Faithful citizens seek to transform the world
In less than a month, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening session of the Second Vatican Council on Oct. 11, 1962. Among many other things, Vatican II urged all faithful Catholics also to be faithful citizens of their own nations and the world community.
Especially in "Gaudium et Spes," the "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World," the Council Fathers called for a degree of engagement or participation in the world that was unprecedented and, in some ways, scandalous. Where previous generations had emphasized the other-worldly character of Christian life, the bishops at the Second Vatican Council chose to emphasize the ways in which faithful followers of Jesus Christ are called to transform the world by their attitudes and their actions as fully engaged participants in the human community.
A careful reading of "Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope)" nearly five decades after its promulgation in December 1965 shows that the bishops who attended the Second Vatican Council were dealing with many of the same issues that find their way into our political debates today. Human rights and dignity, marriage and family life, poverty, social injustice, challenges to personal and religious freedom, the environment and the horrors of war are all addressed in this important council document.
The Church is not indifferent to the plight of humanity. Nor are we somehow "above it all." In the words of "Gaudium et Spes": "The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts" (#1).
Christians are called to participate actively in the transformation of the world according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are invited -- and challenged -- to be "in the world but not of it" and, therefore, to be faithful citizens who work to change the world we live in and to eradicate moral evils and social injustices wherever we find them.
Especially during national elections, we bishops find ourselves challenged to help faithful Catholics understand, and embrace, the difficult task of forming our consciences in accordance with what we know to be true so that we can all make moral choices on issues of vital importance to our local, state, national and global communities. We bishops do not tell Catholics how to vote. The responsibility to make political choices rests with each person and his or her properly formed conscience.
At the same time, we bishops cannot be silent on those issues that have fundamental consequences for the dignity of the individual and the common good. That's why we speak out -- forcefully -- on the right to life, on the family (based on marriage between a man and a woman), on just and compassionate immigration reform, on protection for the poor and vulnerable, on the dignity of work and the rights of workers, on the pursuit of peace and social justice and on care for the environment (the stewardship of God's creation).
Consistent with the teaching of Vatican II, and in continuity with 2,000 years of Christian faith and practice, we bishops vigorously renew our call for a form of political discourse that does not involve name calling, class warfare or the divisive tactics of street fighting. We urge faithful Catholics, and all people of good will, to exercise faithful citizenship by focusing on moral principles, the defense of life, the needs of the weakest members of our society, and the pursuit of the common good.
As followers of Jesus Christ and faithful citizens of this great nation, nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in our hearts. We participate actively in shaping the world we live in because this kind of moral and political engagement reflects both the social teaching of our Church and the best traditions of the United States of America.
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