Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Teaching of Bishops

Every four years there comes to the faithful several letters from our bishops collectively and bishops speaking to their respective flocks. The document from the USCCB this year, entitled Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, is a well-written and comprehensive teaching on the political responsibility of Catholics, though the document's biggest flaw is that it has the distinct feel of committee-speak in which several threads of thought are weaved together in one document by way of a few transitional words.

This year's letter contra the comprehensive approach of Faithful Citizenship is by Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton. Bishop Martino's approach is more traditionally hierarchical and, most unfortunately, provides language for those who wish to flat out dismiss all other issues that are clearly apart of the protection and promotion of human dignity (among those that the bishop names are education, health care, immigration and economic security) in favor of a myopic fixation on overturning Roe v. Wade.

This morning, I had the chance to read another letter from Bishop J. Terry Steib, S.V.D. of Memphis. Please read the whole letter, but I would like to point out a few sentences that I found particularly fruitful for reflection:
A number of Catholics have been asking their bishops to endorse candidates. In the past two weeks, I have received letters from well-meaning people telling me for whom I should vote and how I should inform parishioners regarding the candidates for whom they should or should not cast their ballot. However well-intended the writers are, it is not my duty nor is it my role to tell the members of the community of faith in the Diocese of Memphis how to vote.

My ministry is to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ as announced in Scripture and articulated by the Church so that our people can make good and wise decisions in their lives. My ministry is to make certain that all Catholics in the Diocese of Memphis cast their vote using a well-informed conscience as a guide....

I am in agreement with this statement which was issued last November. Pope Benedict XVI, in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, said, "The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must nor remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice."

According to our Holy Father, we disciples of Jesus cannot remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice; this means that we must be part of the game. However, politics is not just a game; it is instead a part of the commonwealth of our lives. Just as we cannot avoid drinking water in order to live, so also, as faithful Christians we cannot avoid being involved in the political process and remain good Christians. But if we are to be involved in the political process by voting, then we must have formed our consciences well....

As we form our conscience, we must be aware of the need for prudence. Prudence is not easy to define, but according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, prudence helps us to "discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it."

So, when we are presented with candidates whose views do not reflect the full teachings of the Church, what are we to do? The spiritual writer, Father Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, has written in his book Secularity and the Gospel: "In an age of increasing violence, fundamentalism, and the myth that God wishes to cleanse the planet of its sin and immorality by force, perhaps the first witness we must give to our world is a witness to God's non-violence, a witness to the God revealed by Jesus Christ who opposes violence of all kinds, from war, to revenge, to capital punishment, to abortion, to euthanasia, to the attempt to use force to bring about justice and God's will in any way."
Mason Slidell