The very most important piece of the Gospel today comes right at the end, when Jesus says to the scribe: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” That’s actually a pretty remarkable thing for him to say, because he was always berating the scribes and Pharisees for not getting it, for being so concerned about dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” of the law, that they totally missed the spirit of the law. Jesus always maintained that they were going to completely miss out on the kingdom of God because of this blindness. So here is a scribe who actually gets it, who knows what the first of all of the commandments is. But somehow, in the tone of his congratulatory statement, I think Jesus is throwing in a bit of a challenge to the scribe: now that you know it, it’s time to live it.
That challenge is there for us, too, of course. This Gospel reading is foundational to our call as disciples. In order to be on course for the kingdom of God, we have to love God and love our neighbor. Living these commandments from our hearts is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. So love of God and love of neighbor, the heart of the Christian life, needs to be the center of everything we think or say or do. Love of God and love of neighbor needs to be the lens through which we see everything.
With that lens in mind, I want to say a few words about Tuesday’s election. You’ve heard a lot about the candidates, some of it good, some of it bad, some of it frustrating. If you’re like me, you’ll be glad for Wednesday when you don’t have to hear any more rancorous political ads on television, or receive robo-calls from the candidates. Enough already. And I’m not going to stand here and tell you who to vote for or who not to vote for; we’re not permitted to do that, and I think that is disrespectful of you as a Catholic and as a citizen. My job is to make sure that you know what the Church teaches about our responsibility as citizens, and help you form your conscience so that you can exercise your right to vote in a responsible manner.
Toward that end, over the past few months, we have been printing articles in the bulletin from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and from the Catholic Conference of Illinois. I hope you have taken the time to read them; in fact there is one last one in today’s bulletin. And today I just want to leave you with a few basic principles that the Church gives us for voting responsibly.
The first principle is that if you can vote, you have to. We don’t get to choose whether or not to be a good citizen. Discipleship requires that we do everything we can to make the place where we are living a good place to live. We are required to make our voice heard so that God’s will can be done. Voting is one of the most important ways that we Catholics witness to our faith; we strongly believe that our faith has much to say to our world, and that our faith should help to shape the world in which we live. We accomplish that, in part, by voting.
The second principle is that we vote according to our conscience. Doing anything contrary to what our conscience tells us is always seriously sinful. But voting according to our conscience is not the same thing as voting according to what we like or what we think sounds good for us. Voting according to our conscience demands that we form our conscience; that we actively seek to understand our faith so that we vote in accord with it. This is what the sticking point can be for many of us; because our faith, which informs our conscience, often requires that we vote in a way that is not popular, or not convenient for us, or in a way that requires that we take a position or give witness to a precept that is unpopular. That’s hard to do, but it’s sinful not to.
The third principle is that, of the many important issues that confront us in any election, there are some that are most important, and that bind our consciences. Abortion and respect for life is the paramount issue for us as Catholics. And today’s scriptures tell us why: we can’t begin to love our neighbor if we support a policy that could kill them, and we can’t love our God if we don’t reverence life, the most fundamental and important of his many wonderful gifts. Voting for a candidate who is not pro-life violates our conscience, manifests something far less than love of God and neighbor – the greatest of all the commanments, and therefore is sinful.
The fourth principle is that we don’t live in a perfect, black and white world. Would that we did. Would that our decisions were easy. But they’re not. I don’t know of a candidate who is perfectly pro-life. I don’t know of a candidate that is perfect for the job – whatever the office – in any way. That makes our job so much harder, voting according to our conscience is a real conundrum, and generally very frustrating. The principle though is that we sometimes have to vote for the lesser of the evils with which we are presented. We vote for the candidate who supports life and rejects abortion in more circumstances, we vote for the candidate who allows religious organizations to function according to their moral teachings. This takes study and discernment.
The Liturgy of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, which we will celebrate in a few weeks, calls on us to work with God to establish, here on earth, a kingdom of love and peace, a kingdom of justice and truth. Voting in a way that follows our conscience is a way to do that. May the Holy Spirit guide us all as we go to the polls this Tuesday. May the results of this important election help us all to manifest a deep and enduring love of God and love of neighbor.