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Our Challenge to be Faithful Citizens

Rev. Paul V. Redmond
Professor Emeritus
Mount St. Mary's University

(10/26/08) Tension continued to mount between the young Messiah and the chief priests and Pharisees. It was now the day after Jesus' religious triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. Standing in the temple like an unbeatable, stalwart champion Jesus turned each hostile question back on his enemies. Last week we experienced Jesus cutting through the flattering words of those who hypocritically questioned him. With sightless eyes of faith the Pharisees and the followers of Herod, the civil ruler, first flattered him -"Rabbi, we know that you are a man of truth." They then queried him about paying the census tax to Caesar. Jesus sidestepped the obvious trap and deftly replied: "Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God." In this response Jesus summed up his whole teaching: "what belongs to God is one's whole self." For you and me this means that we, gifted with grace, still struggle to continually and ceaselessly give to God all that we are, all that we say, choose, and do.

In today's Gospel selection Jesus still faces his opponents. He points out that the greatest commandment among the 600-plus commandments in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) is our love of God. He immediately stresses that the second great commandment is our love of neighbor. In his parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus teaches us that your neighbor and mine is anyone and everyone in need. You and I cannot begin to love God or our neighbor as ourselves without God's first loving us. Our loving ourselves and our neighbor as ourselves fills out our love for God.

Friends, may you and I be deeply conscious of the question: "Whom should I love? That is, who is my neighbor?" As we stand before God, not only today, but everyday, including Election day, Tuesday, November 4.

For the past three weekends at Masses other than here at Our Lady of Mount Carmel I have spoke on prejudice and the sins of racism and abortion. I stated: "A prejudice is an unexamined opinion that we have before all the facts are in. The uncomfortable, but important thing is to recognize our prejudices, to admit that we have them, and become aware of how they move against the moral worth of our neighbor, and then move beyond tem. Our neighbor may be across the kitchen table or across the ocean-no matter their race, religion, ethnic, or sexual identity may be.

Most of us can remember the whispers we heard of an invisible line of discrimination running east and west through Thurmont-a line that expressed hostility toward black Americans. In this same area we have witnessed Knights of the Ku Klux Klan "marching in our streets". As recently as two years ago some racists hung a banner at a local bridge south of here-a sign that flaunted an "unwelcome notice" to our black sisters and brothers. We dare not be guilty as charged with this sin of racial prejudice.

In speaking on the intrinsic evil of abortion I applauded the strong symbolic value of "pro-life chains" and "marches for life". These stirring symbols may well have changed some hearts and minds contemplating abortion. I stressed the importance of continuing such protests-but also moving beyond them to take a more realistic, social justice approach as we tackle the fundamental cause of this evil. A teacher friend of mine who has long been a specialist in the "economics of poverty" brought to my attention that the main contributing cause of abortion is not an economic one. Rather this cause is the breakdown of genuine commitment to the value of traditional marriage and the value of the family. I support his position, but I recognize that poverty also plays a solid role. We should support programs that exercise our Catholic preferential option for the poor.

In this political year when truth seems to have become seriously wounded, you and I need to prepare thoughtfully and prayerfully before we exercise our vote. We need to be as informed and concerned about the issues as best we can. Last November the Bishops of the United States after several months of committee meetings with experts released their document "Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship." This entire document is available on the Internet. (I realize that there are several religious blogs concerning the common election. Frankly, I get very suspicious of those that come across as overly pious. They turn me off before I can delete them.) The bishops' document, however, is solidly reasoned and is "reader friendly". Several of you, perhaps most of you use computers at home or make use of computers available in the library. I hope that you will consult this document. Simply type in the letters "Faithful Citizenship. com" . . once again, that's "Faithful Citizenship. com".

Friends, the bishops do not intend to " . . . tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote. . . (their purpose) is to help Catholics form their conscience in accordance with God's truth." (7)

The bishops speak of forming consciences. As I mentioned last week conscience is our mind-our intellect-as judging what's right and what's wrong. To listen to our conscience is to listen to ourselves judging the morality of what we do. In faith, we can also claim that our conscience is God's voice within us as he calls us to do what we ought to do and avoid what we ought to avoid. We should listen, as well, to our "gut feeling" -for "gut feeling" may well be our conscience speaking. We need to check whether or not our own wants and desires, our "gut feeling" and conscience are in harmony with the truths of our faith and the teaching of the Church.

In their document on "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" our bishops are calling us to reflect in a prayerful manner on the basic ethical principles of our Catholic moral and social teaching. The most basic of these ethical principles is the dignity of the human person-her or his right to life. Life, the most fundamental human good, is the basis for all other goods. Direct attacks on life-abortion, euthanasia, unjust war-should be our immediate concern. Our obligation to protect innocent human life has a special claim on our conscience and our actions. The bishops write: "The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed." (28)

Our moral responsibility is very broad. The bishops remind us: "Catholic teaching about the dignity of life calls us to be concerned about racism and other unjust discrimination, the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war, the use of torture, war crimes, the failure to those who are suffering from hunger or a lack of health care, or an unjust immigration policy. . .; (these) are all serious moral issues that challenge our conscience and require us to act. (29)

The biting question that faces you and me is: "Is it ever permissible for a Catholic to vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights?" The bishops give us conditions under which it may be possible. It is never permissible to vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights "if the voter's intent is to support that same position." (34) In other words, I cannot vote for a candidate who is in favor of an intrinsic evil such as abort ion, if I myself intend that particular evil. Friends, you and I build up our moral identity by what we do and what we intend. I build up my moral identity as a good-doer or an evil doer, not only by what I do, but also by what I intend. The bishops write: "At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate's opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity." (34)

The bishops state: "There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate's unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral (evil). (35) The bishops do not specify what counts as "grave moral reasons". You and I can surmise what they might be as we vote for a particular candidate on the national and local levels: "Is there some likelihood of their reducing the abortion rate? Have they opposed and do they continue to oppose fetal cell research? Is a preferential option for the poor manifest in their economic policies? Are the candidates opposed to preventive war and torture? Do they advocate health care as available and accessible to all people? Are they in favor of traditional marriage? Do they advocate that the unlawful immigrant be treated justly and compassionately? There are certainly other social justice concerns which could be mentioned. We need to remember that we are not single-issue voters. Pope Benedict stated before he became Pope: "a political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the church's social doctrine does not exhaust one's responsibility toward the common good." (as quoted in the magazine, America, October 27, 2008., p. 3)

In their document, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" the bishops write that "our 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)

You and I have an obligation to become informed about the evils which attack the moral worth or dignity of all humans. As we form our consciences in keeping with the natural law which governs all humans and remaining in harmony with the teaching of the Church, may we face up to these painful, burning questions as we prudently make our decisions. We ask the Holy Spirit to grace us with practical wisdom as we continue to struggle " to do the right, love goodness and walk humbly with our God", not only today, but every day, including Tuesday, November 4.

Read other sermons by Father Paul