My job is not to tell you who to vote for or against. I wouldn't want you to tell me who to vote for so I won’t do that to you. But, what I am called to do is help and guide you toward making moral decisions. All of our actions are either morally virtuous, morally neutral, or morally sinful. As your priest, as your Pastor, my vocation to teach, sanctify and govern most certainly includes preaching about morality. It is not wrong or illegal to speak about politics in Church if we focus on the morality of politics rather than partisanship. We can certainly talk about morality in Church.
A vote is a political act, but it is also a moral act. And a Catholic should not vote according to partisan politics but most importantly according to Catholic principles and a well-formed Catholic conscience. Our votes have moral implications because votes are powerful things that that can often either do good or do harm. With our vote we are capable of enabling and supporting the moral or immoral acts of politicians who have great power and influence over God’s people. The power of a vote becomes more and more apparent the tighter and tighter our elections become.
In order to help us wade through the morality of the issues at stake in an election, the Catholic Church in America gives us a helpful document called “Faithful Citizenship” which is a guide for Catholics on how to exercise their faith not only in their private or interior life, but in their political life as well. In it, we see that there is a hierarchy of issues and it stands to reason that those that directly affect life should be on top while those that indirectly affect life should fall beneath them. The document does do a good job of explaining this hierarchy. It also explains well how some political issues have to do with intrinsic moral evils, things that are essentially sinful and can never be justified. Other issues may concern things that are evil under some circumstances but can be justified in others. There are some things that faithful Catholics must always reject, for example, abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and attempts to redefine marriage. This doesn’t come from me; this is clear, faithful Church teaching. Besides these, there are other issues that faithful Catholics can disagree on or that aren’t absolutely or essentially evil, for example, capital punishment in rare circumstances (which we don’t typically find in this country), the proper response to poverty, and how to address unemployment or health care.
The latest version of the Faithful Citizenship document is indeed very helpful, and I think the strongest version of it yet. It relies heavily though on another document from the Church in America that hasn’t gotten as much press or attention. It is called, Living the Gospel of Life. Let’s take a look at this. This is a little lengthy but I think it lays out nicely the proper approach that a faithful Catholic should take to the election coming soon. Listen to how it uses the image of a house to illustrate the various issues at hand. Some issues form the frame and the walls of the house, while others form the foundation. It says:
Adopting a consistent ethic of life, the Catholic Church promotes a broad spectrum of issues… Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. Any politics of human life must work to resist the violence of war and scandal of capital punishment. Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing and health care. Therefore, Catholics should eagerly involve themselves as advocates for the weak and marginalized in all those areas. Catholic public officials are obliged to address each of these issues as they seek to build consistent policies which promote respect for the human person at all stages. But being “right” in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the “rightness” of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community. If we understand the human person as “the temple of the Holy Spirit” – the living house of God – then these [issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, etc.] fall logically into place as the crossbeams and walls of that house. [But] all direct attacks on innocent human life, such as abortion and euthanasia, strike at the house’s foundation. Neglect of these issues is the equivalent of building our house on sand. Such attacks cannot help but lull the social conscience in ways ultimately destructive of other human rights.The earlier teaching of St. John Paul II, on the Vocation and Mission of the Laity, has a similar message. He said, “Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights -- for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture -- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition of all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination." Again, this doesn’t come from me, this comes from the Church.
We have seen clearly and consistently from our shepherds that the house of issues, like the temple of the Holy Spirit, should be respected for what it is. It would be unreasonable and maybe even sinful to vote for some issues as if they were the foundation of the house when they are really only the walls or crossbeams; or to put the foundation on the top of the house and the roof on the floor; or to build the whole thing on sand.
Again, I am not telling you who to vote for or against. What I am doing is challenging you, and me! to vote not according to party affiliation first and foremost, or because our parents and grandparents have always voted for a particular party, but instead according to Catholic principles and a well-formed Catholic conscience. A well-formed conscience is informed by the Church’s clear and consistent teaching concerning the hierarchy of issues, the intrinsic moral evil of some issues, and the legitimate disagreement that can be had with other issues.
Remember what we read in the Letter to the Hebrews. I am preaching this in order to be for you a “brother”, your “representative before God,” someone painfully aware of his own need to be challenged in the moral life. I know that for some this homily has been quite affirming. For others it may be as Hebrews described, “sharper than a two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow.” But I’m not being your true brother, your true representative before God if I fail to speak about moral issues both when it is easy and when it is hard. When the moral life gets hard we don’t just leave each other alone. We pray for each other, we challenge each other, we support each other. And together we “confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”