Faithful Citizenship: On Being a Political Catholic

Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine… They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law.

Sometime in the second century a Christian apologist wrote the famed epistle to Diognetus. We do not know exactly who this author is but we know that he was one of the early Christian apologist like Justin Martyr (who some believe was the author of this particular letter) or Origen. An apologist in many ways in nothing more than an early Christian advocate who often wrote to people in power to defend the Christian position and rationally support these positions in order to influence the social powers that be. In the excerpt that I have raised we can see how this specific apologist is suggesting that the Christian is a virtuous and responsible citizen who at the same time transcends the social laws whenever they conflict with the basic ethical norms that are rooted in the Judeo-Christian faith.

I am reflecting on this because once again we are facing an election in this nation and many Christians are again discerning their civic and religious responsibility in how to respond to the 2012 elections. For the Catholic community the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) has once again re-issued their document “Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States” below is a video from the USCCB.

Faithful Citizenship in 2012 Video

The USCCB cannot nor will it get involved in partisan politics. The USCCB recognizes that it cannot instruct a member of the faith on how to vote; instead it will offer guidance and principles to help us discern who to vote for. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas est,  of this appropriate role of the Church while ascribing to the lay faithful the rightful duty of political engagement.

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 not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper….

The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society, on the other hand, is proper to the lay faithful. As citizens of the State, they are called to take part in public life in a personal capacity. …The mission of the lay faithful is therefore to configure social life correctly, respecting its legitimate autonomy and cooperating with other citizens according to their respective competences and fulfilling their own responsibility.

Faithful citizenship discusses the seven principles of Catholic social teaching. It reminds us that there are some issues that require more considerate attention. In the Catholic Church these issues are labeled as “Intrinsically evil” acts. That term has and will be thrown around by any number of Catholic groups highlighting perhaps some issues and not others. The official Catholic Church has always referred to the Vatican II definition which I will quote below.

Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.

There is one added point that I would like to make. Notice the various issues that are being mentioned just within this quote. It should be obvious to us all that no political party can adequately respond to all the issues that we as Catholics ought to be concerned about. Thus we cannot merely engage in the election process and assume that we are adequately responding to the call of being faithful citizens. The Christian apologist above reminds us that we are not beholden to any secular ideology so we can never believe that any one political party will respond to the Christian ideal. To be faithful citizens we must pledge to not only engage in the voting process but to hold our elected officials accountable in between elections. We need to thank them when they vote on the Christian principles but challenge them when they are voting or leaning against these issues.

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About jdgonzo73

I am a Catholic lay minister in the field of Christian ethics, Latino theology and Paulacrucian spirituality. I am currently a Doctor of Ministry student at Fordham, an ad-junct professor at Molloy College and St. John's University and the Project Coordinator with the Catholic Roundtable.
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