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Letter to the Faithful Regarding the Election from Bishop Steven J. Raica
To the Faithful of the Diocese of Gaylord:
Grace and peace be yours!
As we head into the home stretch of this current election season, there is no doubt in my mind that many of you join me in scratching our heads at the discouraging rhetoric and tactics used during this electoral cycle, particularly on the national level. Through conversations, letters and emails, some of you have shared with me your personal disappointments with the campaign itself. I sometimes wonder if I’m watching a roller derby rather than a campaign! I further wonder that, because of the intense personal scrutiny into the lives of each candidate, whether or not respected leaders and towering statesmen will ever surface in the future. In the midst of all this, I think of St Paul who reminds us in his letter to the Romans, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (cf. Romans 3:23). I know I have often fallen short of the glory of God. For that reason, I’m keenly aware that I am in constant need of the Lord’s mercy. How I need a Redeemer to lift me up! I do, however, expect our leaders to strive toward an ethical decency in their lives and campaigns. Because of our fallen nature, I also believe that redemption is possible and that we should not always be judged by the worst aspects of our lives but the potential for greatness.
Nonetheless, as citizens, we not only have the right, but also the obligation to exercise our rights and responsibilities in each election cycle. Weighing the various candidates for office, we have serious decisions to make for the sake of the common good and the flourishing of our beloved American society. Our elections will comprise electing members to the executive, legislative and judicial branches of federal, and/or state, and/or local government. Our Catholic social teaching outlines some of the critical factors that need to be taken into consideration to form our conscience rightly and weigh our decisions.
For our review, allow me to summarize four key principles that are considered solid pillars of Catholic social teaching and some of their implications:
- The Dignity of the Human Person: For us Christians, “[a]ll human life is sacred” (cf. Faithful Citizenship, n. 44). If we cannot protect human life, especially vulnerable life, against direct attacks against it, then the very fabric of our society will be severely weakened. Innocent human life must never be compromised by threats of violence or direct attacks. Abortion itself, since 1973, has taken the lives of almost 60 million children and deeply wounded mothers, fathers and families. Growing threats from euthanasia and assisted suicide, now legal in some states and under active consideration in others, will erode our respect for the dignity of life and move the measure of life’s worth from being intrinsic to a person’s dignity to some outside measure that can shift at whim according to the powers that be.
- Solidarity: Solidarity recognizes the fact that in spite of our backgrounds, national, racial, ethnic, economic and ideological, we are one human family – brothers and sisters who are responsible for each other. In this regard we are people who welcome the stranger in our midst, promote initiatives that seek peace, and foster the care of the most vulnerable in our society The telling image of the Last Judgment as illustrated by Matthew 25:31-46 reminds us that our response must consider the “least among us.” This may include “love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind” (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, n. 22). Not excluded are the marginalized and forgotten: “unborn children, persons with disabilities, the elderly and terminally ill, victims of injustice and oppression, and immigrants” (cf. Faithful Citizenship, n. 54).
- Common Good: The common good reflects “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily” (cf. Gaudium et Spes, n. 26). Included here are the fundamental rights, such as the right to life, a non-negotiable basis of all other rights that we enjoy to have a decent life: “food and shelter, education and employment, health care and housing, freedom of religion and family life” (cf. Faithful Citizenship, n. 49). The common good also embraces the “dignity of work and protecting the rights of workers” (cf. Faithful Citizenship, n. 50). Our common home must also be protected as we are called to “care for God’s creation” as Pope Francis referenced in Laudato Si´.
- Subsidiarity: This fourth pillar suggests we develop best when we are in relationships with others. The family, as our Lord established it, is the first and foundational unit of a sound society. The protection of parent’s rights and responsibilities includes the raising of offspring and the right to choose an appropriate educational experience. It must be remembered that each level of government and institution has its unique responsibilities. The larger should not overwhelm the smaller or local institutions even when the local institutions depend on the protections offered by the larger institutions to “protect human dignity, meet human needs, and advance the common good” (cf. Centesimus Annus, n. 48; Dignitatis Humanae, nn. 4-6).
Resources are available that can assist us in formulating rationale in our own minds regarding the better candidates for office. Among these are:
- Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A statement on political responsibility from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, this small, easy-to-read document, provides a more in-depth look at the criteria I mentioned above.
- FOCUS: The Issues, the Candidates and your Vote: A pamphlet summarizing many of the issues of importance as we prepare to exercise our rights and responsibilities in the public square. Put out by the Michigan Catholic Conference, this document is available online or through your local parish.
Exercising our citizenship by voting in elections is part of our political process. I consider it a great privilege and honor to cast my vote. Through my participation, I may make my own voice heard in the electoral process. In that way, I pray that we may have a more perfect union that will ensure peace and justice for all.
In the meantime, what can we do to prepare ourselves to vote intelligently? Here are some suggestions:
- Pray for our nation and leaders through recitation of the Rosary, a Holy Hour, or participating in Mass during the week, invoking the Holy Spirit to guide our election process. I am also requesting all of our parishes to have churches open on Tuesday, November 8, to facilitate prayer on Election Day.
- Study the platforms and the issues raised by the candidates over and against the four pillars in Catholic social teaching.
- Perform some act of charity and mercy during this time to show solidarity with those in need.
- Abstain from meat the next few Fridays or fast from some activity. Use the time for a walk or prayer to express our hunger and desire for a nation where true justice, peace and respect for all life – born, unborn, and vulnerable – will be championed.
Invoking the prayers of our Blessed Mother Mary, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, the patroness of our nation, and under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the patroness of our diocese, I remain
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Steven J Raica
Bishop of Gaylord