Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Calendar year 2020 has already brought us many challenges – a pandemic, hurricanes, wildfires, a troubled economy, a renewed awareness of the racism of our society, virtual learning, and so many others. In some ways, these difficulties have brought out the best in the American people. We have seen the dedication of health care professionals tending to those suffering from COVID-19. We have witnessed the sacrifices made by firefighters in the West, by first responders and volunteers bringing assistance to those impacted by hurricanes, and by teachers (especially Catholic School teachers) who shifted to distance learning in order to continue teaching their students as the nation quarantined. Our consciences have been stirred by the outcry of the oppressed as cell phone videos have brought us face-to-face with the racism we have long chosen to ignore. Yes, we have been abundantly challenged in 2020.
In the midst of all of this, we are fast approaching a national election. Every election is important. It is a chance for the people to influence the future actions of our government at all levels. Yet in this year, with all of its difficulties, we are asked to make important choices about how we will face problems that are local, national and international. We are choosing leaders who will guide our country and lead the free world. Citizenship is a responsibility and it is one that Catholics must take seriously.
We are invited to do that in two important steps. Our society has become so partisan, so divisive, that reasonable dialogue among those with different viewpoints is almost impossible. Our first task, therefore, is to lower the volume, eliminate personal attacks, discuss issues calmly and constructively in an effort to find common ground and promote the common good. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has an important initiative – Civilize It. We are asked to pledge the following:
Civility: To recognize the human dignity of those with whom I disagree, treat others with respect, and rise above attacks when directed at me.
Clarity: To root my political viewpoints in the Gospel and a well-formed conscience, which involves prayer, conversation, study and listening. I will stand up for my convictions and speak out when I witness language that disparages others’ dignity, while also listening and seeking to understand others’ experiences.
Compassion: To encounter others with a tone and posture which affirms that I honor the dignity of others and invites others to do the same. I will presume others’ best intentions and listen to their stories with empathy. I will strive to understand before seeking to be understood.
Our second task is to prepare ourselves to vote. We must be informed voters, which means turning off the partisan cable networks and actually reading the party platforms, listening to the candidates, discerning where they stand on the important issues of our time. But it is not enough to be “informed.” Voting is a moral choice and we must make that choice with a conscience that is properly “formed.”
Many people would like to skip this step. I have only been a bishop for one month, but I have already received many letters and emails from all sides asking me to “stand up,” to “be a good and courageous bishop” by instructing my people how to vote. As you know, the Catholic Church does not tell people how to vote. We do not endorse any candidate or political party. We do not adopt any party platform. Indeed, the “platform” of the Catholic Church is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You might find the Gospel quoted or referenced in one platform or another, but you will also discover that the platform of neither of the major parties perfectly aligns with Catholic teaching. That is why we must form our consciences and make choices.
To assist us in this task, the USCCB has prepared a document entitled “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” I invite you to read the entire document or at least a summary of the document in two parts: Part one and Part Two. If you prefer a video format, the USCCB has prepared a series of five videos which you can watch here. You could also visit the USCCB’s page for these and other links and materials. On a local level, the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops has assembled a Public Policy Guide (available HERE) that speaks to many of the issues of our time.
Above everything else, I encourage you to join me in prayer for our community, our state and our country. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in these important decisions. No amount of reading, no amount of partisan bickering or watching news reports or reviewing campaign literature will substitute for standing humbly before our God and asking for his wisdom. Here is a Novena for Faithful Citizenship that you can use.
May God continue to bless our country and our participation in the political process.
Live Jesus in our hearts!
Most Reverend Robert W. Marshall, Jr.
Bishop of Alexandria