Listen, if you would, to some key passages of Sacred Scripture: "Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord."
"The Spirit of God has given us no cowardly spirit, but rather one that makes us strong, loving and wise. Therefore, never be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord. . . . Guard the rich deposit of faith with the help of the Holy Spirit Who dwells within us."
"If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this sycamore, ‘Be uprooted and transplanted into the sea,' and it would obey you."
"When you have done all you have been commanded to do, say, ‘We are useless servants. We have done no more than our duty.'"These passages are particularly worthwhile as we prepare to elect a president in two weeks. Picking up on those scriptural texts, we may conclude:
+ That the ancient prophet Habakkuk could have been describing contemporary America when he refers to destruction, violence, strife and discord – a climate in society which works against the sacredness of human life and does everything possible to drown out the voice of conscience;
+ That St. Paul offers us a timely reminder that believers can never be cowardly or embarrassed of their faith in Christ, His Gospel and His Church;
+ That if we Catholics truly had faith the size of a mustard seed, we could work miracles in this land of ours, to make it resemble ever so much more the Kingdom of God;
+ That when we Catholics try to do this, we are not being heroic, but merely doing our duty. Because we Catholics have not been living up to our responsibility to transform this society of ours, because we have been silent, because we have tried to "blend in" with the rest of the American culture, we find that we have contributed to horrendous problems and at times have even actively participated in those evils – either because would-be Catholic politicians have been politicians first and Catholics second or because otherwise good Catholics do not bring their Catholic values into the voting booth with them.
The Evangelical Protestant minister Franky Schaeffer once said that in front of every so- called "adult bookstore," in front of every pornographic theater, in front of every abortion clinic, there ought to be a sign that reads: "This business operates with the blessing and approval of the Christian community of this city." He was right. If we had even that tiniest seed of faith spoken of by our Lord in the Gospel and if we attempted to put that faith into action, the most awful evils would not exist in our land. We Catholics need to take seriously the gifts God has given to us and to share them with the whole of American society; we should use our potential "Catholic power" for the advancement of God's Kingdom, which is the very same thing as promoting the good – the true good – of human culture. To the extent that we are more concerned about personal finances, to the extent that we are worried about what others will think of us and thus keep our mouths shut, we fail both God and country.
This is precisely what the American bishops had in mind when they wrote their pastoral letter, "Living the Gospel of Life" in 1998, where we read these challenging words: "We encourage all citizens, particularly Catholics, to embrace their citizenship not merely as a duty and privilege, but as an opportunity meaningfully to participate in building the culture of life. Every voice matters in the public forum. Every vote counts. Every act of responsible citizenship is an exercise of significant individual power. We must exercise that power in ways that defend human life, especially those of God's children who are unborn, disabled or otherwise vulnerable. We get the public officials we deserve. Their virtue – of lack thereof – is a judgment not only on them, but on us. Because of this, we urge our fellow citizens to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or mere self-interest" [n. 34].
And so, today I want to urge you to reflect deeply and long on the responsibility which is yours as a citizen of this nation to use your vote wisely and well, and most especially, to use it to restore a more profound respect for all human life, from conception to natural death. Let's reflect on this topic for a few moments.
The disparity between the Church and the world is most visible in our indefatigable defense of the sacredness of all human life. You know how this flies in the face of the conventional wisdom to which we have all become all too accustomed: the law of convenience or utility, which declares that life is worth living when we perceive it to be so or when we declare it to be so, but not in and of itself as a gift to be appreciated and treasured for its own sake. Our God disagrees with utilitarianism; He asserts in His acts of creation and providence that human life is sacred from the womb to the tomb – at both ends of the spectrum and at every point in between. All human life is taken up into the mystery of God's own life and His unfailing love.
The Second Vatican Council taught that the primary responsibility of lay Catholics is to bring about the Kingdom of God here on earth by making the divine agenda the human agenda. That means saying "yes" to human dignity and the sanctity of human life by saying "no" to harmful things like artificial contraception, the indiscriminate use of nuclear arms, euthanasia, the unwarranted administration of capital punishment, and abortion. Unfortunately, many Catholics in the United States have been conditioned to think that such activity amounts to "imposing" their point of view on the rest of society; nothing could be further from the truth. On the contrary, American pluralism can only survive if all contending points of view are aired, discussed, debated and voted upon. Again, the bishops explain this clearly when they write, "Real pluralism depends on people of conviction struggling vigorously to advance their beliefs by every ethical and legal means at their disposal" [n. 24]. Therefore, it is the right and the obligation of believers, as Catholics and Americans at one and the same time, to work toward a moral consensus in favor of life. Failure to do so is a tragic failure in civic courage and, far worse, a failure to live up to one's baptismal promises – for which one will have to face Christ on Judgment Day.
Not surprisingly, we find the Holy Father teaching this in his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae: "It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop." While all life issues are important and deserve our attention, one is paramount – the right to life of the unborn. After all, if one never gets born, no other rights can be exercised, can they? Furthermore, the Lord Himself demonstrated a unique love for the little ones, demanding that they be permitted to come to Him and noting that "it is to just such as these that the kingdom of God belongs."
So often the average Catholic feels powerless to do anything about this callous slaughter of the innocents, a figure now exceeding 40 million in 27 years. To put a more comprehensible face on that figure, just realize that the number of aborted babies since 1973 now exceeds the total number of Americans who have died in all the wars we have fought since 1776! Of course, our prayers and works of penance and reparation are important, but this moment in history offers us a particular opportunity to make the divine agenda the human agenda by insisting on making the abortion issue an integral part of the political debate this year.
What does this mean concretely? The guidance is offered by the Holy See in a document issued way back in 1974: ". . . a Christian can never conform to a law which would admit in principle the [permissibility] of abortion. Nor can a Christian take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law or vote for it. . . . On the contrary it is the task of law to pursue reform of society and conditions of life in all its milieux, starting with the most deprived, so that always and everywhere it may be possible to give every child coming into this world a welcome worthy of a person." "A welcome worthy of a person" – that's our goal. Practically speaking, that means a refusal to support pro-abortion politicians.
The bishops spoke forcefully and directly to so-called "pro-choice" Catholic politicians: "We urge those Catholic officials who choose to depart from Church teaching on the inviolability of human life in their public life to consider the consequences for their own spiritual well being, as well as the scandal they risk by leading others into serious sin. We call on them to reflect on the grave contradiction of assuming public roles and presenting themselves as credible Catholics when their actions on fundamental issues of human life are not in agreement with Church teaching. No public official, especially one claiming to be a faithful and serious Catholic, can responsibly advocate for or actively support direct attacks on innocent human life" [n. 32]. Strong words.
I'm sure you would agree, and equally applicable to Catholics who vote such individuals into office.
Is this "single-issue voting"? Well, let me offer you a couple of different cases and see what you think. What about the candidate who courts the Jewish community – He has all the correct positions on campaign finance reform, the economy and foreign policy, but he does have one quirk: He happens to think that Hitler was really right in his efforts to exterminate the Jews. What would that "single issue" do for his standing among Jews? Or, consider the candidate seeking to curry favor with the black community. He, too, has much to offer by way of plans for welfare reform, education and inner-city revitalization, but he also has a disconcerting element in his personality: He likes to get dressed in a white sheet on several nights a week and burn crosses in front of the houses of black people. How would that "single issue" render his standing among blacks? For a more nuanced response to this, allow me to enlist the assistance of the distinguished moral theologian Germain Grisez. He says, "Single-issue voting is irrational." But, he continues, "the proper standards for evaluating candidates for public office are competence and character, (and) any individual seeking public office who supports the legality – much less the public funding – of abortion, manifests a character which makes him or her unfit for public office." And I would maintain that anyone who thinks it is "ok" to crush a baby's skull when he's half-born is, in my estimation, a savage and surely lacking the character to make one fit for public office in a democracy.
How does a conscientious voter handle the situation? Dr. Grisez concludes: "I will vote for such an individual [a pro-abortion candidate] only if the alternative is someone of equally bad character and in some other respect less suited for the office." For further insights into all this, let me suggest getting hold of a copy of the document of the American bishops on Catholic political responsibility issued this year and "Living the Gospel of Life," from which I have quoted several times – and be sure to read them before casting your vote.
Some may be asking, "Has this homily turned into a lecture on how people should vote?" No; it is merely an encouragement to take seriously one's duty to make real and tangible the Kingdom of God. This will be our way of putting flesh and bones on Pope John Paul's bold pronouncement in his homily at the Mass on the Mall in Washington, D. C. in 1979. Do you remember his stirring words, spoken with the members of the Supreme Court in the front row, many of whom had voted six years earlier to legalize the killing of babies in their mothers' wombs? The Holy Father declared: "And so, we will stand up every time that human life is threatened. When the sacredness of life before birth is attacked, we will stand up and proclaim that no one ever has the authority to destroy unborn life." Interestingly enough, his perspective represents not only good theology; it also reflects the very best with the American tradition of democracy.
Three weeks ago in Rome the Holy Father and bishops from around the world re-consecrated the world to Our Lady's Immaculate Heart. Let us confide this election to her, too, using the words the American hierarchy used to conclude their pastoral letter: "Mary, patroness of America, renew in us a love for the beauty and sanctity of the human person from conception to natural death; and as your Son gave His life for us, help us to live our lives serving others. Mother of the Church, Mother of our Savior, open our hearts to the Gospel of life, protect our nation, and make us witnesses to the truth." Amen.