Reading some of the reactions to the bishops’ decision to stick with their Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship is a tad confusing. Some seem to interpret it as sticking it to the Right. Others, as some kind of cover for the Left. Actually, it strikes me as the continual challenge to the Catholic citizen, the Catholic in public/political life — whomever you are, whichever party you belong to: To pray for the prudence to discern what policy best supports true human freedom. To be pro-life and pro-marriage is part of it, but also how can we best serve all those who are most vulnerable? How can government best be stewards of the public trust? Neither party owns the faithful citizen’s vote. Neither party can afford to not take the precepts of Catholic social teaching seriously. It’s all related to those inalienable rights and the reason the United States exists.
It reminds me of when the most recent papal encyclical was released. There was some of the same kind of reaction, some of it divorced from an actual reading of the document.
The current archbishop of Philadelphia wrote a book on this general topic of faithful citizenship a few years ago. In an interview, he offered some useful guidance:
We should see ourselves as Catholic first — not white or black, or young or old. or Democrat or Republican, or labor militant or business owner, but Catholic first as the main way we identify ourselves. Our faith should shape our lives, including our political choices. Of course, that demands that we actually study and deepen our Catholic faith. The Catholic faith isn’t a set of clothes that we can tailor to a personal fit. We don’t “invent” our faith, and we don’t “own” it. If we really want to be Catholic, then we’ll live by Catholic teaching. Otherwise we’re just fooling ourselves and abusing the belief of other Catholics who really do try to practice what the Church teaches.
Don’t lie. If we say we’re Catholic, we need to back it up with proof. Our faith needs to be the North Star of our lives. Our behavior needs to match our words, including in our political choices.