. Having restored the human person to full human dignity, he also redeemed the society made up of individuals, by establishing the law of Love.
This law of love itself envisions a hierarchy of truths: our ultimate fulfilment is found in the Love of God, accomplished through the love and service to our fellow man, arising from each person’s giftedness as a redeemed child of God. Thus, as citizens we first direct our eyes to our heavenly homeland, as the letter says, we ‘live in our own countries as though we are only passing through’. But, even while we look to our heavenly home, we work to bring justice to the societies in which we live.
For this reason, we are morally obliged to ‘play our full roles as citizens’ by applying the truths of the Gospel to the pressing needs of our times. Included in our role as citizens is the right and duty to vote with a conscience formed by the Gospel. We must take this right seriously and realize that it is one of the great privileges of a democratic society. This privilege has not always been a part of human society and we must even now protect the processes of voting from being manipulated in any way by any group or political party.
And so, our properly formed conscience discerns the current issues affecting our country through the hierarchy of love:
First, the love of God. We must remember that our hope is in eternal life, not in this life. As St. Paul says,
Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (3:20).
We must be cautious of looking to the powers of this world to promise us a sort of utopic “pre-salvation”, as if our ultimate desires can be fulfilled in this world. For this reason, the letter to Diogenetus says that ‘we labor under the disabilities of aliens’: we don’t belong totally to this world. We have got to be cautious to not put more hope into the economy of finances than we do in the economy of salvation. A strong economy, good jobs, a healthy international market are all good things; but they are means to an end, not ends in themselves. They must serve the family and the human community. The true end of every human person is the eternal kingdom to come which is based on justice, love, and peace. As the prophet Micah says,
You have been told, O mortal, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: only to do justice to love goodness and to walk humbly with your God (6:8).
Secondly, our love of God necessarily leads to a genuine love of neighbor. We must remember the law of service precedes the desire of being served. As Jesus himself has taught us,
The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:28).
In the same way, when voting, we must balance our own needs with a view to the needs of all persons in society. And we must vote for officials who will serve the common good before serving their own personal ideologies. For this reason, the Catechism states,
Those who exercise authority should do so as a service… The exercise of authority is measured morally in terms of its divine origin, its reasonable nature, and its specific object. No one can command or establish what is contrary to the dignity of persons and the natural law (CCC 2235).
This common good begins with the protection of the family, mother, father, and child, as the “basic cell of society” (CCC 2207). According to the principle of subsidiarity, the government should not take from the family is basic rights and duties but should support the family as the “first school of those social virtues which every society needs” (Gravissimum Educationis 3,6). Also, fundamental to our common good is care for the poor and outcast in society. The Church has always taught that we have a preferential option for the poor, including the destitute, the ill, the immigrant, and persons with special needs. Other aspects of the common good, such as, the dignity of work, the rights of workers, economic growth, and the care for creation are discerned in light of our protection of the family and the poor.
Finally, love of God and of neighbor arises from a genuine love of self, created as a child of God. As Christians, every human person, no matter what race, nationality, creed, or orientation, is a child of God and, as such, is treated with inherent dignity. As Catholics, we must be champions of the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception until natural death. As our United States Bishops teach,
44. Human life is sacred. The dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. Direct attacks on innocent persons are never morally acceptable, at any stage or in any condition. In our society, human life is especially under direct attack from abortion… euthanasia and assisted suicide…, human cloning, in vitro fertilization, and the destruction of human embryos for research.
45. Catholic teaching about the dignity of life calls us to oppose torture, unjust war, and the indiscriminate use of drones for violent purposes; to prevent genocide and attacks against noncombatants; to oppose racism; to oppose human trafficking; and to overcome poverty and suffering. Nations are called to protect the right to life by seeking effective ways to combat evil and terror without resorting to armed conflicts except as a last resort after all peaceful means have failed, and to end the use of the death penalty as a means of protecting society from violent crime. We revere the lives of children in the womb, the lives of persons dying in war and from starvation, and indeed the lives of all human beings as children of God. We stand opposed to these and all activities that contribute to what Pope Francis has called "a throwaway culture."
Especially critical to the issues of human life and human dignity is the current appointment of the next Supreme Court Justice, who was announced today. For the first time since Roe v. Wade, we could have a Supreme Court that could overturn the laws of abortion and establish laws that protect human life until natural death. But we must remember: it is not enough to overturn abortion without simultaneously creating those structures necessary to support unwed parents, abused persons, orphaned children, and those who don’t have the basic necessities to provide for infants and elderly alike.
It goes without saying that the next several weeks in our country are a supremely critical time. We must vote. We must vote with a conscious formed by the Gospel. We must vote while respecting the hierarchy of truths founded on the dignity of the human person, the common good, and social justice. And we must vote while respecting the subsidiary role of the family and true solidarity in the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, as taught by Jesus Christ.