I'm telling you how to vote

Friday, October 28, 2016 - Updated: 7:00 am

The headline’s right. I’m going to tell you how to vote. Right here. Right now.

Just a few comments first.

Since 1956, I have been a “junkie” of presidential elections. That summer, as a 6-year-old, I was glued to the black and white TV in our family living room watching the Republican convention nominate Dwight D. Eisenhower of Kansas and Richard M. Nixon of California as their presidential and vice presidential candidates. I also saw with interest the Democratic Party nominate Adlai Stevenson from Illinois and Estes Kefauver from Tennessee for the same offices. I couldn’t wait to be old enough to vote.

Little did I think then what a complex enterprise that would become, especially in this particular election year.

This has been an odd election, particularly when viewed from the top of the respective tickets. Surveys tell us that both presidential candidates are disliked and mistrusted at record levels. Additionally, the campaigning itself has been very nasty.

Granted, American elections have steadily lost whatever dignity they once had. This year, all decorum has gone out the window. Since the start of the primaries, the crudeness, rudeness and viciousness of this election has been on full public display in the lack of respect that candidates have shown for each other and, at times, for the American people.

Be a “faith-filled” citizen

As church, we are trying to rise above the fray. We must invite each other to look beyond the crudeness. We have a responsibility to reflect on and respond to the issues, the real issues that are at stake as “faithful citizens.”

To be a “faithful citizen” calls each of us to apply our faith as best we can to the issues of the day, and that we try to the best of our ability to avoid ideological traps, partisan polemics and self-serving politics.

To be a “faith-filled citizen” means that we are charged to see our world through the eyes of our God, preparing to cast our vote based on the principles reflective of our divine Creator.

As “faithful citizens” and “faith-filled citizens,” there are certain non-negotiables. We can never support the taking of innocent human life, either through abortion or euthanasia. These are intrinsically evil (of their very nature). They cannot be supported or defended politically, legally, socially and morally.

Similarly, attacks on human dignity such as genocide, racism, terrorism, torture and indiscriminate warfare waged on innocent civilians can never be condoned. These, too, are intrinsically evil.

We can never allow religious freedom to become a second-class right, where faith-based institutions are required either to live up to someone else’s secular agenda or be shut down, where the sacredness of the individual conscience becomes a victim of a political philosophy.

Then there are the wider evils that confront us — injustice, poverty, discrimination, unemployment, the abandonment of refugees, insensitivity to immigrants, the destruction of the environment. There may be legitimate debate on how best to address these “blights” against human dignity. But ignoring them, blaming the victim or simply dismissing them is totally unacceptable.

The list, sadly, can go on and on. We live in an imperfect world. But that imperfection requires of us that we engage these issues as “faithful citizens,” not wrapping ourselves in a cocoon of secular wants and needs. And that’s where we as “faithful citizens” must step up to the plate! Our goal as citizens, but especially as followers of Jesus Christ, is to build up the community — to create the greatest good without sacrificing anyone, without leaving anyone behind, without shouting, name calling and verbal attacks all too evident today on both sides of the political divide.

Form your conscience

Some of the challenges you and I face as “faithful citizens” in this election year are the constant barrage of advertising, commercials attempting to sell us solutions in simplistic sound bites; complex issues overridden by attacking the opponent; or important points made pointless by shouts and invectives.

So how can we deal with all this “stuff” as faithful and “faith-filled citizens?”

Form a good “faithful citizenship” conscience, with the emphasis on “form.”

Conscience is not at all a little voice within that gives us license to our prejudices, telling us that whatever we feel like doing or believing is “right.” Conscience is the inner voice of God, calling our human heart to use our judgment and reason to do good and to avoid evil because it is his will. Conscience is the voice of Truth — that’s Truth with a capital T — the Truth of our faith applied to our world and the world around us. Our conscience is “God with us” every moment of every day of our lives.

How do we form and nurture our conscience? Here are a few tips:

1. Make sure to study the facts and background information about the current issues at hand.

2. When examining any issue, be open to the Truth. “The” Truth comes from the mind and heart of God and not from personal bias or popular ideology, conventional wisdom or political “correctness.”

3. Study the Bible and the “Catechism of the Catholic Church.” Know why we believe what we believe and how it applies directly in our world.

4. Practice a regular examination of conscience. Is God the foundation of your perspective and mine? Are our social and political views faith-based? Or are they designed by the secular culture?

5. Look for advice. Engage in honest conversation with those who admire and embrace the Truth.

6. Utilize the gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety, courage and awe of the Lord) to help form our conscience.

7. Finally, pray. A conscience rooted in true and open prayer, connecting with God, can never be false.

Defend our rights

Within the context of these tips, some actions can never be supported in good conscience. Catholics can in good faith make different political choices but always in the context of how best to promote the common good.

But good Catholics cannot vote for a candidate in order to support a position that endangers human lives, promotes racism, violates religious freedom or in any way violates human rights. No matter how we vote, we must work to protect human life at all its stages. No matter how we vote, we must work to promote peace and justice.

All actions that protect the weak, strengthen families, promote conditions that allow all of creation to flourish stand to be supported.

And in all these matters as “faithful and faith-filled citizens,” we must defend our right to religious freedom — a freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution — that everyone practice their faith and follow their conscience without fear of reprisal.

Our responsibility to vote is especially important this year when many of us feel politically homeless, poorly represented by both political parties. We cannot let our frustration with the choices prevent us from making the best decisions we can for the common good.

I promised to tell you how to vote on Election Day: Here goes! Here’s what you do:

Again, study the issues. Study the candidates. Pray. Ask God for guidance. Vote. Continue to work for the common good. Exercise your right as a “faithful and faith-filled citizen.”

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