The New Evangelization and the proper exercise of our voting privilege is connected, since our choice of political candidates plays a significant role in healing, elevating and perfecting our culture and society at large.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
21 September 2012
The New Evangelization is essentially a process in which Christians, aided by the Holy Spirit, work to heal, elevate and perfect the culture in which they live as well as other communities in the world by proclaiming and promoting the content of the Gospel. While it is the work of every baptized Christian, it can only be accomplished in union with Christ, who is the life and the “light of men” (Jn 1:4), and in harmony with his divinely founded Catholic Church. Integral to participation in the New Evangelization is properly exercising our right and duty to vote this November. In order to understand why this is so, let’s briefly look into the nature and purpose of the New Evangelization, as well as how our responsibility to vote fits into our mission as children of God.
The goal of the New Evangelization is to foster a transformative encounter with the Person of Jesus Christ and the mysteries of his life, in order to bring about a widespread metanoia, a profound spiritual transformation producing a complete change of heart, which acts as a catalyst for positive change in cultures and societies. It is to bring the light and warmth of the Gospel to what was before plagued by darkness, displacing bad with good, error with truth. In participating in the New Evangelization, we join with our Lord who said, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5).
In order to re-create cultures and societies, it is necessary to infuse them with life-giving Catholic principles, all of which are firmly grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We can say this because, in every case, we come to know about Jesus Christ and his saving Gospel through the Church, not in isolation of her. Further, we can definitively understand ourselves only in light of the mystery of the Word made flesh (cf. Gaudium et Spes 22 § 1), who is himself the totality of God’s revelation. However, we would not know of the meaning of the Word made flesh if it were not for the Church, who is Christ’s Bride and a holy dwelling place for men, a city of truth in which we are privileged to hear the revealed Word of God transmitted in its fullness.
“Christians of the first centuries said, ‘The world was created for the sake of the Church.’ God created the world for the sake of communion with his divine life, a communion brought about by the ‘convocation’ of men in Christ, and this ‘convocation’ is the Church” (CCC 760). That is why St. Epiphanius was able to say, “The Church is the goal of all things.”
Since the Church is an integral and inseparable component of the Father’s salvific plan of love for all men, it follows that the teaching of the Church on faith and morals is essential to the work of healing, elevating and perfecting culture. One way of infusing the teaching of the Church into culture, is through properly exercising our voting rights and privileges. When we vote according to a process of careful moral discernment in accordance with Tradition, Scripture, the teaching of the Church, and in harmony with a properly formed conscience, we then become positively and authentically engaged in transforming culture.
What’s At Stake
Perhaps more so today than ever before, American society is indeed in need of healing. We only need look at those terrifying intrinsic evils such as abortion to realize that, as a nation, we have become an accomplice in “unspeakable evil,” as Blessed John Paul II referred to the abomination of the legalized, intentional killing of unborn children. And, of course, there are other grave moral issues confronting our nation which include: the dismantling of the institution of marriage through the “marriage equivalency” movement and the push for homosexual unions; the blatant attack on freedom of religion and freedom of conscience; and the attempt to fine the Catholic Church into oblivion as a consequence of her non-compliance with the HHS contraceptive, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drug mandate.
To a large degree, these moral evils and others are being perpetuated through the continued election or reelection of political candidates who adhere to intrinsic evils, reject the divine law and the natural moral law, and otherwise display a seriously disordered moral character. In order to set this nation on the path of healing, sending a clear message to all political candidates is a New Evangelization imperative. Political candidates and incumbents running for reelection who adhere to gravely immoral personal philosophies, reject the natural moral law and willfully cooperate with intrinsic evils must not be tolerated.
This message, however, so crucial to the future spiritual and physical health of our children and our nation, one which is in reality grounded in charity, will not solidify in an atmosphere of careless or indifferent voting. It is vital for Catholics and other Christians to be carefully taught what their voting responsibility entails, including the importance of voting from an informed moral perspective and in accordance with a properly formed conscience. If this does not take place, the problems we are experiencing will not only continue, they will amplify.
Irresponsible voting manifests itself in various ways. These include: a failure to make the distinction between intrinsic evils (e.g., abortion, embryonic stem-cell experimentation, euthanasia, etc.) which can never be supported, and those social and economic policies which fall under the realm of prudential judgment (e.g., tax rates, entitlement programs, debt reduction, the implementation of just immigration policies, etc.); a stubborn adherence to partisan politics which leaves no room for evaluating a particular candidate on his or her personal philosophies on such grave issues as the human person’s inviolable right to life; support for a political candidate which is based merely on how “good” he or she looked or sounded during a debate speech; voting strictly in accord with a narrow “economic mindset” that relegates all other matters below financial health; and voting from an individualistic “what’s good for me” perspective that ignores the common good collectively, to name a few.
All of the above fail to utilize a process of proper moral discernment when voting. That, indeed, is precisely the problem with America today. That is, Americans have fallen for a false freedom which is detached from the moral law. Stuffed wallets and individualistic ambitions are idolized while grave moral evils are condoned. If this disastrous situation remains unaddressed, our nation will continue to deteriorate. “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127).
The Hierarchy of Evils Must Not Be Ignored
The tendency to fail to make the proper distinctions between different kinds of moral issues is the most serious of all voting errors. The U.S. bishops warn against a “moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed” (FC 28). There is a hierarchy of evils among moral issues, and intrinsic evils, such as legalized abortion and euthanasia, are the very worst of them. They must not be ignored.
In a recent interview with National Catholic Reporter (NCR) journalist John L. Allen Jr., Archbishop Charles Chaput gave a series of forthright and laudable responses to some pointed questions. Of particular relevance, is Allen’s question about Catholic voting practices. He asked the Archbishop, “Do you believe a Catholic in good faith can vote for Obama?”
Archbishop Chaput responded: “I can only speak in terms of my own personal views. I certainly can’t vote for somebody who’s either pro-choice or pro-abortion.
“I’m not a Republican and I’m not a Democrat. I’m registered as an independent, because I don’t think the Church should be identified with one party or another. As an individual and voter I have deep personal concerns about any party that supports changing the definition of marriage, supports abortion in all circumstances, wants to restrict the traditional understanding of religious freedom. Those kinds of issues cause me a great deal of uneasiness.”
It is important to note that, while he spoke from a personal position, Archbishop Chaput does not make those types of decisions or statements in isolation of a careful process of moral discernment which takes into consideration the Gospel, the divine law, the natural moral law, and the teachings of the Catholic Church whose Divine Founder is Jesus Christ. The Archbishop’s vision on these matters is penetratingly clear precisely because it is based on God’s revealed truth which is transmitted through the Church.
That American culture can be healed, elevated and perfected while anti-life political candidates who support absolutely the intrinsic evil of legalized abortion are elected into public office is absurd.
“There are some things we must never do,” wrote the U.S. bishops, “as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called ‘intrinsically evil’ actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia” (FC 22).
Blessed John Paul II wrote that “abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others” (Living the Gospel of Life 5, qtd. in “Faithful Citizenship”).
It is difficult to imagine how the health of our nation can be improved in any way by placing political officials who support the intentional killing of unborn children and other intrinsic evils into positions of authority and power over others. To do so is not to heal, elevate and perfect, but rather to wound, dismantle, and destroy.
Nevertheless, some will here object. It is said that voting is complex, messy, with all kinds of social justice issues to be considered, so it is incorrect to give too much attention to intrinsic evils. Those who refuse to vote for anti-life politicians are infected by tunnel-vision, they say. Often cited is the following quote from the Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life: “The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine. A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good” (4).
However, the above quote must not be read in isolation of what comes before it: “. . . it must be noted also that a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals” (ibid.). Politicians who adhere to intrinsic evils also, more often than not, support them and advance them, turning them into political programs and agendas.
A vote for anti-life politicians has the effect of perpetuating intrinsic evils through the ongoing de-formation of society. While it is true that a “political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good,” it must also be remembered that our responsibility toward the common good requires that we oppose with “maximum determination” those intrinsic evils which attack the right to human life:
In Christifideles Laici Blessed John Paul II wrote: “Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights — for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture — is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination” (38).
Again, the U.S. bishops remind the faithful to avoid the trap of moral equivalency: “As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support” (FC 42).
Authentic participation in the New Evangelization requires one’s proper exercise of the right and duty to vote. But that cannot occur in the absence of careful, reasoned and informed moral discernment; nor can it occur if the hierarchy of evils is ignored and moral distinctions are rejected. For Catholics, living as a citizen of an earthly nation cannot be separated from living in the household of God, as a son or daughter of the Father, as if our Faith can be compartmentalized or put aside one moment and embraced the next. Nor can our Christian faith be set aside in the voting booth with indifference to Christ and his Church.
The most relevant question is this: when I stand before Jesus Christ, will I be able to justify my voting choices, or will whatever I say merely be an attempt to rationalize them? The answer to that question makes all the difference.
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Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel.