April 20, 2011
Editor’s Note: In lieu of a conversation for this issue of The West Texas Catholic, Bishop Patrick J. Zurek offers these words of advice regarding the privilege of voting and the political process.
As Catholics we are part of a community with a rich heritage that helps us consider the challenges in public and contribute to greater peace and justice for all people. Part of that heritage comes to us from the Declaration on Religious Liberty from Vatican II which states that “society itself may enjoy the benefits of justice and peace, which results from the people’s faithfulness to God and His Holy Will.” This work for justice requires that the heart and mind of Catholics be educated and formed to KNOW and PRACTICE the whole of the Faith!
In short, a Catholic’s “obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of society is a requirement of our Faith.” (Faithful Citizenship, #9) It is part of the mission that we have received from Jesus. “Christ, the Word made flesh, in showing us the Father’s love, also shows us what it truly means to be fully human” (Gaudium et Spes, #22) Christ’s love for us lets us see our human dignity in its full clarity and compels us to love our neighbors as He loves us. Pope Benedict XVI in commenting on St. Paul’s Letter to Philemon (10-16) writes of the relationship that exists among Christians. “Those who, as far as civil status is concerned, stand in relation to one another as masters and slaves, (powerful and weak, educated and non educated, rich and poor), inasmuch as they are members of the one Church have become brothers and sisters---this is how they address one another.” (Spe Salvi, 4, Nov. 30, 2007) What resulted from this understanding is that “Society changed from within. In the same Encyclical, Benedict XVI adds, “The love of God is revealed in the responsibility we have for others.” (Spe Salvi, 28) Scripture says that “Christ died for all.” Therefore, “To live for Him means allowing oneself to be drawn into His being for others.” (Spe Salvi, 28) Therefore, as Christians, we must be concerned for others and work for the Common Good of all.
What Faith teaches us about the value of the human person can also be seen through the gift of human reason. At the center of these truths is the very DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN PERSON. It is the very center of Catholic moral and social teaching. Because we are people of both Faith and reason, it is both appropriate and necessary for us to bring this essential truth about human life and dignity to the public square, that is, to the center of our political debates and to the Voting Booth.
In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, in his Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, “Charity must animate the entire lives of the lay faithful and therefore their political activity, lived as social charity.” (Deus Caritas Est, 29)
But in order to do this, we must learn to “pray properly,” so that we would “undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well.” (Spe Salvi, 33) We truly are our brother’s and sister’s keeper!
The role of a Catholic Christian, therefore, must include involvement in the political process. It is our moral responsibility and privilege to be informed and to vote. We should be informed as to the issues that face us in the city, the state and the country. We should be sure that we understand the implications of voting for one candidate or another. We ought to know what our Church teaches; there is no better guide than the Gospel of Jesus. We even ought to invite the Holy Spirit to illuminate our conscience so that our decision is truly a good one. Then, WE NEED TO VOTE. Our voice needs to be heard in the public square. Diognetus once wrote, O Christian, you are the conscience of the world. You are what to the world what the soul is to the body. The soul animates and gives life to the body; likewise you, O Christian, animate and give life to the world in which we live. So be sure to VOTE!