Many people like to compare the presidential election to a sort of tree shaking that loosens and detaches those faithful who were either barely connected to begin with or only gave the appearance of being connected to the tree at all. Catholics, especially those who carry great amounts of influence, have been militant in both directions. Some public catholic figures have set out to make a vote for Hillary unthinkable while other figures have been dead-set on exposing the ‘real’ Trump. The victims, if you will, of this election season are not the losers of the blog wars and shouting matches, but those of us who are just trying to do what we think is right without being attacked.
As you probably know, both major party candidates and a few of the third party contenders have been heralded by our brothers and sisters as the only moral option. Preaching their support as if it were dogma only breeds confusion and animosity, during the year of mercy no less.
What, then, is the duty of the ‘faithful Catholic’ during this tumultuous season of American politics?
Forming an Upright Conscience
Before man can do what is right, he must know what is right. Our capacity to know what is right and good is a matter of having formed our conscience. The Catechism tells us, “A well-formed conscience… formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator.” (see CCC #1783) From this we can gather that having a well-formed conscience has to do with conforming it to the wisdom of our Creator, and not the will of the Creator according to our wisdom. Having wisdom, or the ability to discern between right and wrong, prudent or imprudent, comes from God alone, and the things we read, watch, and listen to are only helpful insofar as they reflect God (who is Truth). The Catechism continues, “The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.”
Forming our conscience, therefore, isn’t an optional endeavor, and it isn’t one we can undertake according to our liking. The truth which we seek to grasp is objective; it is outside of us and we are to conform to it. What makes these waters murky is the influence of sin. Sin can infect the judgement of the most respected among the clergy and the laity alike by giving their proclamation of truth a certain slant; an agenda. Once truth becomes a means to an end and not the end itself, we have a problem. In this election season, the faithful err when the truth is proclaimed in order to stop this candidate or that candidate instead of letting the truth out to stand on its own.
Man is sometimes confronted by situations that make moral judgments less assured and decision difficult. But he must always seriously seek what is right and good and discern the will of God expressed in divine law. – Catechism of the Catholic Church #1787
Passive Ignorance: A Deadly Sin?
“With all this back and forth, I don’t know who to believe so I’ll just go with…..”
The gaping problem is not so much that many consciences are ‘unformed’ but that so many of us are willing to allow them to remain that way. These candidates are being taken at face value and their campaign promises are being taken to the bank without any formal investigation. The faithful Catholics in the US have become content in their state of uncertainty. The passivity which possesses one to remain in ignorance about anything, not just the candidates of this election and their actual positions on the issues, is a form of sloth. Laziness is a somewhat pejorative term for the sin of sloth; this deadly sin is actually concerned with the preoccupation that keeps us from our pursuit of what is good and true. With this in mind, we can’t really equate it with laziness as much as we can with passive, or active, avoidance of coming to know and do what we ought.
As citizens of the US, we have a responsibility to vote as an expression of that citizenship. Before we are citizens, however, we are Catholic. Being Catholic calls us not just to vote for what we ‘feel’ is true and good, but for what we’ve come to know is true and good. Even if we don’t like what that turns out to be. The prerequisite, then, is due diligence and prayer. We must be exhaustive in our search for the facts, and our search must originate from a place of prayer. At the end of the day the only question that is truly worth asking is: “Am I doing the will of God?” Our conformity to God’s will is the litmus test for all things done in the name of morality.
Mercy and Humility
Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses. – Evangelii Nuntiandi, #41
For all the combox apologists out there, know that any nuance of credibility comes from your witness and not merely your knowledge. In our society the dictatorship of relativism tells us that everyone is right and comes in the name of absolute truth. What sets Catholics apart is not the craftiness of our words, but the mercy that we extend to one another and the humility with which we extend it. Humility, in this election cycle, is resisting the urge to respond every. single. time. Humility is standing on truth free from the need to “win”. Humility is the acknowledgement that you might actually be wrong. And mercy comes in our response to the wrong and the ignorant; when confronted with these mercy hurts for them instead of railing against them. Mercy sees our political adversaries as wayward brothers and sisters; not as an enemy to be conquered.
The people of faith have before them a monumental task; and a pressing obligation. We cannot be mere bystanders this political season. Now more than ever we must search for truth with integrity and honesty so that we might be beacons of that truth. We must be willing to lay down our own preconceptions of one another for the sake of charity, because it is by our charity that they will know we are Christians. (see John 13:35)