America is once again at the threshold of another presidential election year. The early campaigning has been done, and the voting will soon begin in primaries across the nation.
The electoral process is more than an question of who will best fill the position of president, but it is a moral testing ground. What kind of person will we choose to head our government? What kind of standards will he govern by? What are the moral implications of his decisions?
For Catholics, this is a time for us to challenge our consciences. Are we making political decisions based on our faith, or on other criteria? Are we voting like Christians, or like members of a political party or ideology?
The bishops of the United States have published a document every four years, in preparation for the presidential elections, entitled
Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship
. It lays out the Church's perspective on the policy issues that are facing our nation, and calls Catholics to use it as a guide to their moral decision-making.
But the real challenge to us involves more than just a decision about who will temporarily hold an office. It is a much deeper question -- will we live according to God's standards, or man's? This is a test of faith, and it is one that our nation seems to be failing. The evidence is all around us -- idolatrous consumerism and materialism, widespread sexual immorality, ethical relativism, the collapse of social support for authentic marriage, denial of the true nature of the human person as male and female, and the increasing reach of the Culture of Death.
Every year, we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe. This feast encourages us to contemplate the Kingdom of God. All too often we only view God's Kingdom as an abstract idea, perhaps something for the distant future, or a goal to be aspired to. But it actually has tremendous significance for the way we live right now, and for our political decisions. A few years ago, in a homily for the feast, Pope Benedict pointed out that "The kingdom of God is a kingdom utterly different from earthly kingdoms", because it is founded on justice, love, peace, and service, and not on power or force. He also reminded us that the proclamation of the Kingdom of God "is a pressing invitation addressed to each and all: to be converted ever anew to the kingdom of God, to the lordship of God, of Truth, in our lives."
Are those the standards we apply in making political decisions?
We are not unique in having to decide how God's standards can be instituted in our earthly realm. This has been a struggle faced by God's people throughout history. And, all too often, we have chosen badly. I am reminded of a passage from the First Book of Samuel, in which the prophet issues a stern warning to the Israelites, who have clamored to be ruled by an earthly king, instead of the prophets and judges appointed by God.
Samuel said to the people, "Fear not; you have done all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart; and do not turn aside after vain things which cannot profit or save, for they are vain. For the LORD will not cast away his people, for his great name's sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself. Moreover as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you; and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. Only fear the LORD, and serve him faithfully with all your heart; for consider what great things he has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king. (1 Samuel 12:20-25)
How are we responding to the Lord's invitation -- and Samuel's admonition -- as we consider our upcoming political decisions? Are we choosing to be ruled by God's standards, or by man's?