It’s an election year again. You can’t turn on the television or the radio without hearing someone’s opinions or the latest poll results. You can’t walk down the hallways at work or school without hearing someone discussing the latest issues. And last night, while jogging on the Kal-Haven Trail and enjoying the peaceful singing of birds, the beautiful breeze, and the sunset, I couldn’t even escape the election-related discussions. Almost every couple who rode or jogged by was discussing some important political issue. It seems there are so many things to consider as we prepare to make a wise choice.
Let me begin by proclaiming that I am NOT writing this blog to tell you who to vote for. Rather, I am writing to ask you to become informed — to seek out the truth (no matter how difficult that might be) and to make a wise and informed decision. You, as an individual, are a member of a variety of communities — your neighborhood, workplace, school, church, hobby groups, service groups, family, and more. As an American, you also have amazing Constitutional freedoms which need to be both exercised and protected. You have the right to participate fully in public and political life — contributing to the dialogue which will decide America’s future.
According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), each individual has “a serious and lifelong obligation to form their consciences in accord with human reason.” The USCCB expounds on this obligation by stating that
“Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere ‘feeling’ about what we should or should not do. Rather, conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil. Conscience always requires serious attempts to make sound moral judgements based on the truths in our beliefs. Conscience is a judgement of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right.”
So, how does one go about forming their conscience? The USCCB explains: “The formation of conscience includes several elements. First, there is a desire to embrace goodness and truth.” This must include a willingness and openness to seek truth and what is right, even if it means our former beliefs are, as a result, wrong. “It is also important to examine the facts and background information about various choices. Finally, prayerful reflection is essential.”
The USCCB also emphasizes the importance of prudence. This virtue enables us
“to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means to achieve it. Prudence shapes and informs our ability to deliberate over available alternatives, to determine what is most fitting to a specific context, and to act decisively. Exercising this virtue often requires the courage to act in defense of moral principles when making decisions about how to build a society of justice and peace.”
The USCCB also points out that “a good end does not justify an immoral means,” stating “it is important to recognize that not all possible courses of action are morally acceptable . . . we have a responsibility to discern carefully which public policies are morally sound.”
Face it . . . you can’t escape this election. You will hear voices and stories representing all sides and viewpoints (even when you are just minding your own business enjoying a nice walk) over the next six weeks. It’s important that you take the time to become truly informed on the issues, forming your conscience and developing prudence as you prepare to enter the voting booth. It’s a difficult task — no one is denying that — and will take considerable time. It is, however, a right and a privilege we all have.
If you’d like to learn more about the USCCB and their view of the upcoming elections, please check out their publication “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” No matter your faith, you will be inspired by the thoughtful process they encourage. As the publication states, “This kind of political responsibility is a requirement of our faith and our duty as citizens.” Take the time to become informed and, once you do, make your voice heard.