After watching the presidential elections and the preceding campaigns a few months ago, I was struck with the vehemence in which people fought for their particular issues and agendas. Nearly every group and individual seemed willing to throw aside basic manners, let alone Godly virtue, in order to promote their beliefs about society and our government. As Catholics we are often reminded to vote according to our conscience which often leads to a striking limitation when investigating politicians and policies. This approach is often criticized and ridiculed as narrow-minded and naive. I’ve heard things like, “Sure abortion is wrong, but it’s just one issue.” Or, “what harm is it to me if gay marriage is legalized, it’s the economy that affects my life.”
Those statements or similar ideas reveal two problematic trends. 1) People refuse or don’t understand voting according to their conscience because their conscience is not formed according to the truth of Christ and that transformation is only possible through conversion. 2) Even converts fail to recognize conversion necessarily involves working towards the conversion of society.
Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) has to say about these two issues: “Conscience must be informed and moral judgement enlightened… it formulates its judgements according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator.” (1783) “In formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path…we are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church.” (1785)
The CCC affirms the necessity of a well-formed conscience that is taught by the structures Christ established and is enlivened through a life with Christ. Once we accept this premise of needing a conscience grounded in Christ we must then participate in the promotion of the values and virtues we know to be true. This proclamation has the conversion of society as its end not only for the individuals who need to hear the Gospel but for the protection and strengthening of our own spiritual lives. This next quote gets at the heart (no pun intended) of what I’m trying to say.
“It is necessary, then to appeal to the spiritual and moral capacities of the human person and to the permanent need for his inner conversion, so as to obtain social changes that will really serve him. The acknowledged priority of the conversion of heart in no way eliminates but on the contrary imposes the obligation of bringing the appropriate remedies to institutions and living conditions when they are inducement to sin, so that they conform to the norms of justice and advance good rather than hinder it.” (CCC, 1888)
Our own conversion is strengthened and supported when the society we live in promotes true Godly virtues and values. Part of the reason for making disciples involves the promotion of a societal environment that appreciates the norms of Christian living. This in part is why we must vote according to our consciences; consciences formed by the truth of Christ. Hopefully as we move forward and more elections and policies arise we continue to recognize the need for life and participation in a society (CCC 1891) while remembering our responsibility to promote the Gospel of Christ. I’ll leave you with one more quote from the CCC, #1896: “Where sin has perverted the social climate, it is necessary to call for the conversion of hearts and appeal to the grace of God. Charity urges just reforms. There is no solution to the social question apart from the Gospel.” (Emphasis added)