Social Justice: Making our Catholic principles known in political arena

By DeKarlos Blackmon
Columnist

At the fall General Assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in November, the bishops offered once again “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” which is the bishops’ teaching document on political responsibility. The bishops urge Catholics not only to utilize the document to help in the formation of consciences, but also to contribute to civil and respectful public dialogue and to shape political choices in light of Catholic teaching.
As the race to the White House has begun in earnest, and considering the subjective media attention concerning the presidential elections, we must carefully take the time to form our consciences. Neither can we expect others, nor should we expect others — particularly our parish priests and deacons — to tell us for whom to vote. This is not their responsibility. If anything, our pastoral ministers are obliged to teach the truth in an effort to aid us in the formation of our consciences through the assistance by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the authoritative teaching of the Magisterium.
We must be careful not to attempt to separate “the right to follow our consciences” from “the duty to inform our consciences.” The conscience is not merely a hunch to excuse doing whatever we want to do; rather, the conscience “bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to which the human person is drawn” (CCC 1777) because a well-formed conscience is moral judgment enlightened, upright and truthful (1783). The U.S. bishops remind us that “participation in political life is a moral obligation…rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all we do” (FC, 13; CCC 1913-1915). 
This brings me to a personal story of how I have attempted to form my own conscience and live the call to faithful citizenship. In 2011, at the invitation of President Barack Obama, my wife and I attended the Easter Prayer Breakfast and some policy briefings at the White House. We were then invited to discussions about various issues such as immigration, human trafficking, fatherhood and healthy families, energy and climate control. Participating in those discussions for the good of society was important to me because our faith teaches that we are all called to live our lives in relationship with others. 
Later that year, I became one of the first 18 national Catholic leaders to sign an open letter to members of Congress and the administration that raised objections to the Health and Human Services Preventive Services Mandate because of our belief that the mandate undermined religious liberty and freedom of conscience for religious organizations. When many questioned why I signed the document, I reminded them of two very important points: we have a duty to promote civic improvements and social justice, and this indispensable responsibility does not exclude anything that pertains to the divine mission of the church, and we must follow our own consciences.
Our work as people of faith is never done. We are constantly called to be a family broken like bread for the life of the world, regardless of political affiliation. Just as Jesus Christ is continuing to recreate us anew with charity and mercy, we must continue to respond to the call to renew our commitment as a loving community rich in compassion, steadfast in hope and fearless in the search for peace and justice. 
We will likely not agree with every public policy decision of the government. Nevertheless, regardless of one’s political leanings, each of us has an obligation to promote the faith, evangelizing and educating others about Catholic morals and values. We have an obligation to make known Catholic principles when leaders consider policy issues. We should never dodge or wriggle out of an invitation to “sit down at the table” for any discussions concerning the welfare of all people. 
We must continue to ask our God of wisdom and justice, through whom authority is rightly administered, to give counsel and fortitude to all government leaders. Let us continue, in keeping with the instruction given in the first epistle to Timothy, to pray for our nation and all who are in authority (2:1-3). 
The Faithful Citizenship document is available at www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship/index.cfm.