My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Of all the political campaigns that I have witnessed, this certainly has been one that has most frustrated the American people.
Both major party candidates are so unpopular, it is unprecedented. A recent ABC/Washington Post poll shows 60 percent of likely voters see Hillary Clinton unfavorably while 58 see Donald Trump unfavorably. In September, the Washington Post reported that 60 percent of voters did not consider either candidate honest or trustworthy.
But unless they wish to cast a vote for the Independent or Green Party candidate, many voters are faced with choosing between two candidates they do not wholeheartedly support.
When you listen to the political rhetoric during the debates and stump speeches, the reasons for the country’s lack of confidence in either candidate are obvious. Hillary Clinton has encouraged her supporters to fear the religious right and those Americans who do not share her worldview and that of the Hollywood/New York elite. Donald Trump has rallied those who fear the country’s shifting demographics. He has tapped the anger of Americans who feel cheated by the current economy. Both candidates are deft at criticizing the other, and at inspiring fear among the American electorate. But who among the Presidential hopefuls inspires a path toward peace?
In our final review of the election season, we will reflect on peace, the Truth, and voting our conscience. When human beings come together to form governments, they do so to establish security and peace. In the Catholic Catechism we read, “The common good requires peace, that is, the stability and security of a just order. It presupposes that authority should ensure, by morally acceptable means, the security of society and its members. It is the basis of the right to legitimate personal and collective defense” (1909).
Notice that peace is not understood to be the absence of war. Our faith does not impose a resignation in the face of evil. Rather, it requires robust and thoughtful leadership that is capable of opposing evil. Our next president will inherit a troubled country and a war-torn world. More than 7,000 Catholics have been martyred in 2015, making this amongst the bloodiest of years for our brothers and sisters in the faith. In Syria, the United States and Russia are testing one another’s military resolve. And in Eastern Europe the Russians have annexed parts of Ukraine, while at the same time threatening the Baltic nations. Not to be outdone, the Chinese are testing out the United States’ Navy in international waters. Meanwhile, Nigeria, the largest nation on the African continent, is fast moving toward becoming a failed state. While in Latin America, Brazil is teetering even as Venezuela is on the brink of violence and collapse.
Equally troubling is the escalating racial tensions here at home between Police officers and the African-American community. The controversies surrounding the shootings in Baltimore, St. Louis, Minnesota, Texas, Baton Rouge, New York and beyond have been unnerving for all Americans. But who of the presidential contenders has offered a serious proposal to mitigating these issues abroad and here at home? We must ask ourselves, who do we believe can and will work toward a more peaceful and harmonious world.
The Church reminds us in Gaudium et Spes, “This social order requires constant improvement. It must be founded on truth, built on justice and animated by love; in freedom it should grow every day toward a more humane balance. An improvement in attitudes and abundant changes in society will have to take place if these objectives are to be gained” (26).
As Catholics, we understand that creating a path toward peace requires building on a foundation of Truth. With society’s embrace of relativism, the doctrine that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society or historical context, are not absolute; building upon the Truth becomes a more difficult task. As a consequence, family life has been undermined and human dignity devalued.
We must look at each candidate and ask ourselves who, if any, embrace the Truth of our faith as a Catholic people. If we reflect on the Truth shown to us by the Lord, we can allow our faith to guide our political positions on war, peace, the sanctity of human life, marriage, and family. As Catholics, the Church’s teaching is clear that a good end does not justify an immoral means.
On Election Day, our faith should be the light of our conscience and our conscience should inform how we vote. Our conscience as Catholics has been formed over the course of our lifetime by Church teaching. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops points out, “Foremost amongst those teachings are the four basic principles of Catholic social doctrine: the dignity of the human person, the common good, subsidiarity, and solidarity” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, No. 160).
The USCCB’s statement on political responsibility states, “As we all seek to advance the common good – by defending the inviolable sanctity of human life from the moment of conception until natural death, by promoting religious freedom, by defending marriage, by feeding the hungry and housing the homeless, by welcoming the immigrant and protecting the environment – it is important to recognize that not all possible courses of action are morally acceptable. We have a responsibility to discern carefully which public policies are morally sound. Catholics may choose different ways to respond to compelling social problems, but we cannot differ on our moral obligation to help build a more just and peaceful world…”
If, after reviewing Church teaching, you find that each candidate holds positions that go against your conscience, the USCCB offers this: “There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably 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.”
In the days leading up to this unprecedented election, do not allow frustration and confusion to take hold. Instead take the time to remind yourself of your core beliefs as a Catholic, to inform yourself on the issues and where each candidates stands, and then ask for guidance from God.
As we put out into the deep with this election, fervently pray and listen to where the Almighty may lead us and remember the role our government should play in establishing and protecting peace, and building upon the Truth. The divisiveness of this campaign has damaged us and our Nation.
Reflect on the words of Pope John XXIII: “Finally, may Christ inflame the desires of all men to break through the barriers which divide them, to strengthen the bonds of mutual love, to learn to understand one another, and to pardon those who have done them wrong. Through His power and inspiration may all peoples welcome each other to their hearts as brothers, and may the peace they long for ever flower and ever reign among them” (PT171).