Once again, our nation prepares to celebrate our independence and our commitment to the rule of law, to the people’s right to participate in their government, and to the transformative ideal that authority flows from the people. Or as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently described it “a government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
When our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, they set in motion a grand experiment in democracy and self-government. Nearly two-and-a-half centuries later, the fate of that experiment remains in the hands of each and every American. It is a responsibility that has been passed from one generation to the next.
For a democratic government to function, it needs the full participation of the people. We Catholics are called to participate in our democracy not only as a civil obligation but also as part of the mission of our Lord.
“An authentic faith … always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it,” Pope Francis wrote in his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel). “If indeed ‘the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics,’ the Church ‘cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.’”
We live in a time that can seem saturated with cynicism. But as Catholics, the U.S. bishops remind us in their document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” that we can bring our hope and joy in Christ to the debates of important public issues, to our commitment always to promote the common good.
There are some who resent people of faith bringing their perspective to such debates, who feel any position that springs forth from a foundation of faith is suspect.
But in their wisdom, the founding fathers enshrined in the Constitution religious freedom, an individual’s right to believe as they wish – or not to believe – without government interference. The result is a nation with an astounding religious diversity, each faith and denomination bringing a different perspective on the moral and ethical issues facing humankind and enriching the whole culture.
Catholics certainly have much to offer as “we the people” endeavor to create a more perfect union. The Church has a long history of defending the dignity of every human being, of caring for the marginalized, of providing an education for children that will enhance the rest of their lives, of caring for the sick, of welcoming the stranger, of protecting our religious freedom. We are called to bring that history, imbued with Church teaching, to the public square.
As we consider the many difficult issues facing our country, the bishops urge us to form our conscience based on four principles of Catholic social doctrine: the dignity of the human person, the common good, subsidiarity and solidarity.
“With this foundation, Catholics are better able to evaluate policy positions, party platforms, and candidates’ promises and actions in light of the Gospel and the moral and social teaching of the Church in order to help build a better world,” the bishops wrote in “Faithful Citizenship.”
In our political involvement, whether in our exercise of the right to vote or a deeper involvement, we Catholics should be “guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group,” the bishops wrote in “Faithful Citizenship.” “When necessary, our participation should help transform the party to which we belong; we should not let the party transform us in such a way that we neglect or deny fundamental moral truths or approve intrinsically evil acts. We are called to bring together our principles and our political choices, our values and our votes, to help build a civilization of truth and love.”
The Fourth of July is a national holiday filled with hope. It reminds us of the power we have to make the world a better place, the value of our voice, and our responsibility to use that power, that voice, to shape a country that is fair and just. That is a goal fully supported by Catholic teaching and by our love for Christ.