Archive for the ‘Elections’ Category

Prayer Warriors

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

In the final stages of the health care debate, we turn our attention to all the techniques of Advocacy 101. The USCCB has encouraged all parishes to publish in their bulletins a call for all Catholics to contact their Congressional representatives, to urge them to ensure that human life is respected in the health care bill. Our bishops are being asked to contact key legislators, to let them know of our concerns. Our professional lobbyists are working long hard hours behind the scenes to advance our concerns.

At the same time, we all must turn to the ultimate weapon — prayer.

Across the nation, people are lifting their minds and hearts to God, asking Him to guide our nation along the right path. Religious communities and seminarians are fasting, praying, and spending time in Eucharistic adoration. We are imploring Our Blessed Mother to intercede for our nation, that the hearts of our elected officials will be converted, and that we will be saved from the expansion of abortion and euthanasia.

Many years ago, John Cardinal O’Connor, looked out at the deplorable situation in the United States, where unborn lives are vulnerable to abortion at any time, for any reason. He called to mind the words of Our Lord, that some demons can only be case out by prayer and fasting (Mk 9:29). Cardinal O’Connor understood the fundamental truth that Our Lord was speaking to our time — that abortion cannot ultimately be fought by political means alone, but all our efforts must be rooted in personal prayer and sacrifice.

That insight led Cardinal O’Connor to found the Sisters of Life, but it has also led to the continual re-vitalization of the pro-life movement. Even as so many of us devote our efforts to the public square, we all realize that the spiritual battle is by far the most important, and that the most effective and productive efforts in our movement are the ones that are so counter to conventional wisdom — they are the efforts of prayer and fasting.

And so, initiatives like the “40 Days for Life”, which involves people in prayerful witness outside of abortion clinics, has saved thousands of life, and has excited the intense hostility of the forces of the Culture of Death. Here in our own city, the First Saturday of every month has a Witness for Life in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic in lower Manhattan.

And in convents, seminaries and private homes around our nation, prayer warriors are engaged in the real struggle. They realize, as St. Paul did, that

“we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 9:16)

So, my friends, let us pray, and let us fast.

It’s Coming Down to the Wire

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

The debate over health care reform is coming down to the wire now, and many crucial issues are still in play.

The most important, from my perspective, is abortion.  The current bills in Congress would all cover elective abortions as a feature of health insurance plans, and would either directly or indirectly pay for elective abortions with federal money — that is, our tax dollars.  One of the the worst things about this is that elective abortions will be defined as “health care”, even though it is the only medical procedure that is specifically designed to cause the death of a human being.  That is a gross injustice that must be opposed with all our strength.

Another terrible thing about this whole debate is the level of misinformation that is being spread around by the bills’ supporters.  The Speaker of the House claimed last month that the health care bill “does not expand any funding for abortion.”   That is flat out false.  Under federal law, no federal funds are spent on elective abortions — none at all.  However, the House bill specifically authorizes the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (who happens to be pro-abortion) to include elective abortion as a mandatory benefit in the so-called “public option” — federally funded — health care plan.  It also allows private health plans that cover elective abortion to receive government funding, and requires that every part of the country have at least one private plan that covers elective abortions.

Administration spokesmen also continue to falsely state that the Hyde Amendment would prevent federal funding for elective abortions.  But that provision, which limits Medicaid funding for abortion to those cases where it is necessary to preserve the life of the mother, or if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, just does not apply to these new health care reform bills.  That has been demonstrated time and time again, and yet the Administration continues to spread this misinformation.

Public funding for abortion is not just a terrible injustice in theory, it’s deadly in practice.  If there is one thing clear from history, it’s that the number of elective abortions increases when the government pays for it.  By restricting public funding, we’re saving lives.

In September, the President made a solemn promise to the American people in his address to the joint session of Congress.  He said, “under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.”

The time has come for the President to prove that he is a man of his word.  The time has come for the members of Congress to prove that they are worthy of holding public office.

And the time has come for us to stand up and be courageous Christians.  Our US  Bishops have called upon all parishes to spread the word about the problems with the current health care bills, and to call our people to action.  If you haven’t done so yet, please contact your Congressional representatives about this bill.  You can do so through the Catholic Advocacy Network of the New York State Catholic Conference, or the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment.

The debate is coming down to the wire.  Lives are at stake.

The Politics of Principle

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

In the mind of most people, “politics” is the struggle of candidates, political parties, and their supporters to gain power and influence in the government. That is certainly true up to a point, and it makes for interesting entertainment.

I write a good deal about politics on this blog and elsewhere, and I’m frequently percieved as being “political” in that sense — of being”partisan”. That completely misses the point.

There is a deeper, more significant nature of politics. It is the way we order our society together, so that we can live according to our vocations and be happy, and ultimately attain eternal life. In this understanding of politics, the partisan theater is an important reality, but it is not the main focus. What really matters is principle.

Without principles, politics becomes mere pragmatism, where the question is whether something “works”, or, in the less elevated version of the game, what’s in it for me. Now, don’t get me wrong. Pragmatism is important — we want our government to be effective. But again, principle is more important.

I received much of my tutelage in the real world of politics from a man who devoted his life to being a practitioner of the politics of principle. I learned that it was fine to be keenly interested in the partisan scrum, but only to the extent that it advanced the principles we hold dear — defense of human life, protection of marriage, family and children, and religious liberty. The promotion of those principles is more important than party label, and the idea is to support — or oppose — politicians based on their fidelity to those principles, not based on what party label they happened to be wearing this week.

That’s how I try to practice politics, in my small and limited way. I have opinions and judgments about many pragmatic issues, and what kinds of national security, economic and other policies would “work” better than others. But none of those pragmatic issues matter at all, compared to the core principles.

Here’s how it works for me. If a politician doesn’t protect human life, I don’t care what his position is on other issues. If he can’t understand that human life is sacred and must be protected at all stages, I have no reason to trust his judgment about any other issue. And, very frankly, anyone who does not understand that basic principle is not, in my opinion, fit to hold public office.

The same holds for the other core issues. I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. If you don’t respect human life, don’t see the need to preserve marriage as one man and one woman, and won’t defend religious liberty, they you just have to look elsewhere to get your fifty percent plus one.

This means that I am perpetually dissatisfied with our political process and our politicians. But that’s fine with me. They are all temporary office holders anyway, here today and gone tomorrow, and their platforms are passing fancies that nobody will remember in a short time. The principles, however, remain perpetually valid.

Listen, Our Lord made a very simple request of us. He said, “Follow me”. He didn’t say, be a Republican or a Democrat, a Socialist or a Whig. He demands that I be his follower. So I need to look to the Lord for my principles, and in this age that means I have to listen to the Church. That’s what Our Lord wants me to do — after all, he said to his apostles “he who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk 10:16). We happen to have in our midst the successors of those apostles — the Holy Father, our bishops, and my bishop in particular. As a Catholic I must listen to them, and get my political principles from them, not from Fox News, CNN, talking heads of the left or the right, the editorial page of the Times, or either the Democratic or Republican Parties.

This, to me, is the way to live as a disciple of Christ in this crazy political process. I realize that this will be considered odd by many, and even dangerous by some.

But we hardly need more party loyalists at this, or any other, time. And we certainly need more practitioners of the politics of principle.

(This is dedicated to the memory of Jack Swan, who entered eternal life on this date, February 2, 1998, and whom God sent into my life to teach me this lesson. I’m a pygmy standing on the shoulders of a giant. Jack, please pray for me, that I get the lesson right.)

Why Elections Matter

Saturday, December 27th, 2008

During the past election, there were many people who thought that there was really very little that a President could do to affect pro-life concerns, and that it therefore didn’t make much of a difference who was elected.

Welcome back to Planet Earth.

As the new administration of the 100% anti-life President-elect prepares to take office, they have already begun revealing their agenda. Funding will be given to support research that destroys human embryos. Tax money will once again be given to organizations like the Temple of Moloch, er, I mean Planned Parenthood, that advocate for legalized abortion around the world. New regulations that protect the right of conscience of hospitals and medical professionals may be rescinded. Abstinence education programs will be gone for good. “Comprehensive sex education” programs (i.e., “here’s your condoms, go have fun”) will see an increase in funding. Unborn children may no longer be eligible for coverage in the Children’s Health Insurance Program. And that’s just for starters.

It’s an ugly picture of an ideology that has no sympathy for pro-life interests, and will do nothing to stand in the way of unlimited sexual license, facilitated by access to contraceptives and to the destruction of innocent human life.

Still think that elections don’t matter?

Just to give you an idea of how committed the pro-abortion forces are, they recently delivered to the new administration a 55-page document outlining all the ways that they want to attack human life and dignity. It’s a useful document, because it give you an idea of the scope and reach of the Culture of Death.

One item jumped off the page to me, because it showed me the true face of evil.

One of the great accomplishments of the Bush Administration has been its monumental effort to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa. We never hear about this from our media, but it’s a significant effort, involving millions of dollars in aid, linked together with efforts to change risky and dangerous behaviors.

It is undeniably true is that one of the most important ways that HIV/AIDS is spread in Africa is through prostitution. The current administration’s policy requires any agency that want to receive funding to have a policy opposing prostitution. That would seem to be a no-brainer — if you want our money to fight HIV/AIDS, you have to join in fighting one of the principal ways in which it is spread.

Well, maybe not so obvious, because when the ideology of sexual license joins the game, the rules of reason go out the window.

In their wish list, the pro-abortion crowd wants to eliminate this rule. In other words, they want our tax money to go to groups that do not oppose the kind of behavior that is causing the epidemic. That’s how committed they are to irresponsible sexual behavior. They’re willing to at least turn a blind eye to the kind of behavior that’s killing millions.

Now, here’s the kicker — that program will be administered under the Department of State. That department will be run by the 100% anti-life junior Senator from New York.

Still think that elections don’t matter?

Where do we go from here? Thoughts on pro-life strategies.

Friday, November 7th, 2008

There is no doubt that the events of Election Day 2008 were a major setback for the pro-life movement. Regardless of the wishful thinking of some “intellectuals” and pundits, the cause of protecting and revering human life was dealt a significant blow.

So what do we do in the aftermath of a defeat? We look to change tactics, to avoid doing the things that led to the defeat, and to find ways that will lead to victory. We also need to be honest — we can’t keep doing what we’ve always been doing, or we’ll always get what we’ve always gotten.

Too much of the pro-life movement is perceived as being negative, judgmental, and confrontational — and not without reason. We need to change this. Too much of the pro-life cause is seen to be political and divisive — and not without reason. We need to change this.

This is a time to go back to Pro-Life 101.

In his great encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul laid out an agenda for us. He called on us to serve, celebrate and proclaim the Gospel of Life — not just to try and legislate it.

To me, this means we need to take a step back from the political arena. Not abandon it. Not at all. We need to fight evil laws like the Freedom of Choice Act with all our strength and try to enact just ones. We need to build a nation where human law reflects the divine law, and the dignity of human life is absolutely respected. The only way to do this is to change the culture, from the bottom up.

So, when people hear us talk about abortion, we have to make sure they don’t just turn us off because they think we’re just going to talk about politics and legislation. The Church is not a political movement. We are a Church of servants.

We need to put a serious and sustained effort into mobilizing Christians to serve and support mothers and fathers in crisis pregnancies. This has to start in our families, and in our parishes. The way to stop abortion is in our homes, by committing ourselves to give real, concrete, loving support to vulnerable mothers — who are, after all, our own sisters, spouses, and daughters. They should know that they can always turn to us for help to make the right decision, and then to live with it.

Right now, we don’t do enough to get that message out.

Too many women go to abortion clinics feeling afraid, abandoned, unable to reach out for help to their families or churches. We need to change that. Every time that happens, we have failed in our Christian duty to that mother and her baby.

This means we need to talk about abortion more, not less — to motivate everyone to commit themselves never to allow a family member or friend to make the wrong decision. We need married couples and chaste singles to preach purity, both within marriage and without. We need to hear the witness of post-abortive mothers and father, to hear their pain and to take up their cross alongside them so they may be healed. We need to welcome the mothers and fathers who have chosen life, and help them bear their burdens.

More than anything, we need a crusade to pray more, and more fervently. We have to do this individually and as groups, especially before the Blessed Sacrament.

The Church and Catholic people are doing so much right now. The Sisters of Life, Good Counsel Homes, the Cenacles of Life, the various agencies of Catholic Charities — these and so many others are serving, celebrating and proclaiming the Gospel of Life already.

But we can’t just hand it off to them — every single Christian needs to step up to the plate. Every Catholic young man and woman needs to hear the same message of life from all of us, starting within our families and reaching out into our parishes. If you’re pregnant, we won’t judge you or reject you — we’ll help you. If you need health care or food stamps, we’ll help you deal with Social Sevices. Maternity clothes, baby clothes? We’ll take up a collection at the school. Some money for toys? We’ve got some spare change we can all kick in. A place to stay? Somebody in the parish has an extra room you can use. Your baby’s room painted or the crib put together? The Knights of Columbus are there. A ride to the doctor, a babysitter, or a friend to talk to? Ladies of Charity. That’s how you build a Culture of Life, where the choice for life becomes so much easier.

In the final analysis, what I’m proposing is that we go back to Christianity 101. Remember, our mission in life is to bring Christ to others, and to bring others to Christ. The only way to do this is to overwhelm people with our love, to proclaim it not just with our words, but with our sacrificial self-gift. This is the call of every Christian disciple, and it is the only way, ultimately, to build the civilization of love — by doing all we can to help the Holy Spirit transform hearts, one at a time if necessary.

Change? History? Not for me. I mourn.

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

So, America has elected its first African-American president. That’s a good thing. I wish him well, and will pray for him, just as I always pray for all our civic leaders.

But hope? Change? History? Jubilation?

Not for me. I mourn for our nation.

We have elected a man who is deeply committed to intrinsically evil laws: legalized abortion, cloning, destructive stem cell research, restrictions on religious liberty, same-sex unions. We have increased the majorities in Congress of a party that is equally — if not more — committed to that same agenda.

The massive outdoor celebration in Chicago on election night was ironic. Reports said that over a million people gathered in the park to rejoice in their candidate’s victory. I couldn’t help but notice the deeper significance of that number.

There are over a million abortions each year in the United States. Imagine it with me. That the park in Chicago could have been filled with the million children, destroyed in their mother’s womb each year. Or with the million mothers, physically and psychologically scarred by the abortion experience. Or with the million fathers, who lost their son or daughter, and who will have to live with that experience. Or with the countless more millions of children who will be lost as the modern-day Slaughter of the Innocents continues unabated.

There were other dark notes as well. The New York State legislature seems poised to be controlled by the Democratic Party. This will usher in a new regime of extreme abortion laws, same sex “marrriage”, and persecution of the Church.

There were a few bright signs across the nation. The ballot measures to defend the traditional definition of marriage won in both Florida and California. That’s good.

But on the whole, it was a dreary night for those of us who care about the cause of human life, and the defense of marriage and religious liberty.

In the end, not enough people cared about what really matters. They didn’t care enough to form ther conscience based on the truths of the natural law or the teachings of Christ’s Church. They didn’t care enough to choose candidates based on their commitment to the most fundamental human right — the right to life itself. They seemed to care more about transitory concerns like their 401(k) balance, or meaningless slogans like “change we can believe in”.

I mourn for our nation. I pray for our hardness of heart.

And, today, I get up again, and go back to work at building a civilization of love, and a culture of life. That’s all God expects of me, and I will do my duty. He has the plan, already mapped out. I trust in Him, even when things don’t work out the way I would like.

In today’s Divine Office, the reading of Morning Prayer (from Job 1) says it all:

Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb,
and naked I shall go back again.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
blessed be the name of the Lord!
We accept good things from God;
and should we not accept evil?

Real hope is found not in politicians or princes, but only in Jesus, in His cross and resurrection. Let’s always hold on to that.

Be Careful Who You Vote For – You could be supporting evil legislation

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Lurking in the background of this election are two crucial pieces of legislation — the “Freedom of Choice Act” (“FOCA”) in Congress, and the “Reproductive Health and Privacy Promotion Act” (RHAPP) in the New York State Legislature.

These two bills are substantially the same, and would have devastating effects on our society.

I’m not mincing words here — these bills are evil.

The supporters of FOCA and RHAPP claim falsely that they would only enact the provisions of Roe v. Wade into statutory law. Even though that would be awful enough, the bills are actually much, much worse. They would erase every reasonable regulation of abortion that has been enacted in the United States for the last 35 years, and could gravely endanger our religious liberties.

FOCA and RHAPP would declare abortion to be a “fundamental right”, and would ban any “discrimination” against that right. This means that it would be virtually impossible to regulate or restrict abortion in any way, at any time in pregnancy. Here are the kinds of laws that would be impossible to pass, if FOCA or RHAPP becomes law:

  • The partial birth abortion ban
  • Restrictions on public funding for abortions (under current federal law, the Medicaid program only pays for abortions if it was the result of rape or incest, or if the mother’s life is at risk; these bills would require Medicaid paying for all abortions, regardless of the reason)
  • Parental notification laws that require some parental involvement if a minor is seeking an abortion
  • Informed consent laws that require the doctor to reveal all the side effects of abortion (including psychological effects) and the facts of fetal development
  • Bans or restrictions on late-term abortions
  • Bans on abortions performed for sex selection or to kill handicapped children
  • Requirements that a doctor be available to treat the child if it survives an abortion
    Requirements that the mother be shown a sonogram before the abortion
    Bans on non-doctors performing abortions
    The “Mexico City Policy”, which bans aid to international organizations that promote abortion
  • In addition, FOCA or RHAPP would undermine or eliminate the conscience protections in law that protect religious liberties. Church-owned hospitals, social service agencies, and schools could be required to promote, perform, or refer for abortions. Just think about that — our schools could be required to help pregnant girls to get an abortion, or risk being sued for “discrimination”. And the licenses of doctors, nurses, and other professionals could be at risk if they don’t promote, perform or refer for abortions.

    For more information about FOCA, please visit the US Bishops’ Conference website.

    For more information about RHAPP, please visit the NYS Catholic Conference website here and here.

    These bills are extreme, and extremely evil. No Christian can call himself a true disciple of Christ if he supports laws like FOCA or RHAPP. This is the clear teaching of our Church.

    As Christians, we should do all within our power to resist this kind of evil. As St. Paul says, “”Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). This includes how we vote on Election Day.

    Here are the people on the ballot in New York who are on record as co-sponsors of these bills:

    FOCA

  • Candidate for President: Barack Obama
  • Candidates for Congress: Jerrold Nadler (primary sponsor), Gary Ackerman, Yvette Clark, Joseph Crowley, Eliot Engel, Nita Lowey, Carolyn Maloney, Carolyn McCarthy, Charles Rangel, Edolphus Towns, Nydia Velazquez
  • (Note: Both Senators from New York, Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, co-sponsor FOCA, but neither is running for re-election this year)
  • RHAPP

  • Candidates for State Senate: Andrea Stewart-Cousins (primary sponsor), Eric Adams, Neil Breslin, Thomas Duane, Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Shirley Huntley, Craig Johnson, Liz Krueger, Valmanette Montgomery, Kevin Parker, Bill Perkins, Diane Savino, Eric Schneiderman, Jose Serrano, Malcolm Smith, Toby Ann Stavisky, Antoine Thompson
  • (Note: the bill has not yet been introduced in the Assembly, so there are no official co-sponsors of the bill in that house)
  • Let me tell you where my conscience stands on this. But before I do that, here’s the official disclaimer: as the sidebar to this blog already says, but I will repeat it here, this is my personal opinion, and is not the official position of the Archdiocese. Here’s the personal disclaimer: I’m going to tell you the judgment of my conscience, but I can’t judge anything about the state of anybody else’s; that’s up to God.

    Having said all that, here goes:

    Given the state of my conscience, if I were to vote for any supporter of “abortion rights”, especially the people who are co-sponsors of FOCA or RHAPP, I believe that I would be committing a mortal sin. It would mean that I was turning a blind eye to the evil of abortion, and I would be utterly failing the acid test of Christian discipleship — love thy neighbor.

    I cannot imagine a grave enough moral reason that could justify me supporting someone who can sponsor a bill like FOCA or RHAPP. I can’t see any other issue that could possibly outweigh something like this.

    How could I face Jesus with that on my soul?

    Don’t be a Guilty Bystander — Vote Pro-Life

    Friday, October 31st, 2008

    Whenever we attend Mass, we recite the Confetior — “I confess to almighty God…” If you’re anything like me (chronically late for Mass), these words tend to fly by without really striking my easily-distracted head and my heedless heart.

    But we need to listen closely to what we are saying, and what it means.

    “I have sinned through my own fault in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do.”

    These last words are alarming to me — “You mean, there are sins I commit by not doing something?”

    Yes, indeed. If I fail to do something that is my duty, then I have sinned. The easiest example is when a parent fails to take care of their child — not taking her to the doctor when she’s sick, not giving him good food, not teaching her the faith.

    But it can happen in all sorts of other places, too. Including the voting booth.

    As disciples of Christ, we have an obligation to do good and resist evil. But we can’t look on this duty on a purely individual level. I have responsibilities as a member of our society to do good and resist evil. If I fail to do this by standing on the sidelines and doing nothing — or looking the other way and explaining my activity away — I’m nothing more than a guilty bystander.

    In this election, our duty is clear. Our Holy Father has told us plainly that the defense of every human life from conception to natural death, and the preservation of the family built upon marriage between a man and a woman, are “non-negotiable” values (Sacramentum Caritas 83). We cannot compromise on these issues. We must promote them, and resist every attack on them. We must never just look the other way and pretend that they don’t matter, or talk ourselves into believing that they are less important than other transitory concerns.

    That means that when we walk into the voting booth, we must be disciples, we must resist evil, we must promote the non-negotiable values.

    We must vote pro-life.

    Our own bishops have also made this clear. In their document, Living the Gospel of Life, the bishops said:

    “Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care… But being ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life.

    The bishops of New York State, which includes our Archbishop, have said:

    “The inalienable right to life of every innocent human person outweighs other concerns where Catholics may use prudential judgment, such as how best to meet the needs of the poor or to increase access to health care for all.”

    And just in case this isn’t plain enough, Cardinal Egan, the successor of the Apostles for us, has said the following:

    “Anyone who dares to defend that [an unborn child] may be legitimately killed because another human being ‘chooses’ to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name”

    Cardinal Egan has invited us to look at a photograph of the unborn child in the womb at 20 weeks — a point at which it is absolutely legal in the United States to kill that child for any reason or for no reason (see the Cardinal’s column here). And our Archbishop then challenges us not to be guilty bystanders:

    “Look and decide with honesty and decency what the Lord expects of you and me as the horror of “legalized” abortion continues to erode the honor of our nation. Look, and do not absolve yourself if you refuse to act.”

    What does the Lord expect of me? To stand by and do nothing while the slaughter of the innocents takes place? I think not.

    When Jesus tells the famous story of the Good Samaritan, the one who is “neighbor” to the injured man is the one who goes out of his way to help him. We never hear what happens to the two men who pass by and do nothing. One can only hope that at some point their hearts are awakened, that they say those words: “I have sinned through my own fault… in what I have failed to do“.

    And we can also hope and pray that they — and we — resolve never to be guilty bystanders again.

    “Thy Will Be Done” or “My Will Be Done” – Lessons I’ve Re-Learned about Conscience from my Talks on Catholic Voting

    Monday, October 20th, 2008

    I’ve been making the rounds of the Archdiocese, giving talks about how to form one’s conscience in anticipation of the election. This has been very tough going, because so many people just don’t have a clear idea about how to form their conscience as Catholics. I hear over and over again people say that whatever the bishops might teach, they’re going to follow their conscience anyway.

    This is a dangerous path. Conscience is not just a voice in my heart telling me that everything I do is perfectly okay, simply because I’ve chosen to do it. I don’t know about you, but that’s usually my selfishness and sinfulness talking. Nobody trusts a “yes man”, nor should we trust our conscience when it always justifies whatever I do. My conscience should always make me uncomfortable; otherwise, I might as well run for office, because I’d have the classic convenient conscience of the professional politician. A comfortable conscience is one that’s sound asleep.

    Instead, a good conscience is the way to allow the will of God, guided by the teachings of the Church, to govern our conduct. The Catechism defines conscience as “a practical judgment that we make about the quality of a moral act, based on our knowledge and reason, aided by grace” (CCC 1777-78). The Second Vatican Council put it beautifully: “Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.” (Gaudium et Spes 16)

    I like to think of conscience is a morality-detector, like a radar system for my moral judgments. If my conscience is properly tuned, it will always keep me on course to the truth and to God; if it’s not properly tuned, I’ll go off on the path to destruction.

    I have to make sure my conscience is correct about God’s will. The old saying was right — I have to form a correct and Catholic conscience.

    This means that I have to use my own human reason, but I must always be guided by the teaching of the Church. If my conscience says that something is right, but the Church teaches that it’s wrong, I’m the one with the problem. I can’t just dismiss the Church as just another source of information to take into account, or not. God gave us the Church as the authoritative teacher of His will. That belief is one of the things that makes us Catholics. If I’m not doing everything I can to conform my conscience to the teachings of the Church, then I’m not holding up my end of the bargain.

    So I have to take a close look in the mirror and see why I’m out of step with the Church. I have to be honest with myself, because my track record is not good — whenever I’ve thought that the Church was wrong about a moral issue, it was always the voice of my own selfishness talking, not the voice of God.

    In those cases, I have to seriously dedicate myself to prayer and discernment, asking God to conform my will to His. After all, in the prayer Jesus himself taught us, we ask that “Thy will be done” — not “My will be done”.

    So, when I’m thinking about voting, I have to listen to what my Church is telling me — how to evaluate the moral issues involved, according to the will of God. After all, in the end we won’t be judged based on whether we were good Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives. We’ll be judged based on how closely we followed Jesus.

    If this isn’t clear enough, then I need to re-read Matthew 25:31-46. If that passage doesn’t make my conscience uncomfortable, then I’ve got big problems.

    Here are two quotes to get us started on our discussion of the important issue of conscience and voting, and I’ll be blogging more as the election nears:

    “Any politics of human life must work to resist the violence of war and the scandal of capital punishment. Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care… But being ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life.” United States Bishops — Living the Gospel of Life

    “The inalienable right to life of every innocent human person outweighs other concerns where Catholics may use prudential judgment, such as how best to meet the needs of the poor or to increase access to health care for all.” New York State Bishops — Our Cherished Right, Our Solemn Duty

    Prayerful discernment of what our Church is telling us about the will of God — that’s where formation of conscience begins.

    Yes We Can – Here are some tips on how we can bring our pro-life positions into the political arena

    Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

    Every election cycle, we are witnesses to the frustrating spectacle of candidates for public office who miss a great opportunity — to campaign as pro-lifers. Many of them avoid “the life issue” because they are operating under the misapprehension that it is a vote-loser. We can tell that the issue is important to many of them, but they just don’t seem to be able to talk about it.

    Contrary to the received wisdom, the exit polls from previous elections clearly show that taking a pro-life position is a winner — it will gain more votes than it loses. For example, in the 2004 presidential election, the National Right to Life Committee documented that abortion affected the vote of 42% of the electorate, and of those people, the pro-life candidate had an advantage of 25% to 13%. (Original data is here).

    What’s especially frustrating is that it really isn’t that hard to bring pro-life views into the political arena, and to persuade people to agree with them. Here is a simple script that anyone can follow:

    First, avoid the labels — they don’t really mean what people think they mean. Most people who call themselves “pro-choice” actually disapprove of the current abortion laws, and favor virtually all the restrictions on abortion that are proposed by pro-lifers. So start off by saying that you’re not interested in labels, but in specifics.

    Second, let’s talk specifics. Focus in on four issues on which there is wide agreement among the public, and highlight your agreement. Here’s how:

    “Most people believe that parents should be notified if their 12-year old daughter is trying to get an abortion. I agree with that.

    “Most people think that taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay for all abortions for low-income women through the Medicaid program, and that Medicaid should only pay for abortions in the extremely rare cases of rape or incest. I agree with that.

    “Most people think that late-term abortions — abortions after the time when the baby is viable outside of the womb — should be outlawed. I agree with that.

    “Most people think that women should be informed of all the possible side-effects of abortion (including psychological side-effects) and should be told about the stages of fetal development. I agree with that.”

    You get the pattern. This script can be used for any other pro-life initiative — the partial-birth abortion ban, the born-alive bill, efforts to force Catholic hospitals to do abortions, etc. Note from Ed: I’m not saying that those are all perfect pro-life positions, but they’re illustrations of how you can argue the pro-life position in the public arena and be persuasive.

    Finally, close by talking honestly about the sanctity of human life. Talk from the heart, maybe about how you felt when you saw your first child on the sonogram, or about the pain of a pre-natal loss. Show that you actually care about human life, and that you aren’t just some old meanie who wants to put women in jail.

    Look, as disciples of Jesus we have to make our message attractive and persuasive, to offer as many people as possible the path to salvation. The culture of death is killing souls, just as much as it is killing unborn children.

    So we have to learn from the culture and be as wise as serpents (see Mt. 10:16).