Faithful Citizenship

A homily by Fr. Jeremy Heppler

Recently, a reporter asked Pope Francis for his view on the upcoming Presidential elections in the United States. Instead of endorsing a certain candidate, the Pope said, “I will only say: Study the proposals well, pray and choose in conscience.”

Likewise, the first bishop in the United States, Bishop John Carroll, reminds us that “all American citizens have an obligation to participate in the civic life.” Even so, he made clear that “no priest should publically endorse the candidacy of a single person or party.” We as a Church do not insist on how someone must vote. Rather, recognizing the great gift of our intellect and free will which God has given each one of us, each of us has a duty to properly form one’s conscience. The Church, however, does not merely say to us, ‘go and form your conscience; good luck!’ But in imitation of our great teacher, Jesus, she helps us on the journey.

For this reason, every four years the US Bishops write a document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, to help us understand the Gospel message in light of today’s realities. They, just like Pope Francis, encourage Catholics approaching the voting booth to act on “moral convictions of a well-formed conscience.” (FCFC 14) Specifically, the bishops remind us of “the preeminent requirement to protect human life” in all of its stages from conception through a natural death and how we ought to “protect the fundamental understanding of marriage as the life-long and faithful union of one man and one woman as the central institution of society.” They also encourage us to consider other vital issues such as immigration reform; ensuring a preferential option for the poor and economic justice for all; providing health care which respects life; ensuring full conscience protection and religious freedom; caring for creation; promoting peace and justice while countering violence and unjust discrimination – both within our nation and throughout the world. (FCFC 92) In considering these issues, we receive guidance towards making a well-informed decision on which candidate to vote for. It is possible that, in any particular election all the candidates will hold values that agree with Catholic moral teaching. Deciding on a particular candidate in such a situation truly would be difficult.
But it is also possible, in any particular election one or even all candidates might promote policies which contradict the truth we proclaim as Catholics. And that decision, my friends, is even harder. For example, what should we do with a candidate who promotes acts which are intrinsically evil, always evil, such as abortion or euthanasia? The Bishops tell us, “A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act…At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s position to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.” (FCFC 34) But even more sadly, what if we are faced with a particular election in which “all candidates hold positions that promote intrinsically evil acts?” Then, the Bishops advise that the Catholic voter might choose to vote for no one, “or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.” (FCFC 36) In making a decision, we need to have well-formed consciences that take into account the issues, especially ones that carry more moral weight, and “a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue.” (FCFC 37) Archbishop Naumann also reminds us, that when considering the presidential election, the president appoints judges, whose rulings have often had a great effect on our nation’s laws and policies. 

When we find ourselves with difficult, imperfect candidates in a given election, I would encourage us still to exercise our right to vote. Remember, when we go to the polls, we do not just vote in one election, but in many – on the national, state and local levels. To help each of us form our consciences, I have put on our parish Facebook page, St. Benedict Parish - Atchison Kansas, some articles and videos from Archbishop Naumann and the US Bishops. Also posted there is a summary of the Faithful Citizenship document from the bishops. I highly encourage each of us to read and prayerfully reflect on the summary, especially Part II, or even on the full 42-page document, which is found on the US Bishops’ website, I also encourage each of us to search out good voter and issue guides to help us to learn about the candidates’ views.

Most of all, I encourage each of us to pray. When armed with a well-formed conscience, prayer will show us how to vote. For, prayer “involves more than mumbling a Hail Mary before we pull the voting booth lever.” (Archbishop Chaput) It is a conversation, an engagement of the soul with God. 

In today’s Gospel, we are given a great example of the proper and improper way to pray. Let us leave aside the pride, the cynicism, the sarcasm, the snide condescension of the Pharisee. And like the tax collector, pray with wisdom from the depths of our hearts, with humility and a love for the truth. Pray too for the country and the people which Bishop John Carroll so loved, and that we love so well. And then follow the recommendation of Pope Francis, “Study the proposals well, pray and choose in conscience.”

** Much of the thought and some of the verbiage is based off of “Pro Patria: A Homily Fifty Days Before the Election” by Msgr. James Moroney, Rector of St. John’s Seminary, Boston, Sept. 30, 2016