In my family, it was generally always understood that you didn’t discuss politics. That was simply not done in polite company, and it ran contrary to the idea of keeping peace at all costs. So getting involved in politics and preaching about it was never something I was interested in doing. Indeed, whenever something political was preached at church when I was growing up, it was generally badly done, so I never even came away with a good idea of how to do it faithfully.
Nevertheless, our readings today make it clear that the preacher doesn’t get to decide what words he should preach. That is the Lord’s decision, and all the preacher can do is go along with it. The prophet Ezekiel makes it quite clear today that if I choose not to preach on any given topic, and because of that someone falls into sin, the responsibility is mine. The task of the preacher, like the prophet, is a difficult one sometimes, and sometimes it means you have to stretch yourself and do something, or rather say something, that you wouldn’t normally choose to do.
Today’s Gospel makes it a bit more palatable today, though. Jesus tells us that when we gather together, we can rely on his abiding presence to take us through what we need to accomplish: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” And so, here I find myself, in the midst of an election year, called upon to say some things that strike me as a bit political. And that’s difficult for me, but I’ll do it anyway, because I know that it’s important.
Before I launch into this, let me set a couple of ground rules and make them absolutely clear. First, I will never tell you who to vote for. I won’t even hint at who I’m going to vote for (which won’t be too hard a secret to keep because I’m still not sure myself). Second, I will only tell you what the Church teaches. That’s my only responsibility and indeed my only option, if we are to hear what Ezekiel says today. And third, if you disagree with me, I hope that you’ll take your inspiration from today’s Gospel and speak to me privately about it, rather than put anonymous notes on people’s cars next weekend.
Over the past week, a question came up about the election. It went something along the lines of if you vote for candidate X, can you still go to Holy Communion? This question comes up a lot at election time, and generally revolves around one voting for a candidate who is known not to be pro-life, or at least is known not to be against abortion. So this is a good question, and it really does kick off a good discussion about Catholics voting in an election year.
First, let’s talk about Communion. The word communion of its very nature means being united together. So we who receive the Sacred Body and Blood of our Lord come to the altar together, united in our faith in Christ Jesus, and receive the Sacrament of our Salvation. That’s what it’s all about, and because of the whole idea of unity, that’s why we don’t allow non-Catholics to receive Communion: if we are not united in communion, we can’t celebrate Communion together. So, in order to receive Communion, one needs to be in unity with the Church. Sin destroys that union, so those who are aware of grave sin that has not been confessed must not receive Holy Communion. You can find that at number 1415 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Now, certain issues are always gravely sinful and morally repugnant and we must never take part in them. We call these issues “intrinsically evil.” One of the most obvious of these issues is abortion. Human life is to be defended from conception to natural death, and anything contrary to that is completely unacceptable. So, if one were to participate in an abortion – by having one, or encouraging someone to have one, or performing one, or making one possible – that person should absolutely not come to Holy Communion until it has been taken care of in the Sacrament of Penance.
So the question is, does voting for a pro-choice candidate constitute a participation in abortion? And true to form, the Church says, “maybe, maybe not.” In the document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the United States Catholic Bishops explain it this way: “A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. 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” (FCfFC, 34).
See, the key here is “human life and dignity.” The Church calls us to protect life from conception to natural death, so that means we are on for every single life issue. This is truly the most important issue, and cannot be taken as one issue among many (FCfFC, 21). We must seek out the candidate who supports all of life, which means, that candidate must be against abortion, racism, and euthanasia. He or she must also follow the Church’s teaching on just war, put an end to capital punishment, and work to end all kinds of violence. As the bishops teach: “The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed” (ibid.).
Now, the question is, where do we find that candidate? I haven’t decided yet who to vote for, because I don’t know who that candidate is. And I am pretty sure we’ll never find that candidate, at least not this side of the Kingdom of God! So the task before us as voters is to do the best we can. And here is how we do that:
First, we must form our consciences by learning what the Church teaches. Toward that end, St. Raphael will provide a voter information night exploring the document I have just quoted in much more detail. We’re doing that on Thursday, October 16th, and I hope you can be there. Another thing you can do is to educate yourself. I would suggest the website faithfulcitizenship.org which is provided by the US Catholic Bishops, and it’s a very good place to start.
Second, we must pray. Prayer is the center of discernment. Ask for the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with the grace necessary to elect candidates who will take our nation forward and make us known as a country that always protects human life.
Third, we must vote. The Church says that our participation in the political process is mandatory. Listen to the bishops again: “In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation. This obligation is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all we do” (FCfFC, 13). So if you haven’t yet registered to vote, get out two forms of identification and register after Mass today. Then vote on November 4th.
Finally, we must support our elected officials with encouragement and prayer. Our responsibility does not end when we leave the voting booth. If the person we have elected does not espouse our views, we need to write to them and express our convictions. And we need to pray that their hearts would be changed. As our Church’s Liturgy teaches us, our goal is to help God create a “kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace” (Mass for Christ the King).
As St. Paul teaches us today, all of the rules of the Church can be summed up in just one commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That means we must love enough to protect human life. That means we must love enough to vote with decisions made by well-formed consciences. That means we must love enough to never neglect our responsibility to be faithful citizens.
I know I haven’t made your decision any easier; in some ways maybe it’s harder now. But I hope you’re now aware of the principles of faithful participation in the political process. And I hope you now have the desire to form your consciences to vote in the way the Lord leads you.