Fr. Tom's Message
THE HITCHING POST
In the next six weeks, America will be going to the polls. Whether we wait in line in a school auditorium or sit at our kitchen table with a mail-in ballot, we are being asked to determine the direction of our country for the next several years. It is an awesome responsibility, one we need to take with utmost seriousness.
So how should you vote?
As a relatively new pastor, I’ve been asked that question by a range of parishioners, from both extremes and from the middle of the political spectrum. Many people want the Church and its ministers to make clear and unambiguous pronouncements on the suitability of one candidate or another, or to declare an anathema against one party or another. And that’s precisely what I can’t, and won’t do. I can’t do that because that isn’t my role. Our bishops’ conference in California has clearly and correctly determined that is such direct advocacy of individuals or parties by pastors and parochial staff is not appropriate, not allowed. And I agree with that determination.
What is allowed, and indeed is encouraged, is that we apply the principles of Catholic social teaching as “the moral framework from which we address all issues in the political arena. Among those principles are:
☐ The life and dignity of the human person,
☐ Human rights and responsibilities,
☐ The call to family and community,
☐ The dignity of work and rights of workers,
☐ The preferential option for those who are poor and vulnerable
☐ Solidarity, and
☐ Care for God’s creation.
☐ (Full text available at https://www.cacatholic.org/article/guidelines-pastors-and-parishes-advocacy-and-political-action)
That is a daunting list, yet underpinning it is a simple concept that Pope Francis recently annunciated in this way: “We must be careful not to build on sand! To build a healthy, inclusive, just and peaceful society we must do so on the rock of the common good.”
Grounded in the Commandments and in the parables of Jesus, the notion of the common good is bedrock Christianity. Loving our neighbor as ourselves is more than a pretty saying: it is a call to create a community that respects the lives, rights, and well-being of all its members, not simply of my particular group. It’s our hitching post, where we anchor the wayward wagons of our lives.
Pessimistic St. Augustine saw the purpose of law and government as a bulwark against sinful inclinations. St. Thomas Aquinas, on the other hand, deemed promotion of the common good as a reasoning and reasonable outgrowth of the natural law of love that is found in all human hearts. The consistent social teaching of the church over the past century-and-a-half has built upon the common good as its foundational principle.
Hearts and consciences, of course, are notoriously fickle things. As such, it is our obligation to form our consciences and shape our hearts carefully, always looking beyond my immediate desires and needs to the commonweal, the common good of all the children of God.
We form our hearts and consciences when we allow ourselves to be instructed by our tradition, listening to Jesus and looking back to the wisdom and grace of the holy men and women who have struggled to work for the common good in their own times and places. We form our consciences as well when we look to the concrete needs of our fellow travelers in this earthly pilgrimage here and now, and when we strive toward a future that is better—more loving, more just, more peaceful— than the past, and better than today. Better not just in quality of life, but in goodness, generosity, forgiveness, and, most of all, in mercy.
No one candidate is likely to satisfy all the demands of our Church’s rich and nuanced social teaching, nor is any one political party likely to check off every box in the daunting list of principles enumerated above. The judgment I and you need to make in good (and I hope) informed conscience is about who will more likely promote the common good, and about which political avenue might lead to a place of mercy and reconciliation. That’s the rock I’m trying to cling to these hard days. That’s where I’m hitching my wagon.
Fr. Tom Lucas, S.J.
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