People fill out their ballots at an early voting site in Arlington, Va., Sept. 18, 2020. People fill out their ballots at an early voting site in Arlington, Va., Sept. 18, 2020. (CNS photo by Al Drago/Reuters)

Bishop Matano urges fearlessly taking our faith to the polls

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

During this month the campaigns for those seeking public office will be many, as will the promises made and the issues raised. On Tuesday, Nov. 3, our democratic system of government offers us the opportunity to participate in the process of electing public officials, a right citizens should exercise. We later cannot complain about the outcome of an election if we have not participated in the electoral process.

To assist Catholics in exercising this right, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has issued the document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States.” I encourage you to prayerfully read and study this document, which clearly states: “We bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote. Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth” (p. 13, no. 7). When we vote, our faith, integral to who we are, should accompany us as we make such important decisions. Our faith and the teachings of the church must be true supports as we participate in a process that affects not only ourselves, but the society in which we live at the local, state and national levels:

“The formation of conscience includes several elements. First, there is a desire to embrace goodness and truth. For Catholics, this begins with a willingness and openness to seek the truth and what is right by studying Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church as contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is also important to examine the facts and background information about various choices. Finally, prayerful reflection is essential to discern the will of God. Catholics must also understand that if they fail to form their consciences in the light of the truths of the faith and the moral teachings of the Church they can make erroneous judgments” (p. 18, no. 18).

The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of His church are often counter-cultural and follow a path at odds with contemporary trends and popular opinions. Our choices are so much more difficult because we know by faith and reason that “not all issues are equal” (p. 44, no. 92). The bishops recognize this tension:

“Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods. A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions, redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning, or racist behavior, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases, a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity” (p. 22, no. 34).

I encourage you to read Part III of “Faithful Citizenship,” which is subtitled, “Goals for Political Life: Challenges for Citizens, Candidates, and Public Officials,” and is being published as a companion to this column on pages 11-12.

The foundation upon which our judgments are made ought to be based upon those two great commandments: Love God and love our neighbor. Let us also be mindful of Our Lord’s directives in the Sermon on the Mount, where he proclaims the Beatitudes, “the heart of Jesus’ preaching” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1716), which are to guide the lives of those who bear the name Christian leading to eternal life (see Matthew 5: 1-12):

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. We recognize how impoverished we are without God and that, if society is to achieve peace and harmony among peoples, God must direct the actions of a civilized society.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. We mourn the effects of sin, which give rise to acts of inhumanity and foment violence and hatred among peoples; we mourn the loss of respect for every person and the acts of immorality that degrade the dignity of the person made in the image and likeness of God; we plead the cause of the child in the womb, the sick and the elderly, the poor, the forgotten, the foreigner and the refugee.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Humility is the pathway to understanding, to successful dialogue, especially dialogue with Jesus in prayer, realizing that we humans are imperfect and need the support of Jesus and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit; we need the community of faith, the church, which is the home that embraces every home.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. True justice and true law are inscribed in those still real Ten Commandments committed to Moses on Mount Sinai, which concretely teach us how to love God and love our neighbor, taking what can become pious platitudes and giving the law of love a real application and call to action.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. As the Lord constantly forgives us and has given us the great gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, so must we show forgiveness and mercy to others. Spite, revenge, vindictiveness, hatred and mean-spirited actions are not in any way the characteristics of true discipleship.

Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. Realizing that we have been created in the image and likeness of God, we live our lives in concert with the divine law and the natural law, seeking integrity, wholeness and holiness in our lives and striving to effect in society those laws which foster these values and that virtuous living proclaimed in the Holy Scriptures.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall see God. It is scandalous that after so many years of human development, our neighborhoods, country and world are still scarred by acts of violence and the destruction of human lives, that wars continue to rage and brother/sister wages war against brother/ sister. The first greeting of Jesus to His disciples on that first Easter Sunday was: “Peace be with you.” Peace begins in the family. Our laws must protect the family and respect the rights of families, realizing that parents are the first educators of their children, called to teach the love and life of Jesus. Our homes should be places where children love, respect and obey their parents, and, in turn, parents reflect the life, love and care of Jesus, the ingredients for true and lasting peace in the home and in society. Our laws must ensure that families are supported and respected in the governance of our country.

Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. How many of our brothers and sisters still surrender their lives for the proclamation of the Gospel and their witness to religion, becoming our modern-day martyrs; how many flee to our shores to escape religious persecution and acts of violence and aggression so contrary to the Gospel. Religious freedom must be preserved and allow peoples to practice their faith without fear of recrimination and retaliation. In his statement, Faith and the Full Promise of America, Archbishop William E. Lori, the then Chairman of the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, wrote:

“People of faith have often been the ones to carry the full promise of America to the most forgotten peripheries when other segments of society judged it too costly … Catholic social service workers, volunteers and pastors don’t count the cost in financial terms or even in personal safety. But, we must count the cost to our own faith and morality. We do not seek to impose our morality on anyone, but neither can we sacrifice it in our lives and work. The vast majority of those who speak up for religious liberty are merely asking for the freedom to serve others as our faith asks of us … . We respect those who disagree with what we teach. Can they respect us?” (Sept. 13, 2016).

Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you. It takes great courage to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. The crucifixion of Jesus is the most powerful testimony to the cost of discipleship. To accept this cost always means calling to mind that at the end of our lives, Jesus will be the judge of how we have lived this gift of life. Ultimately it is to Him that we must render an account of how we have loved Him and our neighbor; the authority of human courts and governments will fade and we will stand in the court of the Lord. And how less frightful this is and not to be feared, because if we have followed Him, we know His love is everlasting and His mercy endures forever!

On Nov. 1, the Solemnity of All Saints, let us invoke the intercession of those who dwell in the halls of heaven, All the Saints, who were forever mindful of the Lord. We pray that our leaders and candidates for public office will keep before their eyes the welfare of those they serve, and reverence the dignity and worth of every person created by God, both governed and governing. Guided by the Holy Spirit and unafraid to take our faith to the polls, may we make decisions that will truly guarantee the right to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” (Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776).

Assuring you of my prayers and asking for a remembrance in your good prayers, I remain

Devotedly yours in Christ,

The Most Reverend

Salvatore R. Matano

Bishop of Rochester

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