BEFORE THE CROSS | Concluding reflections on forming one’s conscience for voting

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

This is the final in a series of four columns about forming Catholic consciences for voting. 

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I haven't resolved every issue regarding the upcoming election, nor do I intend to. My intention is to help us form our consciences and frame our conversations as we prepare to vote.

In addition to the immediate issue of this election, however, I'd like to raise our eyes to a broader horizon for a moment.

When we do so, I return to one of my main questions: Can't a voting bloc of 25 percent of the nation create a political landscape that regularly features candidates who represent all of our Catholic values?

We aren't there yet. But what steps will move us in that direction? Let me suggest three things.

1) If we spend more time listening to political ads than we do listening to God, then that's part of the problem.

If we do that, we not only consume but also perpetuate a culture that puts politics before prayer. That's backward. We need to create a different kind of culture. That's a long term project, to be sure, but it starts right now, with individual people and individual acts. Whether it's reading the Bible, praying the Rosary, sitting before the Blessed Sacrament, praying quietly as you drive or something else, make listening to God a priority. Be the change you wish to see.

2) If we don't listen to each other with genuine interest when we disagree, then that's part of the problem.

Political ads often feature the worst things a candidate has done or said, with the implicit judgment: "What a jerk!" or "What a liar!" That doesn't foster faith-filled (or even reasonable) conversation. We need to create a different kind of culture.

Let's establish a family atmosphere, even if only among ourselves. Let's ask each other: "How do you plan to vote?" And: "Why do you like that candidate?" And: "How do you weigh that issue?" Then let's listen to each other with genuine interest, not just waiting for the next chance to score points in a debate. Being genuinely interested in each other, listening to and loving each other even amidst our differences — if we don't do that within our own Catholic family, what hope is there for the broader culture? We need to be the change we wish to see.

3) There's a temptation to disengage because the situation is such a mess. But let's name that for what it is: a temptation to despair. We're called to be a people of hope, and hope expresses itself in continued engagement.

So, let's remember that the day after the election, Jesus will still be Lord. People will still need to hear the Good News of his saving love. Each of us will be called to take up our cross and follow Him, serving others and suffering for our convictions. That's how our faith has shaped culture in the past; that's how our faith will shape the culture in the future. In that sense, our mandate won't have changed, no matter who wins or loses.

Faith tells us that we bring a change by being the change we wish to see. Let's start with this election. 

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