I have expressed in these pages before my concern about the lack of civility in the way that we talk to each other, as a society and, sadly, sometimes in our Church. This troubling trend has not abated, in fact, in this election year it feels even more acute. It continues to foster division and marginalization amongst us as we increasingly see things only in a black and white context, unable (or unwilling) to recognize some of the complexities and circumstances experienced by our brothers and sisters that may be different than our own.
This was very much on the mind of Pope Francis when I met with him January 27 in Rome along with my brother bishops of Region XI during the Ad Limina. We talked about the polarization that is taking place in the United States and around the world, and within our Church. The Holy Father is greatly concerned about this division and encouraged us to recommit ourselves to fostering unity in our communities of faith.
It inspired me once again with the feeling that we are called to speak from our identity as Catholics, first. That means we measure matters of public policy and politics according Catholic Social Teaching – not one teaching but all of the teachings that advocate for life from conception through natural death. It also means that we heed the words of St. Paul and treat each other with dignity and respect when we talk about matters on which we may disagree. The U.S. Bishops are emphasizing this in a new campaign called Civilize It that promotes “Dignity Beyond the Debate.”
We have entered the Season of Lent, a time to slow ourselves down and to look soberly at the ways in which we have failed to put God at the center of our lives. In doing this, we open ourselves to ways in which we can grow closer to God and to understand His will in our lives. That can include how we approach our calling to participate in the upcoming election.
We do this as Catholics, first, by forming our conscience in the light of Catholic Social Teaching. We ground our thinking in the sanctity and dignity of all human life, and we apply that to the full spectrum of moral issues that intersect with public policy – abortion, immigration, the death penalty, physician-assisted suicide, the environment, education and many others. When we do this, we often find that our decision becomes more complex, not so cut and dried as we would like. There is no candidate or political party that consistently reflects the teachings of our Church.
So, let us take the time for this discernment, this wrestling in our minds, this time of prayer and questioning with our God. When we reach the end of that process, we can say with good conscience that we made a choice that is rooted in our Catholic faith.
And we will also find that, in the light of our faith, our words with those with whom we may disagree become more civil and grace-filled, as St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians implores.
I offer you my deepest prayer for a blessed Lenten Season.