The excuses we have for not voting are endless. Somehow through the years many of us have lowered the importance of participating in our democracy to a position somewhere between washing our cars and grocery shopping. Yet when our elected officials seem to fail us, we yell from the mountaintops. Then we repeat the same actions for the next election.
For Catholics especially, making an informed decision in the voting booth can be challenging because we are called to bring together our consciences with our policy views for the common good of all people. But how do we combine two seemingly unrelated things? First, it’s important that we know exactly what conscience means. Conscience is not “just a gut feeling.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines conscience as “a judgement of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed.” (CCC 1778)
In what ways can we help form our conscience? First, we must be willing to seek truth by studying the Word of God and the teachings of the Church as contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We must also examine facts and background information about various issues and candidates. Finally, prayerful reflection is necessary to help us recognize the will of God in our decision.
In their document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) reminds us that its purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth. With this foundation, Catholics are better able to evaluate political positions in light of the Gospel and the teachings of the Church, and promote candidates who will work for the common good of all people.
We have corresponding moral responsibility to hear, receive, and act upon the Church’s teaching in the lifelong task of forming our own consciences. The USCCB has made available information on forming consciences for faithful citizenship, including the five non-negotiable life issues (abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, human cloning, and embryonic stem cell research). Other topics include voter education, how to contact elected officials, a novena for faithful citizenship, and much more. To see a full list of available information, go to http://www.usccb.org/isses-and-action/faithful-citizenship/. An information sheet is also available in the literature rack in the vestibule of the church.
As Catholics, we are called to promote the well-being of all, to share our blessings with the most in need, to defend marriage, and to protect the lives and dignity of all, especially the weak, the vulnerable, and the voiceless. Study the Bible. Browse through the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Research candidates and their positions. Pray. Let your voice be heard.