With the elections coming up, one might question if it is really important to vote. It’s easy to feel that one’s vote is not worth much, especially in a country with over 300,000,000 people. Whether we feel like we can personally make a difference or not, we are morally obliged to “exercise our right to vote” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2240). We are not just obliged but as the Bishops of the United States note in their work entitled Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, “responsible citizenship is a virtue” (13).
Before casting our vote, it would be good to review a few key points. In the Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics, issued by Catholic Answers, five important points are stated on how not to vote:
- Do NOT just vote on your political party affiliation, earlier voting habits, or your family’s voting tradition.
- Do NOT cast your vote based on a candidate’s appearance, personality, or “media savvy.”
- Do NOT vote for candidates just because they declare themselves Catholic.
- Do NOT choose among candidates based on “What’s in it for me?”
- Do NOT vote for candidates who are right on lesser issues but will vote wrongly on key moral issues.
These points are good to keep in mind in order to avoid making a regrettable decision at the polls. Now some people think that the Church should back off when it comes to politics. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops addressed this issue when it stated that “the obligation to teach about moral values that should shape our lives, including our public lives, is central to the mission given to the Church by Jesus Christ. Moreover, the United States Constitution protects the right of individual believers and religious bodies to participate and speak out without government interference, favoritism, or discrimination” (FCFC 11).
That being said, how should we vote? We should vote in accord with a well-formed conscience. A well-formed conscience for a Catholic is one that is in line with all of the moral teachings of the Church. If one is not sure of the moral teachings of the Church, the Catechism of the Catholic Church can be used as a clear reference guide.
With well-formed consciences, we then look at the key issues. It is very important to know that not all of the issues carry the same weight. This is clearly seen in the following words of Pope Saint John Paul II in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Constitution Christifideles Laici: “Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights – for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture – is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination” (38). The right to life must be protected and defended as a priority. If you don’t have life, what do you have?
Finally, a good resource to find out where candidates stand on key issues can be found www.ewtn.com/vote to further education yourself on your moral obligation as a Catholic to vote.
God bless you in your prayer and discernment as you continue to work for the common good of society and the strengthening of moral values.
-Fr. Patrick Mary