Faithful Citizenship: Do good and shun evil

Most Rev. Michael Olson

North Texas Catholic

10/20/2016

During the last several weeks I have found myself involved in frequent conversations with many people regarding the responsibility of Catholics to vote in the upcoming election with a good and well-formed conscience. Some people in these conversations have expressed troubled consciences because of their repulsion by the tenor and substance of the candidates’ speeches and political platforms that are each at odds with the Gospel and the authentic teaching of the Church. Other people in these conversations have dismissed trouble from their consciences with the disclaimer that “sometimes you are left to choose the lesser evil.” It is this second response that I would like to address as your bishop.

What troubles me is that many of the people who have offered me this response do not really seem to believe that what they judge to be the “lesser evil” is really all that evil to begin with. This most importantly includes those inherently evil actions that directly harm human beings and can never be justified by any circumstances: abortion, racism, physician assisted suicide, terrorism, the narrowing of religious liberty, the vindictive use of the death penalty, and the redefinition of marriage.

Yet, it also includes an array of social issues that, when considered in the abstract, are not inherently good or evil, but which our present circumstances have made urgent in such a way that a failure to act would in reality result in direct harm and destruction to human life and to the common good of a just society. These issues would include the Reform and Implementation of a Just Immigration Policy, Methods of Law Enforcement, an Unprecedented Refugee Crisis, Proper Stewardship of Environmental Resources, and Economic Policies to Prioritize the Needs of the Poor.

It also concerns me that some Catholics choose to evaluate the Church’s teaching and guidance on any of these issues by gauging the teaching according to whether or not it is in support of the positions of the candidates and party platforms. Others simply consider the guidance of the Gospel and teaching of the Church as having the status of just another voice among the din of voices chattering among biased sources in both social and mainstream media. I even had one friend offer encouragement to me by expressing that “he was glad to see that the Texas bishops had joined the anti-death penalty movement.” The statement, while sincerely made in good will, portrays a common misunderstanding of fidelity to the Gospel and the bishops’ responsibility to teach as being second place to that of political movements or partisan platforms in one’s conscience formation.

I remind you that the formation of our conscience begins and ends with prayer. We humbly ask God to open our hearts and minds to his truth that enlightens us. We examine the facts and candidates as we can best discern them and not merely on the basis of biased sources. We evaluate a course of action through the study of Sacred Scripture and the authentic Magisterium of the Church. We look to Jesus Christ, the fullness of revelation. As the Second Vatican Council taught, “Always summoning one to love good and to avoid evil, the voice of conscience can, when necessary, speak to one’s heart more specifically: do this, shun that” (Gaudium et Spes 16).

A well-formed conscience never becomes comfortable with evil. A well-formed conscience might have to tolerate lesser evils, but it can never grow complacent with them.

We are called to shun evil just as much as we are called to do what is good. While voting is required and essential in fulfilling my social responsibility as a faithful citizen, my faithful citizenship does not end at the ballot box. When our vote contributes to the establishment of policies that our well-formed conscience judges to be evil, we must work actively and specifically in other ways to promote and to defend the good that the particular evil undermines. Failure to do so is to sin seriously by omission.

I ask each of us to consider our faithful citizenship beyond election day. Whatever the outcome of the election, the examination of our conscience and the discernment of the right course of action for us as faithful Catholics will continue to grow in importance as we move forward as a nation in facing these grave matters in our fragmented society.

 

During the last several weeks I have found myself involved in frequent conversations with many people regarding the responsibility of Catholics to vote in the upcoming election with a good and well-formed conscience. Some people in these conversations have expressed troubled consciences because of their repulsion by the tenor and substance of the candidates’ speeches and political platforms that are each at odds with the Gospel and the authentic teaching of the Church.

Published