For the Christian people of America conversion to the Gospel means to revise "all the different areas and aspects of life, especially those related to the social order and the pursuit of the common good." It will be especially necessary "to nurture the growing awareness in society of the dignity of every person and, therefore, to promote in the community a sense of the duty to participate in political life in harmony with the Gospel."
- Pope John Paul II
The Church in America (Ecclesia in America)
In a few short weeks, citizens of the United States will have the opportunity to go to the polls once again to select a new president and Congress, and to make their choices concerning the political course that our country should take over the next four years. Now that the conventions and debates are over, and all of the political parties have outlined their own particular visions for the future, Catholics in America are faced with some very difficult decisions.
This is a time for people of faith to stand up and press for accountability. Both of the major parties, Republican and Democrat, claim to be close to the Catholic Church's teaching on a number of issues - and in certain instances they are. But neither party totally reflects the consistent ethic that Catholic Social Teaching has upheld and continues to call for. Forty-five million Americans lack health insurance and 35 million live below the poverty level (up over a million just this past year)... Social Security reform is a necessity if it is to meet its promises... 30,000 children die every day as a result of hunger, international debt and lack of development throughout the world... many people resort to violence to solve our most difficult challenges - abortion to deal with problem pregnancies, the death penalty to combat crimes, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide to deal with the burdens of age, illness and disability, and war to address international disputes.
Given all of that, Americans must weigh carefully how participation in the public policy debate and our vote can contribute to greater respect for human life and dignity, religious tolerance and democracy, economic justice, and care for God's creation.
If there is such a thing as a "Catholic Platform" it has been eloquently stated in the American Bishops Statement, Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a New Millennium. In this document, the bishops outline seven areas that are at the heart of Catholic Social Teaching:
There is much that can be done by Catholics right now - even before the elections - to express our concerns to all candidates running for office. We need to challenge them to enact just policies. We need to remind them of our belief that government should focus on the common good, the protection of our planet Earth and all of its wonderful resources, and to address the growing disparity between rich and poor. We need to do this because our lives are rooted in the Gospel values of Christ and the social justice teachings of our Church.
Today's first reading reminds us that: "The LORD is a God of justice, who knows no favorites. Though not unduly partial toward the weak, yet he hears the cry of the oppressed. The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan, nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint. The one who serves God willingly is heard..." This election year presents a great opportunity for Catholics to hold our political leaders accountable for addressing the important moral issues that face all Americans today. With our bishops and religious leaders, we must pledge to get involved in forming public policy, to take the time to study the issues and the candidates, to reflect on our rich Catholic tradition of Social Justice teaching, to vote wisely and to encourage others to do so as well.