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16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, July 19-20, 2008

(3rd Consciences/Citizenship Homily)1

Wis 12: 13, 16-19; Ps 86;Rom 8: 26-27; Matt 13: 24-43
“Those who are just must be kind;…”

Today we reach the mid-point of our series of homilies on the Catholic

Bishops Statement, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”. Last
week Fr. Vic spoke about our Catholic traditions that responsible
citizenship is a virtue, and that participation in political life is a moral
obligation upon us – we Catholics are called to shoulder the hard work of
helping to shape a moral society, one which follows the law of God that He
has placed in the heart of each of us. We are not to hold ourselves aloof
and apart from the world.

Fr. Vic also reminded us that as Catholics, we have an obligation to

continually form and sharpen our consciences throughout our lifetimes,
and to develop and make full use of the virtue of prudence – that ability to
see what is the right thing to do, and how best to achieve it. Prudence
comes into play as we Catholics make practical judgments regarding good
and evil choices in the political arena, but we don’t have to struggle in a
vacuum; as good citizens, as believing Catholics, we have the support and
wisdom of the church to help us. In truth, we have a duty to seek, to
understand, and to use the teaching of the Church, not as just another
political opinion, but as a trusted guide when we test the morality of
political judgments we make in the life of the nation.

In providing the Church’s guidance for us, the Bishops are not particularly
interested in who gets elected to what position, or in which party wins, or
whether liberals or conservatives are in power, or even which candidate is
more likely to be competent in office. What they are interested in, and
what they call each of us to be interested in, is the moral dimension of our
participation in the political process.

First, as followers of Christ, the Church calls us absolutely to avoid

“intrinsically evil acts,” those acts, such as abortion and racism, which are
always evil in themselves and are always incompatible with love of God and
of neighbor. They must always be rejected and opposed and can never be
supported or condoned. As the Bishops put it in clear and unmistakable
language: “Those who knowingly, willingly, and directly support public
policies or legislation that undermine fundamental moral principles
cooperate with evil.” (Par 31) and “A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate
who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism,
if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic
would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil” (Par 34). At the same
time, we should not use a candidate’s opposition to one intrinsic evil to
justify their or our own indifference to other important moral issues
involving human life and dignity. Prudential judgment is also needed in
applying moral principles to specific policy choices in areas such as the war
in Iraq, housing, health care, immigration, and others. Wrapping a
candidate in the anti-abortion flag doesn’t provide anybody a free pass to
take positions against human life and human dignity on other issues.

I recommend you read Par 29

We American Catholics can face difficult choices about how to vote,

because we live in an imperfect society where imperfect human beings seek
leadership positions. These choices may affect our own salvation, and so
they require the exercise of a well-formed conscience aided by prudence. It
is here that the Church’s guidance can give a foundation for our decision-
making. The Bishops point out that there may be times when we find
ourselves rejecting a candidate’s unacceptable position and yet decide to
vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. This is morally
permissible, but only for truly grave moral reasons, not just to put our
neighbor’s brother-in-law into office, or to make sure that the legislature
has one more of the right party in its elected ranks, or because we have
decided to ignore a fundamental moral evil.
This is tough going, and the American Catholic Bishops understand that.
They admit that in their document. In paragraph 36 we read: “When all
candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, the conscientious
voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any
candidate, or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the
candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and
more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.”

Avoiding evil is only the first part of what we are called to do; we all know
the second part of our baptismal charge – to Do Good. As binding on our
conscience as the command to avoid evil is the command to love our
neighbors. In the first reading we heard the Book of Wisdom proclaim
that God governs us with leniency and judges us with clemency, and
teaches us that those who are just must be kind. Those who are just must
be kind. The whole point of the parable of the weeds in the field in
today’s Gospel is that God mercifully gives all us sinners full opportunity to
change, to turn toward him, and only after the full and loving gift of time
will God validate our decisions about the eternal relationship we are to have
with him, in perfect justice.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines “Justice” as the “constant

and firm will to give what is due to God and to neighbor”, and for 2000
years the Church of Jesus Christ has made clear what is due to our
neighbor. Nearly 50 years ago, Pope John XXIII proclaimed “Each of us
has the right to life, to bodily integrity, and to the means which are suitable
for the proper development of life – primarily food, clothing, shelter, rest,
medical care, and necessary social services;” twenty years ago Pope John
Paul II said that human rights included the right to health, to home, to
work, to family, and to culture; and in their statement the American
Bishops list as basic needs for our neighbors “food, shelter, health care,
education, and meaningful work….”

Throughout their document, the Bishops do consistently and repeatedly

draw attention to the need to oppose intrinsically evil acts, but they also
take care to focus us on the need to love God and to love our neighbor.
The ethic of life put forth by the Church anchors the Catholic commitment
to defend human life from conception until natural death, and the
fundamental moral obligation to respect the dignity of every human person
as a child of God. We Catholics are not single-issue voters. Our approach
to faithful citizenship rests on moral principles found in Scripture (“Those
who are just must be kind”) and Catholic moral and social teaching, and in
the hearts of all people of good will.

In the next two weeks we will explore some of the issues the Bishops and
the Church see as pre-eminent. Today we can do no more than wave at the
seven key themes of the Church’s social teaching, themes which are sure to
be treated or ignored by the political process of our nation. I urge you to
look at the fuller treatment in the Bishops’ document.

First, the Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred. The dignity
of the individual human person is the foundation of a moral vision for
society. That calls us to oppose abortion, torture, unjust war, the use of the
death penalty, genocide and attacks on noncombatants, racism, death by
starvation, and the pernicious evil of poverty, which robs our neighbors of
their basic human dignity.

Second, the Church teaches that the family is sacred. Based on marriage
between one man and one woman, the family is the first and fundamental
unit of society, a sanctuary for the creation and nurturing of children, and is
to be defended and strengthened.

Third, our Church places human rights and responsibilities among the
highest values. Every human being has a right to life, and a right to access
to those things required for human decency – food and shelter, education
and employment, health care and housing, freedom of religion, and family

Fourth, the Catholic Church declares that those who are weak, vulnerable
and most in need most deserve our concern and our care. This preferential
option for the poor and vulnerable, which Matthew speaks of as “the least
among us” includes all who are marginalized in our nation and beyond –
unborn children, persons with disabilities, the elderly and terminally ill, and
victims of injustice and oppression.

Fifth, our Church stands for the dignity of work and the rights of workers.
The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more
than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in
God’s creation. Workers, employers, and unions should work together to
advance economic justice and the well-being of all.

Sixth, the Universal Church, the Catholic Church recognizes that we are all
members of one human family, whatever our national, racial, ethnic,
economic and ideological differences. We ARE our brothers’ and sisters’
keepers, wherever they may be. We are to heed the Gospel’s invitation to
be peacemakers, to stand in solidarity with our neighbors at home and
abroad, and to promote peace and pursue justice in a world marred by
terrible violence and conflict.

And seventh, the Church calls humanity to show respect for the Creator by
our stewardship of God’s creation. Care for the earth is a duty of our faith
and a sign of our concern for all people. We have a moral obligation to
protect the planet on which we live.

Next week we will begin taking a closer look at these issues.

As American Catholics, we have a divine duty and a god-given right to

strive to build a world and a society of respect for human life and human
dignity, where justice and peace prevail. As Catholic Americans we have a
constitutional right and a civic duty to express ourselves, to renew
American political life so that it is focused more on moral principles than
the latest polls, focused more on the needs of the weak than benefits for
the strong, focused more on the pursuit of the common good than on the
demands of narrow interests.

As individuals we can involve ourselves in partisan politics, but the Church

itself cannot. As individuals we can support, work for, and donate to
candidates and parties, but the Church itself cannot champion specific
candidates and parties. And neither we as individuals nor the Church itself
can compromise basic principles or moral teaching. Rather, we are
obligated to make clear in the public forum the teachings from our Lord
and Savior and from the Holy Spirit guiding us, as we understand and can
apply those teachings in our place and time.
So, today, or in the coming weeks, pick up a copy of this Bishops’
Statement on Political Responsibility. Please study what the document is
calling for from us.

And also in the coming weeks, let’s take the time to find out what the
candidates are saying, what their positions are on subjects that have moral
dimensions, what the party platforms say and don’t say as they get
hammered out this summer. Let’s accept the Bishops invitation and
exercise our consciences in the pursuit of faithful citizenship.