Put Out into the Deep

Catholics Witness to the Truth

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

This is the first of a series of columns pertaining to the November elections.

As Americans, we find ourselves in the heat of the political campaign season and may feel a bit overwhelmed by all the rhetoric, advertisements, direct mail, Facebook postings, e-mails and telephone calls. Like some of you, I believe we could do without all the negativity and rancor that accompanies this season. It would be entirely reasonable if we were to just wish that this would all go away. Yet despite the many flaws, this process is important, and it is one we should all take seriously.

This week, I would like for you to reflect with me on the specific responsibilities of Catholic elected officials. In the coming weeks, we will examine the responsibility of the Church to teach, offer an examination of key issues and consider what level of participation is required of all of us.

On May 21, 2010, Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, spoke to the Pontifical Council for the Laity precisely about the need for Christians to act as witnesses in the midst of the political community. The pope’s comments were specifically intended to remind Christians not to become cynical or absent themselves from the process that has profound consequences upon our society.

“The Gospel gives a guarantee of freedom and a message of liberation,” said the pope. “The fundamental principles of the social doctrine of the Church such as the dignity of the human person, subsidiarity and solidarity are extremely relevant and valuable in order to support new paths of development in service to the whole person and to all humanity.”

As Christians we are called to live lives that are integrated. In other words, my faith is not compartmentalized. It is not simply expressed when I go to Mass on Sunday. Indeed, we call the Eucharistic celebration “the Mass” because we are sent into the world to be leaven. One of the great saints and doctors of the Church, St. Therese of Lisieux, reminded us all in “Story of a Soul” that we must aspire to do even the most simple tasks with great love. By doing so, we fulfill our vocation of love. In this way, a Catholic teacher or Catholic business person or Catholic doctor or Catholic plumber or Catholic police officer should be distinguished from his or her peers. So too, Catholic politicians are called to be distinguished from their peers.

Frankly, I felt it necessary to write this column following the remarks of Caroline Kennedy at the Democratic National Convention. On the day that the president would receive the nomination of his party, Kennedy proudly proclaimed, “As a Catholic woman, I take reproductive health seriously, and today, it is under attack. This year alone, more than a dozen states have passed more than 40 restrictions on women’s access to reproductive health care. That’s not the kind of future I want for my daughters or your daughters.”

In making her remarks, this daughter of our nation’s only Catholic president repudiates even those who hold that they personally oppose abortion but refrain from imposing that belief on others.

Interesting, in this week’s New York Times, Molly Worthen writes that Democrats need to reclaim the spiritual tradition of liberal Catholicism. As a professor, what Dr. Worthen recognized was the need for the Democratic Party to have a rationale for the policies they propose from immigration to the economy. She goes on to juxtapose the reticence of Vice President Biden to identify his Catholicism to vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan. She claims that it is precisely Biden’s Catholic worldview that makes his policies so compelling, and his failure to reference his beliefs was a missed opportunity for all Democrats.

In that same speech to the Pontifical Council for the Laity, Pope Benedict XVI said, “It is also the duty of the laity to participate actively in political life, in a manner consistently in accordance with the Church’s teaching, bringing their well-founded reasons and high ideals into the democratic debate, and into the search for a broad consensus among all those who care about the defense of life and freedom, the safeguarding of truth and the good of the family, solidarity with the needy and the crucial search for the common good.”

Our nation faces many serious challenges. We were painfully reminded just this week that we are still a nation at war. There are 12 million undocumented people living in our midst. Huge numbers of our fellow countrymen and women are either unemployed or underemployed, and there is a burgeoning budget crisis.

This November, we put out into the deep by choosing those who will represent us at the highest levels of government. The Holy Father is reminding us all, especially those who are elected officials, that we are called to advocate for those truths which are inviolable while at the same time seeking to build consensus.

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