Quarterly Review – Spring 2016 Issue
Welcome to our third edition of Salt and Light, the Quarterly Review of St. John Vianney’s Social Service Ministries. Unlike our weekly e-newsletters which include updates and information about upcoming SJV events, our Quarterly Review is meant to be more educational in nature. We invite you to join us in our Quarterly Reviews as we explore contemporary issues that are relevant to the Catholic Church’s social doctrine and the Corporal Works of Mercy, and to review our Church’s rich history in both words and actions in the arena of social justice. In addition to articles on these topics, we will share with you links to additional resources, prayers, action steps, and upcoming events. At the same time, we will share with you our Quarterly Reports which address the facts and figures of our own social justice efforts and how we are reaching out to and serving the poor and the vulnerable here at SJV.
To understand this important teaching of our Church, we must first remember that we were not created by God to live alone. In the beginning, God created humanity male and female (Gen 1:27; 2:18), destined to live in community with one another and with God. This is an essential part of human nature. Family is the corner stone of our community and it is the most important part of a person’s life. It is where we are nurtured and where we learn. Families are where vocations are born (as Fr. Jonathan points out in this issue) and where our Catholic identity can be learned and strengthened (as former parishioner Chris Cole discusses here). But, our capacity as social creatures does not end with the family.
In fact, human beings can only truly flourish in the context of a community. “The human person cannot find fulfilment in himself, that is, apart from the fact that he exists ‘with’ others and ‘for’ others” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church). Our obligation to love our neighbor is not only an individual commitment; it requires a broader social responsibility. As Christians, we are called together as one in the body of Christ. As One Body, we are called to care for all and to establish the common good. Every person has a duty to work for the advancement of the common good and the well-being of all. In his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict summarized the centrality of the concept of the call to family, community, and participation: “Only if I serve my neighbor can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much He loves me.”
Furthermore, the call to participation means that active and faithful citizenship is the responsibility of all Catholics. “The obligation to participate in political life is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all we do” (U.S. Catholic Bishops). As the presidential primaries move forward towards the election of a new President just around the corner, it is easy to veer off into our own personal causes, align ourselves with one political party or other, and forget about our Catholic conscience. But, as parishioner John Fahy explains in this issue of Salt & Light, our political participation is not nor should it be a secular endeavor. We don’t turn off our faith when we vote or participate in politics. In fact, our faith should inform every political choice that we make. We are blessed to live in a country with many freedoms, including the right to vote and the right to free speech. However, our Founding Fathers understood that freedom can be a precarious thing. More than threats from outsiders, they seemed to fear the internal threats of an ignorant populace, mob rule, and the corruption of our nation’s morals. Throughout the history of the U.S., our Christian values and morals have sustained and upheld our freedom. Perhaps Patrick Henry, the great American orator and Founding Father, summed up how our freedom can be sustained by faith best when he said, “It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains. A vitiated state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom. No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue.”
Read on in this issue of Salt & Light to learn more about the Church’s Call to Family, Community, and Participation. We are very grateful to all of our parishioners and guest participants for their contributions. We hope that the various contributions that we share here will be informative, relevant, and useful to each of you as you live out your Catholic faith day by day. Stay tuned for much more to come!
Have a Holy Week and a Happy Easter to you all. Alleluia!
“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lamp-stand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” Matthew 5: 13-16
In this issue of Salt and Light Quarterly Review:
- Love Makes Hope Blossom in the Wilderness” – Reflections on Easter
Easter ‘Urbi et Orbi’ Message of Pope Francis – Easter, 2015
“Risen” and the Reality of the Resurrection – A movie review by Bishop Robert Barron
- The Call to Family, Community and Participation – CRS video
Vocations are Born in Families! – By Fr. Jonathan Raia
Strengthening Catholic Identity through the Family – By Christopher Cole
The Human Community – By Bishop William E. Lori
Mayra’s Story – CRS Rice Bowl Reflection (video and text)
Catholic Social Teaching: The Call to Community and Participation – By Fr. Nathaniel Haslam (video)
Answering Our Call to Participate – By John Fahy
Questions for Reflection – From the USCCB
The Final Judgement – A reflection by Fr. John F. Morfin
- Living Faith, Changing Lives, Making a Difference: One Person at a Time
Quarterly Report from the Social Services Ministry
- Following up: A Faithful Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis
Syrian Christians Taking up the Cross – By Fr. Pablo
“LOVE MAKES HOPE BLOSSOM IN THE WILDERNESS”
This Sunday we will celebrate once more Our Lord’s Resurrection and His triumph over sin and death, bringing salvation to us all. While we anxiously await Pope Francis’ Easter Message during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we deemed it appropriate to recall his message from last year. In addition to sharing with you his always-joyful Apostolic Blessing, we invite you to consider the various issues he addressed one liturgical year ago. Have any of these improved? Have some of these situations become even more precarious? What other issues have arisen since then?
In light of the basic tenet of Catholic Social Teaching featured in this issue, the Call to Family, Community and Participation, let us reflect on the connection between our faith and the desire to change the world for better. How does our participation in political life, in addition to voting, reflect our answer to that call? Do we bring His love and hope to others? Is there an answer at all?
Dear Brothers and Sisters, a Happy and Holy Easter!
The Church throughout the world echoes the angel’s message to the women: “Do not be afraid! I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised… Come, see the place where he lay” (Mt 28:5-6).
This is the culmination of the Gospel, it is the Good News par excellence: Jesus, who was crucified, is risen! This event is the basis of our faith and our hope. If Christ were not raised, Christianity would lose its very meaning; the whole mission of the Church would lose its impulse, for this is the point from which it first set out and continues to set out ever anew. The message which Christians bring to the world is this: Jesus, Love incarnate, died on the cross for our sins, but God the Father raised him and made him the Lord of life and death. In Jesus, love has triumphed over hatred, mercy over sinfulness, goodness over evil, truth over falsehood, life over death.
That is why we tell everyone: “Come and see!” In every human situation, marked by frailty, sin and death, the Good News is no mere matter of words, but a testimony to unconditional and faithful love: it is about leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life’s troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast… “Come and see!” Love is more powerful, love gives life, love makes hope blossom in the wilderness.
With this joyful certainty in our hearts, today we turn to you, risen Lord!
Help us to seek you and to find you, to realize that we have a Father and are not orphans; that we can love and adore you.
Help us to overcome the scourge of hunger, aggravated by conflicts and by the immense wastefulness for which we are often responsible.
Enable us to protect the vulnerable, especially children, women and the elderly, who are at times exploited and abandoned.
Enable us to care for our brothers and sisters struck by the Ebola epidemic in Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and to care for those suffering from so many other diseases which are also spread through neglect and dire poverty.
Comfort all those who cannot celebrate this Easter with their loved ones because they have been unjustly torn from their affections, like the many persons, priests and laity, who in various parts of the world have been kidnapped.
Comfort those who have left their own lands to migrate to places offering hope for a better future and the possibility of living their lives in dignity and, not infrequently, of freely professing their faith.
We ask you, Lord Jesus, to put an end to all war and every conflict, whether great or small, ancient or recent.
We pray in a particular way for Syria, beloved Syria, that all those suffering the effects of the conflict can receive needed humanitarian aid and that neither side will again use deadly force, especially against the defenseless civil population, but instead boldly negotiate the peace long awaited and long overdue!
Jesus, Lord of glory, we ask you to comfort the victims of fratricidal acts of violence in Iraq and to sustain the hopes raised by the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
We beg for an end to the conflicts in the Central African Republic and a halt to the brutal terrorist attacks in parts of Nigeria and the acts of violence in South Sudan.
We ask that hearts be turned to reconciliation and fraternal concord in Venezuela.
By your resurrection, which this year we celebrate together with the Churches that follow the Julian calendar, we ask you to enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine so that all those involved, with the support of the international community, will make every effort to prevent violence and, in a spirit of unity and dialogue, chart a path for the country’s future. On this day, may they be able to proclaim, as brothers and sisters, that Christ is risen, Khrystos voskres!
Lord, we pray to you for all the peoples of the earth: you who have conquered death, grant us your life, grant us your peace!
Dear brothers and sisters, Happy Easter!
On a lighter note, we invite you to read Bishop Barron’s review of the film ‘Risen.’ If you have not yet seen the film, this review just might be what you needed to get you to the movie theater!
THE CALL TO FAMILY, COMMUNITY AND PARTICIPATION
Am I my brother’s keeper?
In Economic Justice for All, the U.S. Catholic Bishops tell us that “the long-range future of this nation is intimately linked with the well-being of families, for the family is the most basic form of human community.” Furthermore, St. John Paul II mentioned in Centesimus Annus that the family is the “first and fundamental structure for a human ecology… founded on marriage, in which the mutual gift of self as husband and wife creates an environment in which children can be born and develop their potentialities, become aware of their dignity and prepare to face their unique and individual destiny.”
Given this most important role of the family not only in our Catholic tradition, but also for society as a whole, we have asked some of our very talented contributors to focus on the Catholic family. We begin with Father Jonathan Raia, who shares with us the impact his family had on choosing his vocation as a priest.
For almost two years now, I have been serving in a special ministry for a diocesan priest, that of Vocation Director. It’s a strange title—a kind of shorthand, really. Because “vocation” means “call”—specifically, God’s call to the baptized to give themselves away in love either in marriage, in priesthood or consecrated life, or sometimes in a single life dedicated to service. So of course, I’m not “directing” God’s call, but rather seeking to help those whom the Lord is calling to priesthood or consecrated life to hear and answer that call. That work, more broadly, involves helping to create a culture of vocations—an environment in the Church and in each parish where it is natural for people to seek the Lord’s will for their life, and where priesthood or consecrated life is one of the options on the table.
That work of creating a culture of vocations, so dear to the heart of Fr. Troy here at St. John Vianney, really begins in families. After the choice to become a disciple of Jesus Christ, discerning one’s life vocation is the most important decision a Christian can make. And parents have an irreplaceable role in both decisions.
I always begin the story of my own vocation to the priesthood with my parents, Joe and Earline. Their love and fidelity through 42 years of marriage have given a powerful witness to my brother Michael and me. The greatest gift that they gave to me was introducing me to Jesus Christ. Indeed, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a relationship with Jesus as Lord, Savior and Friend. That relationship, so central in each of my parents’ lives and in their marriage, was nurtured in our hearts and in the life of our family by prayer together as a family. We would say our traditional prayers (the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, Act of Contrition, and a few others we picked up along the way), then each of us would pray from our heart in our own words. This relationship with God, expressed through regular conversation in prayer, proved to be central in my discernment, years later, of the Lord’s call.
In addition to family prayer, my parents gave witness of a relationship with the Lord that bore fruit in service. They, and then my brother and me, were involved in various parish organizations, from altar serving to prayer group to sponsoring a needy family at Christmas. We learned through experience the joy of serving. Equally important to that witness of service was the fact that we got to know our priests. Both through altar serving and through dinners at our home, the priests of St. John Vianney were real people to me growing up. I was impressed not only by their holiness, but by their sense of humor, the stories of rectory life, and so on. This contact “up close” with the priests was a key factor in making priesthood seem like a real possibility for my own life.
As I began to think about what God wanted me to do with my life, my parents made it clear that what they wanted most was for me to follow God’s will. People often tell me, “Your parents must be so proud to have a priest as a son!” And I always respond, “Yes, they are very proud of me and are my two biggest supporters, but they are most happy that I am following God’s will.” Throughout my seminary journey, and into my priestly ministry, my parents have taken an active interest in meeting my classmates, even having them over for dinner, and getting to know the other priests I have served with.
On the day of my priestly ordination, my parents presented me with a chalice. Along with my name and ordination date, they had it engraved with this inscription: “Our “Gift from God” [the meaning of the name “Jonathan”] – Our Gift to God.” That, I think, is the most important thing that parents can do—offer their children back to God as a gift by helping them to desire His will above all, discern it carefully, and follow it with courage.
All of the things my parents did for me are important, I think, in creating a “vocation culture” within one’s own family. Nothing is more important for parents than to introduce their children to a friendship with Jesus Christ. Kids need to see prayer and service modeled, and they need to witness the love of their own parents for each other in the Sacrament of Marriage. Contact with priests (and sisters) is really helpful in making those vocations seem like a real possibility. But most of all, parents have to trust God. As I often say when I preach in parishes around our Diocese: Remember that God knows your kids better than you do, He loves them more than you do, and so He knows better than you do what will make them happy! So, if you love your kids and want the best for them (as all parents do!), then pray for God’s will for them, show them by your own life what following God’s will looks like, and teach them to seek God’s will above all else. Trust me, they will be eternally grateful.
Fr. Jonathan Raia is a native of Houston and St. John Vianney. After hearing the call to priesthood around the time of First Holy Communion, he discerned his vocation most seriously while in college at the University of Texas at Austin. Through his involvement at the University Catholic Center and his work at the Diocese of Austin, he felt the Lord calling him to serve in Central Texas. He was ordained a priest in 2009 and is currently in his second year as Vocation Director for the Diocese of Austin. He is also the son of SJV’s parishioners, Earline and Joe Raia.
Reflecting, reading, or simple prayer is a bit tough for me these days; I am living the chaos that is a family in bloom. I stare at a monitor as it flips between two sleeping boys, ages three and one-and-a-half. My wife holds the two-week-old in the other room, trying to get her to sleep. I fight to keep my eyes open as I read the clock: eight o’clock at night. I’m looking forward to being well rested in fifteen years, but until then, coffee is my best friend. My wife and I will be celebrating four years of marriage in a few months as well. In the blink of an eye, I was a bachelor, and not long before that a seminarian praying and discerning God’s will for my life.
In those not-so-distant days, I spent a good amount of time in prayer. Each morning and evening was devoted to the liturgy of the hours. Adoration was a common practice and walking with the Lord at any given moment a frequent endeavor. It was easy for me to constantly practice my faith and identify as a Catholic. From my point of view, I was a pretty holy guy, trying to become holier every day. Flash forward to today and I laugh: man, oh man was my train about to be derailed. I was about to be blindsided unaware of what was about to hit me.
I know I am not alone in this. Countless people have made the joke about sleep, or the chaos, or the circus that is the early years of a family. Some are about to experience it, some are in the middle of it as I am, and some remember those days – grateful for them and grateful to be done with them. Many of us in the midst of family life find it a struggle to pay much attention to God’s workings in our lives. We have grocery runs and bed time, nap time and chores. Sometimes getting the family to Mass on Sunday itself is the only direct encounter with God, and even that is a struggle. How is there time to really work at living as a good Catholic when we are just trying to survive living as a family? I was at a moment of crisis when all that I did to identify as a ‘good’ Catholic was suddenly gone from my practice and impossible to regularly do again. Family life had dissolved my Catholic identity and I was lost as to how I would ever gain it back…or so I thought.
This however is not the case. I would like to propose that a faithful, Catholic family does not weaken or destroy your Catholic identity, but instead strengthens it. There are many characteristics of our identity that can be strengthened in the family, but I would like to focus on three in particular: Trinitarian, Paschal, and Sacramental.
God is love (1 John 4:8). One of the greatest lines of all Scripture. It is God’s very being. Love cannot be isolated, solitary, individualized or contained. As we understand God, we more deeply understand love. God is a community of persons. God is three in one. We describe the love of the Father and Son to be so infinite, so giving, that the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is the outpouring of the love between them. When reflecting on love, we see it is a giving of all one has to another. Love necessarily is self-giving to the infinite extreme. It is also life-giving. Love (Himself) is what created the world! Love is what saved us from our sins. Love is for the other. Our marriages are called to emulate God himself. Our marriages are a reflection of that giving love of God’s very being. Husband and wife are called to give ourselves to each other, as the Father and Son show us. In our marriages, self-love is called to give way to selfless love. Our love is also called to be life giving. That gift of love has the potential to bring about a new life nine months later. The love we promise to give in matrimony overflows to create a family, just as God’s superabundant love compelled the Trinity to make man in His own image in the creation story. So in the midst of the family life, the waking up early for our children, or patiently waiting for a spouse to get ready for a date, we strengthen our Catholic identity. As we ourselves disappear into service of our children and spouses, we disappear into the life of the Trinity. With every passing moment in which we die to ourselves, our own wills and desires, we reflect our God who is love.
This leads the way to our second means of strengthening our Catholic identity through the family: sacrifice. Many Christian communities have a cross someplace prevalent. Catholics have a crucifix. We have crosses sure, but why the crucifix? Why hold onto Jesus dead on the cross when we can simply have a cross and focus on Christ risen? As Catholics, we recognize that the greatest moment of our salvation is right there, as God himself pours forth his unending love through the pain and suffering. Sacrifice is an essential element of Catholicism. Not sacrifice without cause but suffering and sacrifice that is redemptive. It brings about salvation. The cross has no meaning without the Resurrection, but there is also no Resurrection without the cross. We look to the cross and see Christ, freely offering all. He suffered in the garden, knew what He was going to take on. It would be no walk in the park, but it was worth it. We don’t skip past or gloss over the passion. We partake in the Stations of the Cross during Lent. We kiss the cross on Good Friday and reflect on the scourging at the pillar. Why do we do these things? Why can’t we just focus on the Resurrection? As Catholics, we recognize the reality of sin and the reality of pain. We know that it is there, but we are able to carry our crosses with Christ. We can suffer with Christ, knowing that this is an offering that brings about new life. How many of us as fathers and mothers wouldn’t easily take on all the suffering of our sick child so they could be healthy again? As a family, we encounter crosses, pain, and suffering all the time. In the midst of life, we may sometimes feel the weight of our crosses. As a husband trying to provide financially for his family. As a stay-at-home mom trying to corral three young children who are tired and hungry. As a couple trying to comfort a child who has a cold or a toddler with an injured hand. Without Christ and his example through his passion and death, we may simply see darkness and dread in these moments. With Christ, we are able to encounter him, walk with him, suffer with him, and offer up our suffering for those we love more easily. Christ’s words echo clearly here, ‘my yoke is easy, my burden light’. (Mt 11:20) How light the burden is when there is meaning, when we get rid of self and take it on for others! We recognize that even Christ had to walk through the trials for the sake of love, so we too, with every cross we encounter in the family are able to be more Christ-like. These sacrifices and pains we encounter enable us to strengthen our Catholic identity and be a light of love in the midst of darkness.
When I think of what sets Catholics apart from other faithful Christians, our sacramental view of life stands out. We are a sacramental people. It penetrates down to the deepest parts of our being. We may not even realize how the sacramental nature of Catholicism affects us. Christ is the sacrament of God, the face of the Father. We encounter Christ in the Eucharist. We encounter grace in the Church. Baptism brings about the invisible grace of salvation. We encounter the invisible God through these visible means. Often times we think about grace and sacrament in only these seven encounters. We can learn from Blessed Mother Teresa, who for years spoke of encountering Christ in the dying on the streets of Calcutta. As husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, we too encounter Christ in a similar way. We encounter him in our children, and in our spouses. We come into contact with grace when we come into contact with them. We are called to see Christ through them, in them, and with them. There is temptation to sometimes see our children as a burden, our wives or husbands as simply an obligation. These are lies in as much as God sees us, his children, as a waste or worthless. Quite the opposite, we, the lowly sinners as we were, were seen by the Father as his prodigal children. We were worthy to give it all up for, to become man, suffer and die for. We encounter grace through the sacraments. We also encounter God through our family. As we strive to see God in our families in the same way God views us, we will become people more fully alive, for we will become the people God created us to be, given to grace and imitating Christ, who is God made man. Then, as we view the Church as a beacon of salvation, communion, love, and sanctification, we can view our families, the domestic church in the same way. We will not only encounter grace within our own members, but we will be an encounter with God to the families, friends, and strangers who come into contact with us.
As my sons and daughter grow, and the chaos of family life becomes calmer, I look forward to picking up those religious practices again. We are not defined, however, by how many rosaries we say or how often we pray the liturgy of the hours. Our Catholic identity reaches beyond acts we perform or prayers we pray. We are formed by God, and we live out a Catholic identity through that formation. Some of the most core values of Catholicism are strengthened within the confines of the family. We are a community of persons, given in love, reflecting the triune God. We are a people of the paschal mystery, celebrating the Resurrection and participating in Christ’s passion and death through our family struggles. Finally, we are a people who encounter God and his grace through the visible world around us, most especially through the members of our family. The Church, the body of Christ, is the sacrament of communion and salvation, for through it we become one in Him and receive sanctification poured out to us from Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The family is often called the ‘domestic church’ and we can see those same sacramental elements within its walls. Truly we are the domestic Church. Our families are a great means of growing in our Catholic identity and holiness. I look forward to teaching my children the wonderful cultural practices, devotional prayers, and liturgical celebrations that make Catholicism so rich and beautiful. At the same time, I know that I can be strengthened as a Catholic through my own domestic Church in each and every encounter I have.
Christopher Cole is a native of Houston and was a parishioner of St. John Vianney in his childhood years. He currently is in his sixth year teaching theology at Strake Jesuit. He combines those duties with coordinating educational technology at the school. Chris attended Texas A&M University before transferring to Franciscan University in Steubenville Ohio to pursue a double major in Theology and Catechetics. He subsequently earned a Master’s degree in Theological Studies from the University of St. Thomas. Prior to his work at Strake Jesuit, he worked for the transformative family ministry Paradisus Dei, That Man is You, before spending two years discerning God’s vocation at St. Mary’s seminary here in Houston. Chris is a father of three living out the vocation of matrimony. Chris is also the son of SJV’s parishioners Paula and David Cole.
Building on the principle that the family is the fundamental structure for the ‘human ecology,’ Catholic tradition also teaches us that “by his innermost nature man is a social being, and unless he relates himself to others, he can neither live nor develop his potential.” (Gaudium et Spes)
As such, tradition also teaches us that we are to seek authentic human development, through mutual cooperation, where every individual is able to become the ‘principal architect of his/her own economic and social development,’ and where economic decisions are made accountable to the common good (USCCB).
In The Human Community, Bishop William E. Lori explains how we are all to seek the common good by “living up to our vocations and by being loyal and engaged citizens.” He explains how the Church has taken up and refined the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity in the interest of the human person, and how these two principles are the basis for attaining genuine social justice.
A perfect example of individuals helping each other and seeking the common good can be seen in Mayra’s Story. Her story has been featured as part of Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl program, and it gives witness to the fact that when people answer that call to family, community and participation, lives are changed.
In this day and age it may be hard to understand why we are called to seek the common good and to participate. The modern world’s definition of success is tailored towards individuals, and it can lead us to believe that such success can sometimes come at the expense of others. Father Nathaniel Haslam explains to us, though, why this definition goes against the teachings of the Catholic Church and why we must stay true to our teachings and respond correctly to that call to seek the common good and to participate.
Fr Nathaniel Haslam, LC was ordained Christmas 2010 with the Legionaries of Christ and moved to Texas the following summer. He is an RPI graduate (Bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering, Minor in Mechanical Engineering), worked for Xerox and was aspiring to create his own Fortune 500 Company before God called him to the priesthood. During his years in Rome, he was the founder and executive director of the college leadership study abroad programs at the Universita Europea di Roma. While there, he also helped organize and coordinate the first ever Vatican Executive Summit (June 2011) held in the Vatican Gardens. During this historic event, over 50 top CEOs and international business executives discussed the financial crisis and business ethics in the light of Pope Benedict’s landmark document, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in the Truth). Now in the US, Fr Nathaniel is the National Business Ethics Advisor for the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce as well as Houston chaplain for the Lumen Institute for business and cultural leaders. He assists Texas business leaders and young professionals through personal coaching and advising in the areas of faith, character (integrity, stewardship, prudential decision making, perseverance) and leadership so as to have a ‘Business Plan for Life’ and not just their company. He also advises small to large Fortune 500 companies in the creation and application of business ethics policies. He also serves as the Local Director and Board Chair for the Regnum Christi Movement in Houston and regularly helps at St John Vianney and Prince of Peace parishes.
The U.S. Catholic Bishops tell us that in the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is “a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation. This obligation is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all we do.” They also remind us that “it is necessary that all participate, each according to his position and role, in promoting the common good. This obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person. . . . As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life’ (nos. 1913-1915). Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.
With this in mind, John Fahy reminds us why it is our duty, as Catholics, to answer that call to Participation.
Do you detect election fatigue already? Certainly among my friends and family, I sense a dissatisfaction that I haven’t noticed in years past. It seems that no matter which candidate wins November’s election, just about everyone is prepared to move abroad and consign the country to the dustbin of history.
Our faith calls us to do better — to participate in the advancement of the common good, together with our fellow men, even in tough situations like these. This newsletter’s themes of community and participation touch on topics of great importance in a politically challenging year like this one. In this article, let’s take a look at a few myths about political participation, answered from the Catholic Social Tradition.
Myth: Our political participation is a matter of personal taste and judgment: you support your causes, I support mine, and nobody’s really right or wrong.
Sometimes, wanting to avoid political controversy, we might retreat to a kind of polite relativism. “You have the right to support that cause, and I have the right to support mine. No need to argue.” But this thinking may incline us to believe that “the voice of the people” is nothing more than the sum total of those individual tastes—a gentler version of might makes right, something akin to voting on American Idol. Indeed, even the structure of our democratic practices might encourage that kind of individualistic thinking. Private ballots and the taboo against political conversation imply that nothing outside ourselves should influence our politics—it’s my vote, my voice. Media bias may encourage us in a kind of insularity that approaches individualism. While prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (today Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) called this stance a mistaken “ethical pluralism, which sanctions the decadence and disintegration of reason and the principles of the natural moral law.” On this view, “citizens claim complete autonomy with regard to their moral choices, and lawmakers maintain that they are respecting this freedom of choice by enacting laws which ignore the principles of natural ethics and yield to ephemeral cultural and moral trends, as if every possible outlook on life were of equal value.” Some believe such pluralism to be the very foundation of democracy, he wrote — but it should not be so!
Reality: There are right and wrong political choices. Our political participation is a matter of understanding and applying universal moral principles. Some political behaviors are virtuous and meritorious, and others can be downright sinful. We aren’t absolved of our moral duties just because this is politics.
Ratzinger continues, “By fulfilling their civic duties, guided by a Christian conscience, in conformity with its values, the lay faithful exercise their proper task of infusing the temporal order with Christian values…” (emphasis mine). Put the other way around, unchristian values don’t get a pass because it’s election season.
The USCCB, in 1998’s Living The Gospel of Life, emphasized this point. “Today, Catholics risk cooperating in a false pluralism. Secular society will allow believers to have whatever moral convictions they please — as long as they keep them on the private preserves of their consciences, in their homes and churches, and out of the public arena. Democracy is not a substitute for morality, nor a panacea for immorality. Its value stands — or falls — with the values which it embodies and promotes. Only tireless promotion of the truth about the human person can infuse democracy with the right values… American Catholics have long sought to assimilate into U.S. cultural life. But in assimilating, we have too often been digested. We have been changed by our culture too much, and we have changed it not enough.”
Myth: Political participation is or ought to be a secular endeavor.
Some believe that the Church should play no role at all in political life. Even as individual Christians, we may hesitate to bring our religious convictions to bear on our political work. We may feel confident making personal choices on Catholic principles, but we uneasy making political choices on those same grounds. There’s certainly a pressure to set aside our religious values for the sake of public secularity. Perhaps a misunderstanding of the American value of the “separation between Church and State” is at play here; but no matter the cause, the Church insists otherwise:
Reality: Political action is a demand of the Gospel, and an opportunity to help God’s kingdom come.
The Synod of Bishops, in 1971, published a seminal text on social justice and the Church, called Justice in the World. They write that “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.” The Church has a role to play in transforming the world, but even in political life?
In Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the quadrennial document on the political responsibility of Catholics, the USCCB says yes: “the obligation to teach the moral truths that should shape our lives, including our public lives, is central to the mission given to the Church by Jesus Christ… Civil law should fully recognize and protect the right of the Church and other institutions in civil society to participate in cultural, political, and economic life without being forced to abandon or ignore their central moral convictions.”
Even we individual citizens, when we participate in politics, do the very work of the Church. “We relate to the civil order as citizens of the heavenly Kingdom, whose reign is not yet fully realized on earth but demands our unqualified allegiance. It is as citizens faithful to the Lord Jesus that we contribute most effectively to the civil order” (Faithful Citizenship). We don’t turn off the faith to turn on our citizenship. “This is what Jesus meant when He asked us to be leaven in society. If we are leaven, we must bring to our culture the whole Gospel, which is a Gospel of life and joy. That is our vocation as believers” (Gospel of Life).
Myth: All political issues are equal in importance.
In the political competition of an election, it can be tempting to try to weigh the positive and negative qualities of each candidate; this is especially true when, as now, no candidate accurately and completely represents Catholic social thinking. “Candidate X is right on three issues, Candidate Y is right on three issues, so it’s a wash.” The Church teaches otherwise…
Reality: When making political decisions, some issues should count more than others.
First and foremost are those issues which imply an irreverence for man himself. Gaudium et Spes mentioned these: “whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed.”
A similar list, with more precise policy recommendations, can be found in Faithful Citizenship nos. 63-90. This section is nearly impossible to summarize well, and is really a must-read for any Catholic wanting to conform his or her political action to the teachings of the Church.
Myth: Catholics must vote.
“If you don’t vote, you can’t complain,” they say. In the early 2000s, the “Vote or die!” slogan grew popular. It seems to me that not voting is understood to be a failure of the worst kind — a mortal sin in the American ethic. I suppose that we Americans find voting an essential part of our story — a symbol of our throwing off of monarchy. To avoid voting is to somehow insult democracy, and to insult democracy is to insult America itself. To Americans, voting appears basically sacred. However, the much older and more diverse Catholic tradition offers both explicit and implicit reasons to doubt this sacralization of the democratic process.
Reality: There are times where abstaining is legitimate.
Though it would be hard to develop this line of thinking fully in the short form of this article, we should note that the Church’s magisterium has, in the past, expressed mixed views on the democratic form of government in general. While bishops have usually taught their people to vote, as ours do in Faithful Citizenship, they have also sometimes prohibited Catholics from voting in cases where their vote would formally cooperate with an evil or broken political system.
I’ll be the first to admit that these times are rare, but they are made explicit, even in today’s USCCB writings: “When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.”
Are we in such a time now, wherein all candidates hold a position that promotes intrinsic evils? I think we probably are. The question for Catholic voters is which of those options to take — whether to respond with abstention or with careful minimization of harm. None of this is to deny that Catholics must be involved in the political and public life of their nation, as described above, but only to remind us that voting isn’t the only way — and may not be the best way — to do so.
It’s tough to sum up such a complex topic as our political participation. Participation in public and political life is our duty, because we are our brothers’ keepers. It is part of our Christian vocation to transform the world and usher in the reign of God. We cannot cease to be Catholics when we begin to be voters, or lobbyists, or Republicans, or Democrats. As election season picks up steam, I strongly suggest that we not despair! Instead, read Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, as well as other magisterial texts on the topic, many of which are linked above, and find faithful, educated, sincere Catholics to discuss the issues with. May God bless us all in our vocation as political participators, and may God bless our nation as we work to improve the common good.
John Fahy has a Master’s degree in Theology, and he is a member of the theology faculty at Strake Jesuit College Prep. With his wife Angelica and their three children, John is grateful every day to live and work in holy communities like Jesuit and St. John Vianney.
Now that we know what that call to family, community and participation entails, we invite you to reflect on the following questions. These questions are proposed by the USCCB as a method for reflecting on how each of us, as individuals and collectively, respond to that call and work towards the common good.
- Do I try to make positive contributions in my family and in my community?
- Are my beliefs, attitudes, and choices such that they strengthen or undermine the institution of the family?
- Am I aware of problems facing my local community and involved in efforts to find solutions? Do I stay informed and make my voice heard when needed?
- Do I support the efforts of poor persons to work for change in their neighborhoods and communities? Do my attitudes and interactions empower or disempower others?
To conclude this section, we leave you with a brief reflection by Father John Morfin on the Last Judgement (Matthew 25:31-46). Father Morfin’s reflection on this topic goes to the very heart of the principles of family, community and participation, answering the age-old question commonly heard when addressing this topic: ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ We think that his answer happens to be spot-on:
Dare we do something about the pressing social needs of our time for the glory of God and the good of humanity? Those who helped and those who hurt had one common response to the situation in this parable of our Lord. “Lord, when? When did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?” Goodness is not a sudden blaze of glory. It is not an announcement in the parish bulletin or a plaque on the wall. Goodness is done for the glory of God and for the good of the people. That is reward enough. Am I my brother’s keeper? The answer is no. That smacks of manipulation and control. I am my brother’s brother, for Jesus is a brother to us all.
living faith, changing lives, making a difference:
one person at a time
Quarterly Report from SJV’s Social Service Ministries
December, 2015 – February, 2016
SJV’s Social Service Ministries Department, through its Emergency Assistance Ministry, provides food, clothes, financial, and other types of assistance to those in need. Working in conjunction with the Food Pantry, Joseph’s Coat Resale Shop, our Employment Ministry, the Gabriel Project other ministries within Social Services, and partnering with ministries such as Memorial Assistance Ministries and Catholic Charities, our volunteer interviewers meet with those in our neighborhood who are facing financial crises. These difficulties are often due to unemployment, low income, medical costs, or unforeseen family crises. Acting on their commitment to the Corporal Works of Mercy and through the donations of our very generous parishioners, the volunteers are able to compassionately respond to the needs of our clients and help them overcome the “bumps in the road.”
FOLLOWING UP: A FAITHFUL RESPONSE TO THE REFUGEE CRISIS
“The Gospel calls us, asks us to be ‘neighbors’ of the smallest and most abandoned.”~ Pope Francis
In our first issue of Salt & Light we featured numerous articles on the hardships faced by Syrian refugees and the crisis that has stemmed from that conflict. We know that many of those fleeing their countries of origin are doing so due to ethnic and religious persecution. Sadly, the persecution and the conflict continues, with no foreseeable end in sight.
We hope that you continue to pray for those facing persecution, and to give you a glimpse of what lots of our fellow Christians must face on a daily basis, we want to share with you an article titled Syrian Christians Taking up the Cross.
If reading this article has moved you to the point of taking action, we invite you to start by contacting Catholics Confront Global Poverty’s Action Center. As Father Pablo stated in his article, “may Jesus Christ grant us the grace to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him, even if it means following the footsteps of the courageous Syrian Christians.”
“To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.” ~ Winston S. Churchill