by Most Rev. Michael J. Sis
Bishop of San Angelo
In just a few weeks, we, the citizens of our country, will select our leaders, from president to local officials. Each of us is faced with the challenge of deciding how we will vote.
This is a prime opportunity for us to remember the duty of lay members of the Church to be involved in the political process.
In the Gospel of Matthew 22:21, when Jesus says, "Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God," he is showing that we have responsibilities both to God and to our society. In a sense, every Christian has dual citizenship — in our nation, and in the Kingdom of God.
The First Letter of St. Peter, chapter 2, says, “Be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake, whether it be to the king or to governors… Give honor to all, love the community, fear God, honor the king.”
In the Church, we often hear about serving God. But how often do we think about our Christian responsibility to serve our country? Let’s consider what is the proper Catholic attitude toward politics and government and what is not:
First, it's not blind patriotism, where we glorify our own country so much that the Kingdom of God is identified with the U.S.A. The nation is not God. The nation is under God. We are children of God before we are citizens of the state.
Second, it's not a separation of faith and politics. Politics and religion are not two completely isolated realms. Our Catholic faith teaches that all political decisions must have a moral component.
Third, our faith is not an escape from the world, where all the pure and holy believers isolate themselves in a compound somewhere, untouched by an impure society.
Instead, the proper Catholic attitude toward politics and government is active engagement. We participate, critically evaluate, challenge, and call to account. We permeate and transform the world for Christ. We bring the seed of Christian truth to bear good fruit in the social order.
One great Catholic writer in the third century wrote in his Letter to Diognetus, "What the soul is to the body, let Christians be to the world."
Our U.S. Catholic Bishops teach in the document entitled Political Responsibility, "We need more, not less public participation ... The key to a renewal of public life is reorienting politics to reflect better the search for the common good and a clear commitment to the dignity of every person."
According to our Catholic theology of stewardship, as good stewards we should accept responsibility to take good care of what has been entrusted to us, and then hand it on to the next generation better than we found it. This principle applies to our participation in matters of politics and government.
Maybe it’s time for each one of us to do a little “stewardship check.” As we approach the November elections, let's all do a brief examination of conscience regarding our own fulfillment of our responsibilities as good citizens. Here are some questions to ask ourselves:
- Do I obey the law?
- Do I pay my taxes?
- Do I stay informed about local and national issues?
- Do I let my public officials know where I stand on the issues?
- Am I willing to be inconvenienced enough to serve on a jury, as part of the privilege of living in a free country?
- Do I give of my time by volunteering in civic organizations and on boards?
- Do I pray for those in public office?
- Do I take the time to vote?
- Do I encourage people whom I know to have good moral virtues and competence to serve in public office?
- Have I considered running for public office myself?
Before the elections on Nov. 8, we should inform ourselves on the candidates and their positions -- not just their appearance, their party, or their personality, but also what they stand for, and what direction they would take this country.
Either on election day or by early voting, we should plan our schedules to make time to vote. Keep in mind that the presidential race is not the only item on the ballot. There are other races down the ballot that are also very important. Even voting in just some of the races is better than not voting at all.
In the Vatican II Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,
Gaudium et Spes
, it states that “every citizen ought to be mindful of his right and his duty to promote the common good by using his vote.” It goes on to say that “those with a talent for the difficult yet noble art of politics…should involve themselves in political activity.” (GS, 75)
Rather than spending our whole lives as mere spectators of politics and government, there comes a time when some good men and women need to step up and do the actual work of governing. If any government is going to function in a way that is just and fair, it needs leaders who are just and competent.
If you are frustrated by the selection of available candidates in our elections, then please consider whether you yourself would ever be willing to run and serve. Whether it is your local school board, city council, or some other office, how can we have a list of good candidates if good people don’t run? In the words of Edmund Burke, “All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.”
Our faith teaches us basic moral principles, and we apply those moral principles to concrete circumstances to bring about a more just society. It is not the role of the Church to endorse specific candidates or parties. Each one of us has a right and responsibility to learn something about the candidates and their positions, and vote according to a prudential decision based on our values.
To help form your conscience on the important issues at stake in our elections, I recommend reading a brief document entitled
Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility
. It is published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and it is available in print and online at
Here in the state of Texas, the Texas Catholic Network is provided by the Texas Catholic Conference for everyone to stay informed about the issues currently before our state elected officials. Everyone can sign up at
Our world is not perfect. These are the times when all people of good will need to step up and take a more active role in building a better world. If we want to live in a world of justice and freedom, then we all have to do our part.