November 4, 2016

Rejoice in the Lord

My final reflection on faithful citizenship this election season

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

For the past two months, my weekly column in The Criterion has been devoted to reflections on the major issues that we Catholics and faithful citizens of the United States of America must keep in mind as we prepare for Election Day next Tuesday.

Let me begin this final reflection with a recap of the issues that I have written about to date. All are based on the U.S. bishops’ publication, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” which is available online at Here is a list of the issues previously discussed:

  • Freedom always involves responsibility (9/9/16).
  • Difficult moral choices cannot be avoided, must be addressed (9/16/16).
  • Respecting human life: the way to peace (9/23/16).
  • Finding joy in politics through God’s grace (9/30/16).
  • Welcoming our sisters and brothers in Christ (10/7/16).
  • Preferring the poor, true economic justice (10/14/16).
  • Care for creation: a moral issue of our time (10/21/16).
  • We must work hard to avoid war and promote peace (10/28/16).

What do these issues all have in common? All involve the moral teaching of the Catholic Church and, as such, they demand that we consider them prayerfully as we exercise our rights and our responsibilities as faithful citizens.

Human life is, of course, the supreme value. One way or another, the sacredness and dignity of all human life is found at the center of all these issues, including abortion, euthanasia, care for creation, war and peace, the preferential option for the poor, true economic justice, immigration reform and the responsibility to make difficult moral choices even when the options before us leave much to be desired.

Following the lead of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I have refrained from discussing individual candidates or political parties. In today’s political climate, that’s not easy to do. But I believe that Catholics who are also faithful citizens have the ability—with the help of God’s grace—to make choices that are morally sound even if they appear to be politically incorrect. If we vote according to our informed consciences, we cannot fail in our duty as faithful citizens or loyal Catholics.

In my first column in this series, I made the following observation:

“An informed conscience is one that looks beyond political correctness and the ideologies of the left and the right to find the truth. An informed conscience is open to the ideas of others, welcomes serious and respectful debate, and refuses to allow prejudices and emotions to distract us from voting for people and programs that promote the common good.”

The challenge, of course, is once we have informed ourselves on these issues, how do we discern which candidates or political platforms most closely correspond to our fundamental moral values?

As I also noted early in this series:

“No candidate for political office perfectly represents the positions of the Catholic Church. No political party has written a platform that is in complete agreement with our perspective on morality and social justice. And yet, we are strongly urged by our pope and our bishops to get involved, to exercise our God-given right (and responsibility) to select leaders, and affirm policies that are morally responsible and promote the common good.”

In “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the U.S. bishops write: “In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose policies promoting intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching” (#37 ).

So, we must pray. We must make choices and then vote according to our informed consciences. And perhaps most importantly, we must resolve to reform our political system continually so that we are always presented with viable options for defending human life and promoting the common good.

Despite the challenges we face, we should approach the coming election with gratitude to God for the freedom we have to exercise our right to select our public officials and participate in setting direction for our local, state and federal governments.

It’s easy to be cynical or discouraged, but neither attitude is helpful to the cause of freedom. Our faith tells us that God will provide what we need to do his will. Let’s not doubt that now. Let’s trust that the choices we make with an informed conscience will be the right ones! †

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