10/31/2012 - Syracuse
October 31, 2012
Election Day is quickly approaching and my mind is traveling back once more to the Declaration of Independence. There we read that all are created equal and all have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This concept, learned by all of us in grammar school classes, appears to be under attack if one listens to the political rhetoric so prevalent in our society today.
Voting is an exercise not only of good citizenship, but also of Catholic action. We have both the right and the responsibility to cast an enlightened ballot. As Catholics we must be informed, active participants in the political sphere. And we must boldly promote fundamental principles that guide Catholics and others of good will in assessing candidates, evaluating issues and ultimately choosing one over another.
In preparing our minds and hearts for the work of faithful citizenship, prayer is our surest foundation. When we welcome the Lord in the Eucharist and in our daily prayer lives, we enable Him to mold and fashion us into the faithful citizens he calls us to be. It is the duty of each voter to receive the Church's teaching (see.www.syrdio.org/faithful citizenship) and with an open mind and heart to apply those teachings. Catholics have a serious and lifelong obligation to form their consciences in accord with human reason and the teaching of the Church. Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere "feeling" about what we should or should not do. Rather, conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil. Conscience always requires serious attempts to make sound moral judgments based on the truths of our faith. Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, #17.
Many issues are important. “Every human being has a right to life, the fundamental right that makes all other rights possible, and the right to access to those things required for human decency -- food and shelter, education and employment, healthcare and housing, freedom of religion and family life." Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,#49. This consistent ethic of life provides the proper moral foundation for our engagement in political life. As Catholics, we must seek the best ways to respond to the many needs of our neighbors, at every stage of life and in every condition. Indeed, we must be attentive to all issues that affect human life and dignity and the common good.
Not all issues have equal moral weight. Some practices are intrinsically evil -- that is, always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. The moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, #37). Examples include abortion (which occurs more than 1 million times each year in the United States), euthanasia, human cloning, destructive research on human embryos, genocide, torture, racism and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war.
When the issue is whether to protect or deny the fundamental right to life, it outweighs other matters. The right to life is indeed our first right, and protecting life to the maximum degree possible must be our highest priority.
As our country's founders affirmed, religious freedom is our first freedom. We must recall this history and defend this freedom with renewed vigor. As Catholics, we must recognize that the defense of religious freedom is necessary if we, as individuals and as a Church, are to preserve our ability to practice in our daily lives and in the public square all that we profess at Mass each Sunday.
Our faith and our nations foundational principles both tell us the right to life is our first right, and religious liberty is our first freedom. Life and liberty, then, are the heart of what it means to be faithful citizens -- that is, Americans who practice civic virtue guided by our Catholic faith. As we pray, vote, and advocate, let us respond to this calling in the very best ways we can.
Devotedly yours in Christ,
Most Rev. Robert J. Cunningham
Bishop of Syracuse