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NOTE: The following letter was published in the November 1, 2018 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
My dear brothers and sisters,
I have noticed over the past few months that as I go on my daily morning walk and pray my rosary, there have been a growing number of election signs on people’s front lawns telling us who we should vote for and thereby displaying their desires for our town, state or country. I have to admit, I find the statues of the Blessed Mother or St. Francis in front of homes to be much more meaningful statements! The unending political advertisements on television in these days, besides costing millions of dollars, are supposed to sway us to vote for candidates too, as they share with us the candidate’s priorities. A lot of information gets thrown at us as we prepare to vote. How are we to respond?
Election Day is on November 6, 2018 and as Catholics we have a moral obligation to go to the polls with a well-formed conscience. In fact, faithful citizenship means prayerful and active participation in the political process which includes exercising the right to vote. Voting is an opportunity to love our neighbors by electing candidates who will enact laws that protect the vulnerable, strengthen families, promote conditions for all to flourish and ensure that citizens can practice their faith without fear of punishment.
Unfortunately, we are living in difficult and sometimes dark times -- a time when human life is being discarded at its very beginning through abortion and at its end stages through the growing legalization of assisted suicide. It is a time when the rights of immigrant people are under assault, a time when families are being torn apart by addiction and when racial tensions are running high. In recent days we have even seen the threat of political violence and terrorism.
Pope Francis tells us, “An authentic faith… always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 2013) Surely all of us want this world to be a better, brighter and kinder place!
Election time is an opportunity to research the candidates and issues that are dear to us and to learn about Catholic Social Teaching. In fact, the seven principals of Catholic Social Teaching can serve as a guideline when deciding on which candidates and issues to support – life and dignity of the human person; the call to family, community and participation; rights and responsibilities; the option for the poor and vulnerable; the dignity of work and the rights of workers; and care for God’s creation.
It is important to note that we cannot place all issues on the same level because certain issues deal with “intrinsic evil” which must always be opposed, while others do not. Some actions are always incompatible with the love of God and neighbor. Whereas there can be varying solutions to health care, immigration and welfare; there can be no debate on the admissibility of actions such as abortion, euthanasia or genocide because such acts involve the intentional taking of innocent life and are always evil and never morally acceptable. At the same time we are called to always avoid evil, we are also called to do good. Therefore, Catholics are encouraged to consider the wide range of issues important to the Church, to avoid acting as single-issue voters, and to weigh each issue according to its moral importance.
Many of us feel politically homeless and do not feel truly represented by either party. Therefore, it is essential that when considering who to vote for, we look through the lens of Catholic teaching as opposed to partisan politics. As I wrote in my Pastoral Letter: “At present, our American political system is guided by two major political parties. It should be clear to any Catholic who is informed by the Church’s teachings that both of them, at times, fail in serious ways to respect and protect human dignity in their positions and platforms. Too often, we allow ourselves to be Democrats or Republicans first, and Catholic second. That way of prioritizing our values and forming our conscience is a scourge upon authentic Catholic living. With some of the policies and platforms that have been adopted, it can be difficult for Catholics to choose a party and to be comfortable in it.” You can read about issues important to the Church by visiting: www.faithfulcitizenship.org.
Amid contentious campaigns filled with harsh rhetoric, the political atmosphere has been steeped in negativity, division and conflict. While many of us might be tempted to withdraw from the public square and to sit this election out, it is important that we don’t lose our sense of responsibility. We must remind ourselves that each voice has value in the process and we are blessed to live in a nation where, with our vote, we have the power to make change happen.
Finally, we must turn to God for His divine guidance during this election season. Let us pray for Catholics throughout our nation, that the values of our faith may guide us as we exercise our responsibility as voters. And let us pray for all citizens of the United States, that our participation in the upcoming election may lead to a world of greater respect for life and commitment to justice and peace. Know of my love and prayers for you as you discern your vote and form your consciences well.
The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen