“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” With this memorable line, Charles Dickens begins his classic novel A Tale of Two Cities, describing a particularly tumultuous period of European history, not unlike our own. While no one would call ours “the best of times,” we could honestly say that it may be the most consequential of times. The decisions that we Americans will make in the upcoming elections are among the most consequential for future generations of our nation and society. As the political rhetoric heats up in these days approaching the general election, it is incumbent upon all Catholic citizens to prayerfully and conscientiously consider the weighty matters at stake for our nation. No political party or candidate fully expresses the comprehensive concerns affecting the human person, the common good and the just society which flow from our Catholic faith. Nonetheless, there are some concerns that we must not overlook in judging between candidates.
Pope Benedict XVI, speaking to a group of politicians in 2006, stated: “As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable. Among these the following emerge clearly today:
— “Protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death;
— “Recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family — as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage — and its defense from attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different forms of union which in reality harm it and contribute to its destabilization, obscuring its particular character and its irreplaceable social role;
— “The protection of the rights of parents to educate their children.”
The Holy Father speaks of these as non-negotiable principles for Catholics in political life because these involve actions which are intrinsically evil, that is, always morally wrong, no matter the circumstances. A Catholic with a properly formed conscience may never choose in favor of these, or other, intrinsic evils. (I have written about this in an earlier column).
There are, of course, other matters that merit our prayerful consideration as we approach the voting booth. Because these other matters do not involve the choice of an intrinsic evil, they leave room for Catholics in good conscience to come to different conclusions based on their best prudential judgments. These include the different paths that candidates may propose to address the alleviation of poverty, the provision of health care, the use of the death penalty, and immigration re-form. These are important issues for our time, though not on a par with our duty to protect innocent human life and to defend the sanctity of marriage.
One concern that has emerged in a particularly forceful way recently has been the increasing threat to religious liberty in the United States and around the world. Among these threats, of course, is the federal HHS mandate which would coerce those with religious objections to provide types of health care coverage that includes intrinsic evils such as abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations and contraceptives. In some parts of the world, including the United States, the fundamental right to religious liberty and the rights of conscience are being eclipsed by a growing secular tide of moral relativism and militant atheism.
Ultimately, no matter who may win or lose in the upcoming elections, we will do well to hold fast to the conviction of our faith which proclaims, “Our help is in the name of the Lord.” (Ps 124:8). In God we trust. We do not seek our salvation in political terms, or through political programs. Our salvation comes through the Cross of Jesus Christ. This means that we may indeed have to suffer for our faith and our deeply held convictions. Given the gravity of many of the threats looming today, such as the erosion of religious liberty and the blatant disregard for the sanctity of life, of marriage and the family, believers are being called to stand ready to embrace the Cross.