CONSCIENCE CONVERSATION: Serving in the “field hospital” with prayer and quiet service

Brendan: I’m writing this on March 28th. I feel the need to say that to contextualize this Conscience Conversation—every day it seems like the COVID-19 crisis is evolving in rapid, new, and terrifying ways. For a reader perusing this at a future date, I wonder how hopelessly out-of-date this conversation might seem. So, here we are on March 28th—more than half one million people around the world are now sick. Thousands have died. And all of us are now huddling at home with our loved ones, praying and waiting out the storm.

There’s so much we could talk about when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic and its relevance for our lives as Catholic citizens. Catholic social teaching, to me, has never felt so relevant. We are called to act in solidarity with the most vulnerable in all things and in all our public policy choices. There’s no greater expression of that principle of solidarity than to barricade ourselves in our homes to ensure others don’t get sick, especially those who are most likely to die from this terrible disease. “Social distancing”—a secular word with such a rich well of catholicity underneath it.

Pope Francis’ pastoral graces always bring comfort in these moments of difficulty. He has an incredible power to use words that produce vivid imagery and help us positively reimagine our role as a Church and as a People of God in the world. In an interview he once described the Church as a field hospital, and the metaphor seems so apt in this moment—a moment of crisis when Christians are most especially called to love and serve others:

“I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.

Pope Francis has brought this need for nearness and proximity to life in this crisis. A beautiful blessing in this moment has been the fact that Pope Francis is now livestreaming his Santa Marta chapel daily masses in Vatican City. What was once the privilege of a small few—to celebrate Mass daily with the Pope—is now open to the whole world. Then of course there was the extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing, the text of which is an extraordinary call to courage and radical love. And so, in a new and special way, the global Catholic community is together: we are praying together, celebrating Mass together online, creating a oneness in our shared COVID-19 trial. Many of us are also living out our Catholic call to service, each bearing their own cross, many at the cost of their lives—the penultimate Christian witness of Father Giuseppe Berardelli comes to mind, the Italian priest who died from COVID-19 after giving up a ventilator so a younger patient could live. This crisis is in a sense a Lenten observance, one every person on Earth must face. In mid-March the Holy Father called upon the world to pray a rosary together—a shared petition to God to help us in this crisis. The beauty of praying that rosary—a and imagining the many hundreds of thousands of Catholics around the world who prayed it also—was such a comfort in these dark times.

Our faith calls us to action right now. We cannot back away. We need to be the “field hospital” more than ever, when the horde of sick and wounded—literal and spiritual—in the world will grow by so much. So every Catholic must ask: how can I serve in the field hospital?

Matt, how do you think we can serve as the “field hospital” of the COVID-19 crisis here in Canada? How do Catholic citizens step up to serve and support our neighbours in this difficult time and at all times, as our faith calls us to do?

Great point, great quote, great questions, Brendan.  As Cardinal Collins mentioned in his streamed homily on that same March 26, one of the primary effects of the intrusion of real emergencies, like wars, pandemics, and famines into life, is the forced seclusion of large numbers of people along with other radical changes in the rhythms and patterns of our contemporary North American life. This seclusion brings with it the opportunity for reflection:  God has ways of inviting us to step back and reflect on what really matters in this life: The search for that truth which is God, through acceptance and love of neighbor and respect for all God’s laws.

A central tenet of Catholic Conscience is that all Catholics, and all people of good will, are called to do whatever we can in the service of those around us who are in need.  In the current crisis, there are many things Canadians can do—and many of them are not mutually exclusive.  This means that each of us can and should be looking frankly at our own circumstances, to discern what sorts of responses we can fairly offer in order to respond appropriately to the great need that has grown around us. We need to be active in many different ways.

Among my favorite of Pope Francis’s many inspiring thoughts is that while each of us can, should, and indeed must do what we can to influence social responses at all social levels. It is of first importance that each Christian reach out on a personal level to other human beings around us: to work closely enough with our fellows that we begin to take on their very smell.

Now, a disease like COVID-19 is an extremely dangerous thing.  It is important that each of us start by familiarizing ourselves with the disease and responsible steps that we can take to protect ourselves from it. While the Church stresses that others are every bit as important as we are ourselves, we cannot help them if we ourselves become sick.  Worse, in this case social resources currently available for fighting the disease extremely limited: our first duty is to take reasonable steps to avoid becoming sick, so that we do not divert resources or energy away from others who may have greater need—including healthcare and emergency workers.

Once we’ve armed ourselves with the knowledge to respond responsibly, however, we need to bear in mind the parable of the talents and its lesson:  keeping ourselves save and snug and our own hideaways, enjoying our favorite treats, while others outside suffer, is equivalent to burying the master’s coins in the yard rather than investing them. We need to look at ways we can respond:

  • Personally, to the homebound and to others in need.  Are there ways we can check responsibly on those who may physically or emotionally live near us, to ensure they have the food, medicine, and human relationship they need?
  • Spiritually, to all those we can reach.  A number of new social media efforts have sprung up, to enable neighbors to encourage one another not only with kind words, but with joint prayer.  Many daily masses are being offered online. Attend with devotion, and by availing ourselves of opportunities for Spiritual Communion like those taught by St Alphonsus Liguori. These can be of extraordinary help, and arm us spiritually for the work ahead.
  • Institutionally, by investigating opportunities to volunteer with responsible service organizations, such as the Society of St Vincent de Paul.  What sorts of help are they offering and how can we contribute?  With our hands?  With emergency donations?  Can we help such organizations adapt through the contribution of new ideas?

And we cannot lose sight of the many lessons to be learned from this emergency.  Once the immediate needs of those around us have been satisfied, what remains to be done?  The pandemic has cast light on a number of shortcomings in our current socio-economic models.  We have been given an extraordinary opportunity to step back and re-assess many of the ways our society works:

  • Are our economies sufficiently independent?  In our race to maximize opportunities for consumption, we have driven prices to the absolute lowest values they can reach, regardless of consequences for the stability and dignity of work, the security of national populations, and basic issues of fairness?  This suggests that we need to look more closely at putting the principle of subsidiarity to work in new and more appropriate ways.
  • Are our medical and social services networks adequate to the needs we expect them to meet?  Do our economies support production and just distribution of medicines to those most in need?
  • Have we maintained a proper perspective on the importance of the economy, vis-à-vis the life and dignity of human beings?  Are we looking to certain disadvantaged segments of society to bear an undue proportion of the effects of this disease, as well as our own material desires?  Are we placing our own desire for wealth and uninterrupted consumption before the life, safety, and health of our neighbors?

The COVID-19 conversation has both immediate and long-term aspects, each of equal importance.  We must address them all, and not lose sight or sink at any time into complacency, even when we ourselves are safe and comfortable with the status quo.

Brendan: Matt, in the spirit of “working closely with our fellow sheep”, I think I’d like to conclude this Conscience Conversation by highlighting some of the creative ways community groups, parishes and others have responded to this challenge to serve our most vulnerable neighbours and those most affected by the crisis. I hope some of these inspire readers to consider the ways they are called to serve in this moment.

  • Here in Toronto, the University Health Network’s OpenLab is partnering with Toronto Community Housing Corporation to support seniors living in community housing. Many are afraid to go grocery shopping or pick up medication at the pharmacy, for fear of catching the virus—a virus that is more threatening to their lives than other group. This is a group of people who already live with difficulty and economic anxiety under regular circumstances—you can imagine how much more difficult the circumstances have become. UHN OpenLab and TCHC have together started the Friendly Neighbor Hotline–ordinary Torontonians helping vulnerable seniors with simple things like getting groceries, so the latter can stay home and stay safe. Toronto readers can sign up to volunteer by clicking here.
  • Local Society of St. Vincent de Paul conferences continue to serve vulnerable people creatively. In lieu of their usual home visits, many are mailing food vouchers and other supports to those they work with. Consider a donation to the Society’s Greater Toronto Central Council to support their efforts in this time—click here.
  • The Archdiocese of Toronto has shared a list with some of the many creative ways parishes continue to minister spiritually to their congregations. You can read it by clicking here. For instance, one parish is hosting “drive-through confessions” with priests social distancing from cars on sidewalks, and the Newman Centre at University of Toronto is continuing their rosary, bible study, and prayer groups using video conferencing.

This is a time for ordinary heroes, as Pope Francis put it so eloquently in a speech prior to his unprecedented Urbi et Orbi blessing on March 27:

“We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: ‘That they may all be one’ (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.”

Prayer and quiet service—these are our weapons too, and it’s up to all of us to wield them in the way we are called to help.

Twice a month, Matthew Marquardt and Brendan Steven get together over breakfast (virtually, in the time of COVID-19!) and talk about what it means to be a Christian citizen. These are their Conscience Conversations. Want to join the conversation? Want to learn more about Catholic social teaching, and how you can serve your community as an active Christian citizen? Reach out to us: email

Matthew Marquardt is President of Catholic Conscience, of counsel to a Toronto law firm, a parishioner at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, as well as a lay associate of the Redemptorists.

Brendan Steven is Executive Director of Catholic Conscience, a writer based in Toronto, active with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and other Catholic and civic institutions, and a parishioner at St. Basil’s Catholic Church.

Happy New Year from Catholic Conscience

Happy and Blessed New Year!

To all who have accompanied us on this year’s journey, we write today in heartfelt thanks for an overwhelming 2019.  Really, the input you provided and the success it enabled were beyond reasonable expectation.  Thanks to you, we are ready to launch Catholic Conscience as a year-round effort throughout the election cycle: we are ready to inspire, engage, form, and send Catholics into the world for gentle civic participation on a continuous basis.

Thanks to you,

  • The Archdiocese of Toronto hosted a remarkably successful all-parties meeting for October’s federal election.
  • The Diocese of Saskatoon worked with us to improve our platform summaries, and to share them with dozens of parishes in Saskatchewan.
  • More than 1,000 variations of our Conscience Card platform summaries were downloaded before the election.
  • Through our Catholic Action pilot program for getting out the vote, we collected hundreds of pledge signatures, and distributed more than 2,000 pledge and prayer cards for the election.
  • We provided items to both the Catholic Register and the B.C. Catholic for publication.
  • We were introduced to dozens of candidates, contacts, and organizations interested in bringing the full range of Catholic social teaching to the center of social discourse.

With your prayers, in 2020 we plan to:

  • Initiate new processes for engaging Catholics, and others of good will, in cooperation with more than a dozen partner organizations.
  • Continue forming and sending Catholics, and others of good will, for civic participation by:
    • offering new and updated seminars and on-line materials examining the relationships between civic processes and Catholic social teaching,
    • hosting workshops and round-table discussions of issues of concern for the common good,
    • reaching out to support Catholic candidates for public office, and
    • sharing news and information concerning opportunities, developments, and new initiatives through a regular newsletter,
  • etc., etc.

Want to help?  Write to us, and pray with us, please:

Most Gentle Shepherd, we pray for your guidance as we attempt to gently gather your scattered sheep, and to bring them together for the good of all.  Help us as we attempt to answer your call, so that we might learn to respect all life and all creation, and to assist one another in finding our ways home to you.

We ask this through your most powerful and gentle name.

Want to stay informed?  Watch your e-mail and social media boxes, and reach out to us, anytime!

With prayers of gratitude and hope for the future,

Matthew & Brendan

Conscience Conversations, Pt. 4: Catholicism and Canada’s federal election

Brendan: There’s so much to deconstruct about Canada’s recent federal election, but from a Catholic perspective there’s a big question that has emerged in my mind and I want to pose it to you:

Is Canadian politics suspicious of Catholics?

What has spurned this question for me was the fact that one of the federal leaders—Andrew Scheer—was a devout, orthodox Catholic, and seemed to face a great deal of suspicion as a result of that, specifically around his views on social issues. Matt Gurney wrote a column for the National Post touching on this point:

“But the biggest mark against Scheer as a leader is probably his religious beliefs. I feel dirty even writing that, because I respect the right of every Canadian to hold their own views on spiritual matters. But I’m also a pragmatist. The Liberals, whenever facing any headwinds, will always, always play the so-con hidden agenda card. It’s low, and often pathetic, but it works, and they aren’t going to stop. And it works best of all when the leader is indeed in fact a social conservative, and one who seemed weirdly unable or unwilling to answer simple questions about how his faith intersects with his professionalism. These were questions the leader and party must have known were coming. They had nothing to say.”

Alberta radio host Charles Adler made a similar point:

“What I saw in this particular campaign was a leader who was highly scripted who could not tell people how he genuinely felt about some of these social issues, couldn’t genuinely say, ‘yes, I’m a faithful Catholic, these are my Catholic beliefs, I’m proud of my church, I’m proud of my beliefs, but I’m proud to be Canadian and I’m proud to abide by the rule of law.”

These are pretty damning statements. We see two points here somewhat at contention: that Mr. Scheer didn’t want to be open or honest about his Catholicism as a prominent national political figure, or that he perhaps felt being honest about his faith would hurt him politically. Those are both difficult pills to swallow.

Interestingly, there are some marked contrasts to this—perhaps being more open about his faith might have defused these criticisms! Articulating his faith has helped Mr. Scheer in the past. Mr. Scheer gave a speech earlier this year in support of the value of diversity and in opposition to corners of Canadian conservatism that embrace racism. In that speech he said:

“I believe that we are all children of God. And therefore there can be no inferiority amongst human beings. And that equal and infinite value exists in each and every one of us.”

This is a statement clearly inspired by Mr. Scheer’s Catholic faith. And I noticed that it received a good deal of positive coverage in Canadian political media. So is the Canadian political world comfortable with Catholic values, in areas of contemporary progressive concern—say, diversity, poverty, and climate change—while suspicious of them in areas of conservative concern–say, abortion and euthanasia?

I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I think it is worth reflecting on them. Because I deeply believe that we need more well-formed Catholics in public life to help heal our democracy and create a more just society, where every Canadian can live in God-given dignity and beloved community. And it becomes harder to inspire Catholics to participate in politics if political culture is perceived as hostile to a Catholic presence—at least, to a practicing Catholic presence.

What do you think, Matt—is there a strain of anti-Catholicism in our national life? If so, how can we counteract it? How do we show that Catholic citizens are as fully committed to democratic life and dignity for all our neighbours–including, of course, our countless neighbours who do not share our faith, all of whom are children of God!–while living our values?

Matt:   Thank you, Brenda.  This is an important and very difficult topic. The short answer is that yes, I believe there is—and long has been—a strain of fear in society where Catholicism is concerned. How do we counteract it? By living as we should: by carrying on undivided, loving lives of devotion to the Good News of the Gospel, seeing God in each other and in all those God has placed around us.

Always there have been strains of fear in the world when it comes to the Catholic Church. Think of the excesses of the French Revolution, when so many faithful, God-loving people were killed, so many churches and irreplaceable relics destroyed. Likewise, the Dissolution in England, when so many monasteries were destroyed, so many priests hunted down and executed. A little closer to home, in Mexico in the 1920s priests and the lay faithful were hunted down and killed. And of course, there has long been political opposition in the United States, as faced by candidates like Al Smith and John F. Kennedy.

The fear and opposition have been less marked in Canada, due largely I think to its highly Catholic history; but they have always existed here and continue to do so.

Where does this fear come from? I think from a number of causes: first of all, from the Church’s unyielding and often highly inconvenient devotion to the full depth and richness of the Gospels, which give rise to the social teachings of the Church and their insistence on unqualified acceptance of and devotion to the poor, the unloved, and the common good; a strong strain of humility; and the unwavering pursuit of God’s will that all people live together in loving harmony.

Moreover, the Church acknowledges the reality of God’s continuing active interaction with the world (in other words, the reality of miracles); its acceptance of the eternal nature of the soul, as witnessed by our prayerful calls for intercession from the many Saints; and our spiritual submission to an authority, the Pope, that we freely acknowledge to be spiritually superior to ourselves.

To a world built on the primacy of the self, the pursuit of individual material comfort, and the absolute right to personal convenience and spiritual authority, the Church’s focus on a larger, unseen, and often highly inconvenient reality can be daunting.

Fortunately, the answer seems clear, and well within reach: we must simply strive to live the values we profess each Sunday. We must quietly love one another, and all of those around us, by loving participation in all aspects of society—at home, at school, at work, and on the street. We must stay informed about the issues, and gently—always gently!—and bravely speak out about things we know to be right.

In the words of St Francis, all we have to do is preach constantly, using words when necessary. It won’t be easy, and acceptance will never be permanent—the Prince of this World will see to that—but they won’t make us go away (there are way, way too many of us, and our message is true), and we will continue to bring good things to the world.

Forward, through prayer and constant, loving involvement!

B: Devotion to the poor, the unloved, and a strong strain of humility… we desperately need more of that in our politics, don’t we? You’ve touched on a number of issues that speak to the challenges facing the Church and Catholic citizens in our time. Let me address some of them.

Yes, there is a historic strain of anti-Catholicism that has always found expression in North America—particularly in the U.S. And though you’re right that it has been less virulent in Canada, none the less, it’s been found here too. They used to call Toronto the Belfast of North America with its sectarian conflicts between a dominant Orange Order and poor Irish-Catholic immigrants. So those conflicts find there way here.

What is the source of Catholic suspicion now? Though the Church can find common ground and many areas of mutual concern with secular politics, you are correct in that the Church will always hold to the full breadth of its commitment to the dignity of life. Thus, there will always be tension. Every society across history has found ways to undermine the dignity of human life, whether economically, culturally, intellectually, or otherwise. The Church must always be a source of life-affirming truth and bravery in the face of resistance to that truth. Even where it hurts us. And this is why Catholic participation is so essential: to grow the volume and strength of voices who support human dignity, in every way, to fight for those who are unloved. But to also have the humility to listen and to discover where our love and support is needed. As we fight for the issues we are concerned about, we often miss the mark on listening and acting with love! That must be the Catholic approach to politics.

Matt, we often hear that a citizen is not allowed to let their faith inform their politics. That the lens of faith is an inappropriate one in public life. This is an aggressive secularism that goes much further than the proper idea of a neutral space for all religions and communities to participate equally. Instead it demands we leave our values at the door. John Milloy wrote about this beautifully in the Catholic Register. I would love your thoughts on this… what are the keys to participating as a Catholic in public life, to trust in Catholics participating in public life?

M: In a democracy, the best and always indispensable answer is education. It’s important, for example, that Catholics, along with everyone else, understand theories of civics—including the proper roles of government and other social institutions.

The Church long ago agreed with political philosophers that it’s unhealthy for any one individual or social entity to have too much power. Historically, any time that has happened freedom and healthy progress have tended to suffer. One of the fundamental principles of democracy is that division of power promotes conversation, the development of ideas, and progress—particularly when power is divided among as many diverse voices as is responsibly possible.

In the Church’s view, the proper role of government is to set and regulate social conditions in such ways that all individuals are allowed to develop as human beings, putting all of the gifts endowed upon them by a loving Creator to use in living full and productive lives.

A big question, however, is “what is a full and productive life?” Most people would agree that that is a moral question, to be decided by the people themselves on the basis of proper education and reflection. To allow any entity both to decide what is good for people and to regulate conditions for achieving that good is to risk abuse. History has shown us this, time and time again.

Rather, the Church, along with most other responsible groups of thinkers, has concluded that morality should rightly be defined and taught by institutions that are fully independent of government—hopefully many of them– and of responsibly diverse outlooks.
This is the idea behind the separation of Church and State. Separation of Church and State does not mean that the State should be free of all input from moral institutions external to itself, or that the Church should withdraw entirely from public discourse. Rather, the Church should be one moral voice among many, helping and advising those who turn to it on moral and ethical issues. The Church should also, at appropriate times, speak to and on behalf of its people on issues concerning the common good—always, whenever possible, in a thoroughly non-partisan manner,

In doing this, the Church should be joined by and work with other institutions, such as schools, universities, scientific, artistic, and philosophical organizations, and other religious authorities.
Historically, those who have overemphasized the importance of nationalism have questioned the motives of the Church, given its global membership and focus: Catholics have sometimes been portrayed as loyal to a foreign power. It may be that Catholics have an allegiance to a global power, but that power is not temporal, or physical, in nature. It is moral, spiritual, theological, and persuasive only. The Church should never be coercive.

And while some aspects of morality are rightfully local and individual, others of its aspects are regional or global—just as matters of the common good can be individual, local, regional, or global. There is no reason why an international institution should not consider or opine on matters of morality or the common good, and there are many, many reasons why it should.

And in the specific example of the Catholic Church, individual, local, regional, and international aspects of morality are already accounted for—and always have been.

It’s important that independent moral voices such as the Church, other religious institutions, universities and other free societies of thinkers be allowed to freely discern their truths, and share them with each other, so that in Canada and all other nations good and healthy ideas can germinate, be nurtured and blossom.

Twice a month, Matthew Marquardt and Brendan Steven get together over breakfast and talk about what it means to be a Christian citizen. These are their Conscience Conversations. Want to join the conversation? Want to learn more about Catholic social teaching, and how you can serve your community as an active Christian citizen? Reach out to us: email

Matthew Marquardt is President of Catholic Conscience, of counsel to a Toronto law firm, and a parishioner at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, as well as a lay associate of the Redemptorists.

Brendan Steven is Executive Director of Catholic Conscience, a writer based in Toronto, active in the Knights of Columbus and the St Vincent de Paul Society, and a parishioner at St. Basil’s Catholic Church.

Social Institutions

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church contemplates and outlines the rights and duties of a number of social institutions, and implies the purposes and utility of others.  In the Church's framework, both the roles and numbers of social institutions is meant to be flexible.  The fundamental criteria is that each, in its own way, is to serve the needs and the purposes of the people, both individually and as social units, in their search for a path back to God.
The Social Institutions                                            
  • The People
    The people are meant by God to spend this life seeking closer unity with him, by uncovering the truth and loving one another into ever-increasing social union.
  • Government
    The government is meant to provide a legal and economic framework in which to foster the common good.
  • Business & The Economy
    Business and the economy are meant to provide the material benefits necessary to sustain the people in their search for truth, and to aid them in their efforts.
  • The Church
    As the voice and the body of Christ in the world, the Church is meant to evangelize always, in both word and deed. This includes the duty, in union with other legitimate moral institutions, of advising governments and peoples on moral aspects of their plans and activities.
  • Schools, NGOs, and Cultural Organizations
    Schools, NGOs, and other Cultural Organizations are meant to foster and enhance culture & identity by providing a shared and informed understanding, and a means for social discourse.
  • The Media
    It is the duty of the media to ensure that democracy remains rooted in truth.


The People
It is our mission, the people’s mission, to use the freedom God has given us to seek truth, and thereby find our way back to God, both as individuals and as societies.  Work, which is an essential part of enabling us to do so, enables us to share in the process of creation.   
Catholic citizens have the right and obligation to participate in society, and in the democratic process.

386. …“Human society must primarily be considered something pertaining to the spiritual. Through it, in the bright light of truth men should share their knowledge, be able to exercise their rights and fulfil their obligations, be inspired to seek spiritual values, mutually derive genuine pleasure from beauty of whatever order it be, always be readily disposed to pass on to others the best of their own cultural heritage and eagerly strive to make their own the spiritual achievements of others. These benefits not only influence but at the same time give aim and scope to all that has bearing on cultural expressions, economic and social institutions, political movements and forms, laws, and all other structures by which society is outwardly established and constantly developed.”

135.  Man can turn to good only in freedom, which God has given to us as one of the highest signs that we are made in God’s image: “For God has willed that man remain ‘under the control of his own decisions’, so that he can seek his Creator spontaneously, and come freely to utter and blissful perfection through loyalty to Him…”

137.  The proper exercise of personal freedom requires specific conditions of an economic, social, juridic (legal), political and cultural order that “are too often disregarded or violated.”

144.  “God shows no partiality,” since all people have the same dignity as creatures made in his image and likeness… “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Since something of the glory of God shines on the face of every person, the dignity of every person before God is the basis of the dignity of man before other men… Only the recognition of human dignity can make possible the common and personal growth of everyone. To stimulate this kind of growth it is necessary in particular to help the least, effectively ensuring conditions of equal opportunity for men and women and guaranteeing an objective equality between the different social classes before the law.

287.  “Work is a fundamental right and a good for mankind, a useful good, worthy of man because it is an appropriate way for him to give expression to and enhance his human dignity. The Church teaches the value of work not only because it is always something that belongs to the person but also because of its nature as something necessary. Work is needed to form and maintain a family, to have a right to property, to contribute to the common good of the human family…”

288. Work is a good belonging to all people and must be made available to all who are capable of engaging in it. ‘Full employment’ therefore remains a mandatory objective for every economic system oriented towards justice and the common good. A society in which the right to work is thwarted or systematically denied, and in which economic policies do not allow workers to reach satisfactory levels of employment, ‘cannot be justified from an ethical point of view, nor can that society attain social peace”…

190.  Participation in community life is not only one of the greatest aspirations of the citizen, called to exercise freely and responsibly his civic role with and for others, but is also one of the pillars of all democratic orders and one of the major guarantees of the permanence of the democratic system. Democratic government, in fact, is defined first of all by the assignment of powers and functions on the part of the people, exercised in their name, in their regard and on their behalf. It is therefore clearly evident that every democracy must be participative… This means that the different subjects of civil community at every level must be informed, listened to and involved in the exercise of the carried-out functions.”


The Government’s purpose is to provide a legal and economic framework in which the common good can flourish, in order that the people may accomplish their mission,that is, so that the people may use the freedom God has given them to seek the truth.

384.  The human person is the foundation and purpose of political life. Endowed with a rational nature, the human person is responsible for his own choices and able to pursue projects that give meaning to life at the individual and social level. Being open both to the Transcendent and to others is his characteristic and distinguishing trait. Only in relation to the Transcendent and to others does the human person reach the total and complete fulfilment of himself. This means that for the human person, a naturally social and political being, “social life is not something added on” but is part of an essential and indelible dimension.

406. The Church values the democratic system inasmuch as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices, guarantees to the governed the possibility both of electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate. Thus she cannot encourage the formation of narrow ruling groups which usurp the power of the State for individual interests or for ideological ends. Authentic democracy is possible only in a State ruled by law, and on the basis of a correct conception of the human person. It requires that the necessary conditions be present for the advancement both of the individual through education and formation in true ideals, and of the ‘subjectivity’ of society through the creation of structures of participation and shared responsibility.”

351.  “The action of the State… must be consistent with the principle of subsidiarity and create situations favourable to the free exercise of economic activity. It must also be inspired by the principle of solidarity and establish limits for the autonomy of the parties in order to defend those who are weaker. Solidarity without subsidiarity, in fact, can easily degenerate into a ‘Welfare State,’ while subsidiarity without solidarity runs the risk of encouraging forms of self-centred localism. In order to respect both of these fundamental principles, the State’s intervention in the economic environment must be neither invasive nor absent, but commensurate with society’s real needs. The State has a duty to sustain business activities by creating conditions which will ensure job opportunities, by stimulating those activities where they are lacking or by supporting them in moments of crisis…”

352.  “The fundamental task of the State in economic matters is that of determining an appropriate juridical framework for regulating economic affairs, in order to safeguard the prerequisites of a free economy, which presumes a certain equality between the parties, such that one party would not be so powerful as practically to reduce the other to subservience. Economic activity, above all in a free market context, cannot be conducted in an institutional, juridical or political vacuum. On the contrary, it presupposes sure guarantees of individual freedom and private property, as well as a stable currency and efficient public services. To fulfill this task, the State must adopt suitable legislation but at the same time it must direct economic and social policies in such a way that it does not become abusively involved in the various market activities, the carrying out of which is and must remain free of authoritarian — or worse, totalitarian — superstructures and constraints.”

353.  “It is necessary for the market and the State to act in concert, one with the other, and to complement each other mutually. In fact, the free market can have a beneficial influence on the general public only when the State is organized in such a manner that it defines and gives direction to economic development, promoting the observation of fair and transparent rules, and making direct interventions…”

354.  “The State can encourage citizens and businesses to promote the common good by enacting an economic policy that fosters the participation of all citizens in the activities of production. Respect of the principle of subsidiarity must prompt public authorities to seek conditions that encourage the development of individual capacities of initiative, autonomy and personal responsibility in citizens, avoiding any interference which would unduly condition business forces. With a view to the common good, it is necessary to pursue always and with untiring determination the goal of a proper equilibrium between private freedom and public action… In any case, public intervention must be carried out with equity, rationality and effectiveness, and without replacing the action of individuals…”

394.  “Political authority must guarantee an ordered and upright community life without usurping the free activity of individuals and groups but disciplining and orienting this freedom, by respecting and defending the independence of the individual and social subjects, for the attainment of the common good. Political authority is an instrument of coordination and direction by means of which the many individuals and intermediate bodies must move towards an order in which relationships, institutions and procedures are put at the service of integral human growth. Political authority, in fact, “whether in the community as such or in institutions representing the State, must always be exercised within the limits of morality and on behalf of the dynamically conceived common good, according to a juridical order enjoying legal status. When such is the case citizens are conscience-bound to obey.”

169.  “To ensure the common good, the government of each country has the specific duty to harmonize the different sectoral interests with the requirements of justice. The proper reconciling of the particular goods of groups and those of individuals is, in fact, one of the most delicate tasks of public authority. Moreover, it must not be forgotten that in the democratic State, where decisions are usually made by the majority of representatives elected by the people, those responsible for government are required to interpret the common good of their country not only according to the guidelines of the majority but also according to the effective good of all the members of the community, including the minority.”

170. “The common good of society is not an end in itself; it has value only in reference to attaining the ultimate ends of the person and the universal common good of the whole of creation. God is the ultimate end of his creatures and for no reason may the common good be deprived of its transcendent dimension… Our history — the personal and collective effort to elevate the human condition — begins and ends in Jesus: thanks to him, by means of him and in light of him every reality, including human society, can be brought to its Supreme Good, to its fulfilment. A purely historical and materialistic vision would end up transforming the common good into a simple socioeconomic well-being, without any transcendental goal, that is, without its most intimate reason for existing.”

283.  “Private and public property… must be oriented to an economy of service to mankind, so that they contribute to putting into effect the principle of the universal destination of goods.”

413.  “Political parties have the task of fostering widespread participation and making public responsibilities accessible to all. Political parties are called to interpret the aspirations of civil society, orienting them towards the common good, offering citizens the effective possibility of contributing to the formulation of political choices. They must be democratic in their internal structure, and capable of political synthesis and planning. Another instrument of political participation is the referendum, whereby a form of direct access to political decisions is practised. The institution of representation in fact does not exclude the possibility of asking citizens directly about the decisions of great importance for social life.”


Business & the Economy
The purpose of business and the economy is to provide the material benefits necessary to sustain the people in their search for truth, and to aid them in their efforts.  The economy is meant to serve people, and not the other way around.

334.  “The economy has as its object the development of wealth and its progressive increase, not only in quantity but also in quality; this is morally correct if it is directed to man’s overall development in solidarity and to that of the society in which people live and work. Development, in fact, cannot be reduced to a mere process of accumulating goods and services… accumulation by itself, even were it for the common good, is not a sufficient condition for bringing about authentic human happiness. In this sense, the Church’s social Magisterium warns against the treachery hidden within a development that is only quantitative, for the “excessive availability of every kind of material goods for the benefit of certain social groups, easily makes people slaves of ‘possession’ and of immediate gratification … This is the so-called civilization of ‘consumption’ or ‘consumerism’.”

336.  “The Church’s social doctrine considers the freedom of the person in economic matters a fundamental value and an inalienable right to be promoted and defended. “Everyone has the right to economic initiative; everyone should make legitimate use of his talents to contribute to the abundance that will benefit all, and to harvest the just fruits of his labour”… “Experience shows us that the denial of this right, or its limitation in the name of an alleged ‘equality’ of everyone in society, diminishes, or in practice absolutely destroys the spirit of initiative, that is to say the creative subjectivity of the citizen”. [F]ree and responsible initiative in the economic sphere can also be defined as an act that reveals the humanity of men and women as creative and relational subjects…”

328.  “Goods, even when legitimately owned, always have a universal destination; any type of improper accumulation is immoral, because it openly contradicts the universal destination assigned to all goods by the Creator. Christian salvation is an integral liberation of man, which means being freed not only from need but also in respect to possessions. ‘For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith’ (1 Tim 6:10). The Fathers of the Church insist more on the need for the conversion and transformation of the consciences of believers than on the need to change the social and political structures of their day. They call on those who work in the economic sphere and who possess goods to consider themselves administrators of the goods that God has entrusted to them.”

329.  “Riches fulfill their function of service to man when they are destined to produce benefits for others and for society. “How could we ever do good to our neighbour,” asks St. Clement of Alexandria, “if none of us possessed anything?”. In the perspective of St. John Chrysostom, riches belong to some people so that they can gain merit by sharing them with others. Wealth is a good that comes from God and is to be used by its owner and made to circulate so that even the needy may enjoy it. Evil is seen in the immoderate attachment to riches and the desire to hoard…”

338.  “Businesses should be characterized by their capacity to serve the common good of society through the production of useful goods and services. In seeking to produce goods and services according to plans aimed at efficiency and at satisfying the interests of the different parties involved, businesses create wealth for all of society, not just for the owners but also for the other subjects involved in their activity. Besides this typically economic function, businesses also perform a social function, creating opportunities for meeting, cooperating and the enhancement of the abilities of the people involved. In a business undertaking, therefore, the economic dimension is the condition for attaining not only economic goals, but also social and moral goals, which are all pursued together…”

343.  “Economic initiative is an expression of human intelligence and of the necessity of responding to human needs in a creative and cooperative fashion. Creativity and cooperation are signs of the authentic concept of business competition…”

282.  “The Church’s social Magisterium sees an expression of the relationship between labour and capital also in the institution of private property, in the right to and the use of private property.  The right to private property is subordinated to the principle of the universal destination of goods and must not constitute a reason for impeding the work or development of others. Property, which is acquired in the first place through work, must be placed at the service of work. This is particularly true regarding the possession of the means of production, but the same principle.”


The Church
The Church is the living body and voice of Christ in the world.  Its mission is to evangelize always, in word and deed.  This includes, in cooperation with other moral institutions, advising governments and peoples on moral aspects of their plans, aspirations, and activities.

49.  “The Church, the community of those who have been brought together by the Risen Christ and who have set out to follow him, is “the sign and the safeguard of the transcendent dimension of the human person.”
She is “in Christ a kind of sacrament — a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men.” Her mission is that of proclaiming and communicating the salvation wrought in Jesus Christ, which he calls “the Kingdom of God”, that is, communion with God and among men. The goal of salvation, the Kingdom of God embraces all people and is fully realized beyond history, in God. The Church has received “the mission of proclaiming and establishing among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God, and she is, on earth, the seed and the beginning of that Kingdom.”

50.  “The Church places herself concretely at the service of the Kingdom of God above all by announcing and communicating the Gospel of salvation and by establishing new Christian communities. Moreover, she serves the Kingdom by spreading throughout the world the ‘Gospel values’ which are an expression of the Kingdom and which help people to accept God’s plan …the Church is not to be confused with the political community and is not bound to any political system. In fact, the political community and the Church are autonomous and independent of each other in their own fields, and both are, even if under different titles, “devoted to the service of the personal and social vocation of the same human beings…”

62.  “With her social teaching the Church seeks to proclaim the Gospel and make it present in the complex network of social relations. It is not simply a matter of reaching out to man in society — man as the recipient of the proclamation of the Gospel — but of enriching and permeating society itself with the Gospel. For the Church, therefore, tending to the needs of man means that she also involves society in her missionary and salvific work. The way people live together in society often determines the quality of life and therefore the conditions in which every man and woman understand themselves and make decisions concerning themselves and their vocation. For this reason, the Church is not indifferent to what is decided, brought about or experienced in society; she is attentive to the moral quality — that is, the authentically human and humanizing aspects — of social life. Society — and with it, politics, the economy, labour, law, culture — is not simply a secular and worldly reality, and therefore outside or foreign to the message and economy of salvation. Society in fact, with all that is accomplished within it, concerns man. Society is made up of men and women, who are “the primary and fundamental way for the Church.”

424.  Although the Church and the political community both manifest themselves in visible organizational structures, they are by nature different because of their configuration and because of the ends they pursue. The Second Vatican Council solemnly reaffirmed that, “in their proper spheres, the political community and the Church are mutually independent and self-governing”. The Church is organized in ways that are suitable to meet the spiritual needs of the faithful, while the different political communities give rise to relationships and institutions that are at the service of everything that is part of the temporal common good. The autonomy and independence of these two realities is particularly evident with regards to their ends. The duty to respect religious freedom requires that the political community guarantee the Church the space needed to carry out her mission. For her part, the Church has no particular area of competence concerning the structures of the political community: “The Church respects the legitimate autonomy of the democratic order and is not entitled to express preferences for this or that institutional or constitutional solution”, nor does it belong to her to enter into questions of the merit of political programmes, except as concerns their religious or moral implications.

425.  The mutual autonomy of the Church and the political community does not entail a separation that excludes cooperation. Both of them, although by different titles, serve the personal and social vocation of the same human beings. The Church and the political community, in fact, express themselves in organized structures that are not ends in themselves but are intended for the service of man, to help him to exercise his rights fully, those inherent in his reality as a citizen and a Christian, and to fulfil correctly his corresponding duties. The Church and the political community can more effectively render this service “for the good of all if each works better for wholesome mutual cooperation in a way suitable to the circumstances of time and place.”

Science and the Church:  the Church’s Social Doctrine avails itself of friendly dialogue with all branches of knowledge

76.  The Church’s social doctrine avails itself of contributions from all branches of knowledge, whatever their source, and has an important interdisciplinary dimension. “In order better to incarnate the one truth about man in different and constantly changing social, economic and political contexts, this teaching enters into dialogue with the various disciplines concerned with man. It assimilates what these disciplines have to contribute”. The social doctrine makes use of the significant contributions of philosophy as well as the descriptive contributions of the human sciences.

77.  Above all, the contribution of philosophy is essential. This contribution has already been seen in the appeal to human nature as a source and to reason as the cognitive path of faith itself. By means of reason, the Church’s social doctrine espouses philosophy in its own internal logic, in other words, in the argumentation that is proper to it. Affirming that the Church’s social doctrine is part of theology rather than philosophy does not imply a disowning or underestimation of the role or contribution of philosophy. In fact, philosophy is a suitable and indispensable instrument for arriving at a correct understanding of the basic concepts of the Church’s social doctrine, concepts such as the person, society, freedom, conscience, ethics, law, justice, the common good, solidarity, subsidiarity, the State. This understanding is such that it inspires harmonious living in society. It is philosophy once more that shows the reasonableness and acceptability of shining the light of the Gospel on society, and that inspires in every mind and conscience openness and assent to the truth.

78.  A significant contribution to the Church’s social doctrine comes also from human sciences and the social sciences. In view of that particular part of the truth that it may reveal, no branch of knowledge is excluded. The Church recognizes and receives everything that contributes to the understanding of man in the ever broader, more fluid and more complex network of his social relationships. She is aware of the fact that a profound understanding of man does not come from theology alone, without the contributions of many branches of knowledge to which theology itself refers. This attentive and constant openness to other branches of knowledge makes the Church’s social doctrine reliable, concrete and relevant. Thanks to the sciences, the Church can gain a more precise understanding of man in society, speak to the men and women of her own day in a more convincing manner and more effectively fulfil her task of incarnating in the conscience and social responsibility of our time, the word of God and the faith from which social doctrine flows.

Freedom of Conscience is Essential, even in Theocratic States

423.  Because of its historical and cultural ties to a nation, a religious community might be given special recognition on the part of the State. Such recognition must in no way create discrimination within the civil or social order for other religious groups. The vision of the relations between States and religious organizations promoted by the Second Vatican Council corresponds to the requirements of a State ruled by law and to the norms of international law. The Church is well aware that this vision is not shared by all; the right to religious freedom, unfortunately, “is being violated by many States, even to the point that imparting catechesis, having it imparted, and receiving it become punishable offences”.


Schools, NGOs & Social Institutions
Building culture & identity by providing a shared and informed understanding

Education and Culture

198.  Men and women have the specific duty to move always towards the truth, to respect it and bear responsible witness to it. Living in the truth has special significance in social relationships. In fact, when the coexistence of human beings within a community is founded on truth, it is ordered and fruitful, and it corresponds to their dignity as persons. The more people and social groups strive to resolve social problems according to the truth, the more they distance themselves from abuses and act in accordance with the objective demands of morality. Modern times call for an intensive educational effort and a corresponding commitment on the part of all so that the quest for truth cannot be ascribed to the sum of different opinions, nor to one or another of these opinions — will be encouraged in every sector and will prevail over every attempt to relativize its demands or to offend it. This is an issue that involves the world of public communications and that of the economy in a particular way. In these areas, the unscrupulous use of money raises ever more pressing questions, which necessarily call for greater transparency and honesty in personal and social activity.

166.  The demands of the common good are dependent on the social conditions of each historical period and are strictly connected to respect for and the integral promotion of the person and his fundamental rights. These demands concern above all the commitment to peace, the organization of the State’s powers, a sound juridical system, the protection of the environment, and the provision of essential services to all, some of which are at the same time human rights: food, housing, work, education and access to culture, transportation, basic health care, the freedom of communication and expression, and the protection of religious freedom[350]. Nor must one forget the contribution that every nation is required in duty to make towards a true worldwide cooperation for the common good of the whole of humanity and for future generations also.

198.  … A nation has a “fundamental right to existence”, to “its own language and culture, through which a people expresses and promotes … its fundamental spiritual ‘sovereignty”’, to “shape its life according to its own traditions, excluding, of course, every abuse of basic human rights and in particular the oppression of minorities”, to “build its future by providing an appropriate education for the younger generation.” The international order requires a balance between particularity and universality, which all nations are called to bring about, for their primary duty is to live in a posture of peace, respect and solidarity with other nations.

376.  Faced with the rapid advancement of technological and economic progress, and with the equally rapid transformation of the processes of production and consumption, the Magisterium senses the need to propose a great deal of educational and cultural formation, for the Church is aware that “to call for an existence which is qualitatively more satisfying is of itself legitimate, but one cannot fail to draw attention to the new responsibilities and dangers connected with this phase of history … In singling out new needs and new means to meet them, one must be guided by a comprehensive picture of man which respects all the dimensions of his being and which subordinates his material and instinctive dimensions to his interior and spiritual ones Of itself, an economic system does not possess criteria for correctly distinguishing new and higher forms of satisfying human needs from artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality. Thus a great deal of educational and cultural work is urgently needed, including the education of consumers in the responsible use of their power of choice, the formation of a strong sense of responsibility among producers and among people in the mass media in particular, as well as the necessary intervention by public authorities”.

The Role of Civil Society

417.  …Civil society is the sum of relationships and resources, cultural and associative, that are relatively independent from the political sphere and the economic sector. “The purpose of civil society is universal, since it concerns the common good, to which each and every citizen has a right in due proportion”. This is marked by a planning capacity that aims at fostering a freer and more just social life, in which the various groups of citizens can form associations, working to develop and express their preferences, in order to meet their fundamental needs and defend their legitimate interests.

418.  The political community and civil society, although mutually connected and interdependent, are not equal in the hierarchy of ends. The political community is essentially at the service of civil society and, in the final analysis, the persons and groups of which civil society is composed. Civil society, therefore, cannot be considered an extension or a changing component of the political community; rather, it has priority because it is in civil society itself that the political community finds its justification.

419.  The political community is responsible for regulating its relations with civil society according to the principle of subsidiarity. It is essential that the growth of democratic life begin within the fabric of society. The activities of civil society — above all volunteer organizations and cooperative endeavours in the private-social sector, all of which are succinctly known as the “third sector”, to distinquish from the State and the market — represent the most appropriate ways to develop the social dimension of the person, who finds in these activities the necessary space to express himself fully. The progressive expansion of social initiatives beyond the State- controlled sphere creates new areas for the active presence and direct action of citizens, integrating the functions of the State. This important phenomenon has often come about largely through informal means and has given rise to new and positive ways of exercising personal rights, which have brought about a qualitative enrichment of democratic life.

420.  …Many experiences of volunteer work are examples of great value that call people to look upon civil society as a place where it is possible to rebuild a public ethic based on solidarity, concrete cooperation and fraternal dialogue. All are called to look with confidence to the potentialities that thus present themselves and to lend their own personal efforts for the good of the community in general and, in particular, for the good of the weakest and the neediest. In this way, the principle of the “subjectivity of society” is also affirmed.


The Media
Rooting democracy in truth

414.  Information is among the principal instruments of democratic participation. Participation without an understanding of the situation of the political community, the facts and the proposed solutions to problems is unthinkable. It is necessary to guarantee a real pluralism in this delicate area of social life, ensuring that there are many forms and instruments of information and communications. It is likewise necessary to facilitate conditions of equality in the possession and use of these instruments by means of appropriate laws. Among the obstacles that hinder the full exercise of the right to objectivity in information, special attention must be given to the phenomenon of the news media being controlled by just a few people or groups. This has dangerous effects for the entire democratic system when this phenomenon is accompanied by ever closer ties between governmental activity and the financial and information establishments.

415.  The media must be used to build up and sustain the human community in its different sectors: economic, political, cultural, educational and religious. “The information provided by the media is at the service of the common good. Society has a right to information based on truth, freedom, justice and solidarity”. The essential question is whether the current information system is contributing to the betterment of the human person; that is, does it make people more spiritually mature, more aware of the dignity of their humanity, more responsible or more open to others, in particular to the neediest and the weakest. A further aspect of great importance is the requisite that new technologies respect legitimate cultural differences.


Conscience Conversations, Pt. 3: A patron saint for citizens

M:  If you’re okay with it, Brendan, I’d like to go one more round on the topic of saints for Catholic citizens.  There’s one in particular I’d like to mention.  He’s possibly a special one for Catholic Conscience:  Saint John Cardinal Fisher was a friend of Saint Thomas More, and was martyred with him.  He served as bishop of Rochester, England, and was chancellor of Cambridge University.

A quotation of his that I saw in Magnificat Magazine has caused me to wonder why he is not more frequently invoked, and what sorts of things we at Catholic Conscience might turn to him for. The quote was:

In the beginning of the world, almighty God made paradise a place of honest pleasure.  And from out of that place issued a flood divided into four parts, signifying the four capital virtues: justice, temperance, prudence, and fortitude, with which the whole soul could be washed and made pleasant as with so many waters.  But contrariwise, the devil has conceived and made another paradise of bodily and sensual pleasure, and from out of that come four other floods, far contrary to the others:

  • the flood of covetousness contrary to justice,
  • the flood of gluttony against temperance,
  • the flood of pride against prudence, and
  • the flood of lechery against fortitude.

Whoever is drowned in any of these floods finds it hard to be turned to God by true contrition, for the raging of them is so great and overflowing…

What is the remedy for us who are in the midst of all these floods?  Where shall we fly?  Truly, God is the only remedy and refuge, for without his help none can escape without being drowned…

This Saint seems to me to have great potential for Catholic Conscience, especially as he does not yet appear to have been claimed as patron of any particular cause:  whereas St. Joseph is patron of workers and St. Thomas More is patron of lawyers and politicians, St. John appears to have been adopted only by individual schools, parishes, and dioceses.

What do you think?  Has St. John Fisher got things to teach us?  Should we consider adopting him, with St. Mary, as a patron of Catholic Conscience?

B: Your question has provoked the best kind of response—you’ve inspired some Googling! I have never heard of Saint John Fisher and so I’ve done some reading to see what I could learn. I’m so impressed by what I’ve discovered. So much of this extraordinary Christian’s life can act as a spiritual guide for all of us as citizens.

First, John Fisher the academic. He won the patronage of the King’s mother and used it to found Christ College and St. John’s College at Cambridge. He was famously Chancellor of Cambridge, and Bishop of Rochester. And so we start with the first great virtuous work of his life: the work of education, of teaching theology, of deepening the Christian understanding. We can take so much inspiration from his relentless commitment to spiritual formation and growth, which is so much part of our mission at Catholic Conscience.

Second, John Fisher the man of principle speaking truth to power. He incurred the wrath of his King again and again, particularly as Henry VIII marched Britain towards schism. Like Thomas More he eventually paid for his principles with his life. And like Thomas More we can be inspired by his example of refusing to violate the core tenets of his faith—of standing firm where moral clarity was needed.

Third, John Fisher the preacher. Apparently one of his great missions in life was to improve the standards of preaching in England. He was a legendarily charismatic and compelling public speaker, and his many sermons and books made him a leading European theologian. Catholic Conscience and its members dare to speak openly and publicly about Catholic social teaching and about building a society and culture of love and tenderness. We can learn from Fisher in this mission. Fisher is an example of a daring and thoughtful public persuader, who used the power of words to win hearts. Like Francis de Sales, he should inspire us in our mission of evangelization.

Fourth, and certainly not least of which, is John Fisher the citizen. What greater act of citizenship is there than speaking out against injustices promulgated by power? What greater act of love for neighbour is there in a democracy, than a willingness to speak up when the politics of the day is failing the public? In his principled stands on the issues of his time, John Fisher models citizenship—even to his death. And so, in our mission of forming good and active Christian citizens, we could hardly do better than such a noble model of Christian citizenship.

Matthew, what most struck you in reading about the life of John Fisher? And were it up to you what he would patronize, what would you choose?

M:  I think maybe you’ve suggested the answer yourself: my answer to both questions is citizenship.  Specifically, I would nominate Saint John Fisher as patron of Christian citizenship, because it strikes me forcibly that he used the full range of his prodigious gifts, to the limits of his strength—to the extent of laying down his life—to bring Christ to others, to everyone around him in society: to the students and the diocese he was given to oversee, to his peers in academia and the Church, and to the secular powers above him.  And on that basis, it seems to me that you have made a great case for naming him one of the patrons of Catholic Conscience.

Do you agree?

B: I couldn’t agree more.

Saint John Fisher, pray for us!

Twice a month, Matthew Marquardt and Brendan Steven get together over breakfast and talk about what it means to be a Christian citizen. These are their Conscience Conversations. Want to join the conversation? Want to learn more about Catholic social teaching, and how you can serve your community as an active Christian citizen? Reach out to us: email

Matthew Marquardt is President of Catholic Conscience, a partner at a major Toronto law firm, and a parishioner at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.

 Brendan Steven is Executive Director of Catholic Conscience, a writer based in Toronto, and a parishioner at St. Basil’s Catholic Church.

Conscience Conversations, Pt 2: Saints for Catholic Citizens

One of the greatest spiritual tools afforded to us as Catholics in our journey towards God is the inspiration offered by the lives of saints. The saints are not just close to God in a special way, and people we can reach out to as a path of prayer. The endless array of saints and their stories reminds us of the diversity of ways people find God throughout history, the great continuum of vocations and missions God imparts to his children, and how all of us—in our own time, in our own way, in our own actions—can become saints.

Brendan:  Catholic Conscience is devoted especially to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. But we too can draw from the blessed example of many saints. So, when you think of our mission as an organization—and the mission facing all Catholics, of becoming well-formed Christian citizens—who are the saints who inspire you the most? Who are the saints whose lives have special relevance to our work?

Matthew: A great question, worthy of thought.

Along with faith in special works and graces empowered by God—typically called miracles—the Catholic concept of saints is something that sets us Catholics, and our Orthodox sisters and brothers, apart. To me, that’s sad. Too many people are missing out on a good thing. The cause, I think, is that too many people, Catholic and otherwise, confuse the concept of saints with devotion to plaster statues, images, and other objects. Such objects, which can best be thought of as tools for devotion, can be wonderful helps in focusing, contemplation, and the creation of beauty. Misused, they can lead us apart from the real idea of saints, and through our actions, maybe even help drive others further away from God.

Really, the concept of saints is pretty simple. Like many people, we Catholics believe that when an individual’s life ends, her or his spirit, or soul, continues along its journey, hopefully moving in a new way closer toward God. In the larger sense, all of these souls who continue their pilgrimage can be thought of as ‘saints’, the more so as they grow closer.  Those whose cases have been carefully investigated and approved by the Church for general reverence are typically capitalized as “Saints”, with a capital “S”.

The key is our belief that although we can no longer see or touch those pilgrim souls, there’s nothing to say we can’t continue to speak with them, through prayer, and ask them to help us by joining in our prayers.  Presumably the most holy and devoted of these saints, being ever closer to God and being more practiced at prayer, have a better chance of being heard than we who are still at some distance, in the “living” world we know.

There’s nothing scary or illogical about it at all.

This means we have lots of choices for people to turn to, both as individuals and as a society.

In addition to our Immaculate Mother, her husband is a great choice, particularly for Canadians: St Joseph is patron of our country. Being one of the world’s quiet, devoted workers, he seems an excellent choice for Canada, as someone who is likely to have found very great favor with God. I recommend him heartily.

There are many saints for special causes—they can be so effective, in fact, that they get relegated to somewhat narrow channels for petition, and sometimes become almost like family members.

In 2000, Pope St. John Paul II declared St Thomas More to be the universal patron of statesmen and politicians.  At his execution by Henry VIII, St Thomas declared himself “the king’s good servant, but God’s first. Truly “a witness to the truth that man cannot be sundered from God, nor politics from morality.”  Obviously a great resource for Catholic Conscience and others interested in politics and proper social order.

It’s interesting to note St Thomas More was executed in 1535, just four years after Our Lady commissioned St Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin for the building of a chapel near Mexico City. Our Lady of Guadalupe is patroness of all the Americas, which makes her another great choice for us, and is part of the reason Catholic Conscience is consecrated to her Immaculate Heart.

There are many, many choices beyond that: basically, any good person who has gone ahead in his/her pilgrimage is a candidate. I, for example, pray to Juan Diego for humility; to my Uncle George, who died before I was born, as my guardian angel; and to my father and brother to keep an eye on my children. And I pray to a (very good Catholic) baseball player named Charlie Gehringer for the help in obtaining the grace to shut up and work hard.

B: I did not know St. Joseph was patron of Canada! And patron of hard work, the ever-needed virtue in the task of building a better world. A very appropriate saint for any Catholic citizen to keep in mind.

I suppose I’ll add a couple more for consideration. In the work Catholic Conscience does in forming Christians in the wisdom of Catholic social teaching, I look to the example of Saint Francis de Sales. I knew of Saint Francis de Sales before joining Catholic Conscience. He is, after all, the patron saint of writers–a good saint for a writer to keep at heart! He is famous for a few things. As Bishop of Geneva, he was a gentle evangelizer during the Reformation. His pamphlets and other written materials helped persuade thousands to rejoin the Church. He was, in that way, the progenitor of a democratic citizen in fine form—someone who seeks to peacefully persuade, who is open to conversation, encounter, and conversion. Saint Francis de Sales comes to mind when I think of ideal citizens. I also appreciate deeply his practical approach to the task of living a Christian life. His Introduction to the Devout Life is a very pragmatic approach to deepening faith, a guide which embraces the philosophy that sustained, disciplined action over time can change hearts and souls. Such a perfect metaphor for the work of being a virtuous Christian citizen. I find all the great civic virtues are learned through good practice. And, of course, Catholic Conscience seeks to gently persuade others of the wisdom of Catholic social teaching—a work Saint Francis de Sales would appreciate, I’m sure.

I admire greatly Saint Ignatius of Loyola as an institution-builder, constructing the Jesuits from the ground up through work, commitment, and of course the grace of God. I think of him often as we build the works and mission of Catholic Conscience.

So much of being a good Christian citizen depends on fighting for the preferential option for the poor. Though not (yet, I hope) a saint, Dorothy Day’s work for the vulnerable and abandoned continues to inspire me. I likely wouldn’t be involved in the causes I am involved in, were it not for her example. Dorothy Day’s example of Christian citizenship reminds us brilliantly: to be a Christian in community is to prioritize the good of others over ourselves. We must constantly remember that Christ is closest to the least, and to be close to him, we must be close to them. We must find the hidden corners where injustice thrives, and bring in the light.

You also mentioned some personal examples. My grandmother Rose, who passed many years ago, exemplified a gentle wisdom and piety that burns a fire in my heart as if she were alive before my eyes today. When I need patience, when I want to do the just thing, when I feel penitent for sins, when I want to have an open heart instead of a closed one, her example continues to inspire.

 M: Excellent examples.  St Francis de Sales and saint Dorothy both have much to teach us, and I expect they are eager to help us move our prayers along.

The only further examples I can think to add are two named Francis—our current Pope, and the original, from Assisi.  I think the world needs both very badly.  Pope Francis, of course, is still with us – but that just means we should pray that God help him in guiding us, and gathering souls to Christ.

We talked earlier about the different “ages” of humanity.  It’s interesting to me that St Francis of Assisi came to prominence at the end of the Church’s first millennium; and that it was only at the end of the 2nd millennium that the first Pope to adopt his name appeared. It’s a powerful name, and the world needs it sorely.

Let’s pray that these holy people will watch over us, and guide our efforts with Catholic Conscience.

Twice a month, Matthew Marquardt and Brendan Steven get together over breakfast and talk about what it means to be a Christian citizen. These are their Conscience Conversations. Want to join the conversation? Want to learn more about Catholic social teaching, and how you can serve your community as an active Christian citizen? Reach out to us: email

 Matthew Marquardt is President of Catholic Conscience, a partner at a major Toronto law firm, and a parishioner at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.

 Brendan Steven is a director with Catholic Conscience, a writer based in Toronto, and a parishioner at St. Basil’s Catholic Church.

Canadian Bishop urges Renewal of Catholic Education

Accepting Pope Francis’ invitation for bishops to be bold at the Synod of Bishops underway in Rome, Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Dowd of Montreal told the assembly Oct. 16, “If I was pope – I know I’m not, but if I was – I’d write an encyclical on four basic questions” all human beings ask in one way or another.

The four, he said, are: “Who is God? If God is good, why is there evil in the world? If God is good but there is evil in the world, what has God done about it? If God is good but there is evil in the world and God is doing something about it, how can we be part of it?”

The answers, Bishop Dowd suggested, should be the foundation of Catholic education.

More signs of trouble in Ontario

Canada, like the US and Mexico, continues to reflect troubles with democracy.  In the province of Ontario, each of the major parties – Liberal, Progressive Conservative, and New Democratic – appears to be encouraging parliamentary candidates to step back and stop talking, apparently with the idea of allowing leaders to keep party communications strictly ‘on message.’  Obviously, this severely limits the abilities of voters to explore broader ranges of parties’ positions on issues of importance to them.

However, it is important that Catholics follow up with individual candidates during the campaign process:  across all parties, some nominees, generally driven by a sense of civic duty, will ignore instructions and respond to requests to meet with voter groups.  Our own meetings, for example, which are purposefully non-confrontational, seem to be appreciated by voters and candidates alike.  And while, for the first time ever, none or our meetings in Ontario has had representation from all parties during the current campaign, we do have commitments, at different meetings, from candidates from all parties.

It is contrary to principles of federal or parliamentary democracies for party leaders to attempt to horde all attention to themselves, to set themselves up as sole points of party communication and contact.  Obviously, this puts them in the position of deciding what information is to be shared, with whom, and when, and it can be used to avoid answering uncomfortable questions – even when the questions are entirely proper.  In April, for example, we proposed a Q&A session for Ontarian party leaders, and were utterly ignored by all parties – despite the facts that our meetings are entirely non-confrontational and that most of the leaders met with leaders of other community groups shortly thereafter, in the same geographic area.

The problem is aggravated by new tactics of all parties to make both their platforms and direct contact information for candidates difficult to find.   It’s not always possible for candidates to accept all invitations.  But it is possible for them to acknowledge invitations and explain why they can or cannot accept, and it is not only possible, but is a positive duty for them to make their platforms easily available to voters.

As Catholics, we have a duty to participate in society, in order to ensure that all people are given opportunities they need to fulfill themselves and their duties before God.  Get involved.  Speak up.  Vote – and when you vote, stop to think for a moment about which individual candidates are willing to spend time speaking to you, and listening to you.

Are we electing politicians who want to gather and lead us, or to scatter us for their own advantage?

TRUTH, SOLIDARITY, AND LOVE:  In recent weeks elected leaders in the United States and Canada have been accused of lying to us, of turning away from electoral promises, of belittling others, and of seeking to divide us, to set us against one another and those in other countries.   It would seem that their purpose is to make things better for a few people, at the expense of many.

If Mephistopheles is the scatterer and the lover of lies, then whose candidates are we electing?  These individuals sometimes seem to bear no resemblance to the parties we sought to support.

It is important to remember that God gave the world to all of us, to all humanity.  But no human being has ever chosen the location or the circumstances of his or her birth; their parents or their homeland.  It is up to us to find ways to live with each other justly, to treat one another fairly – and with mercy, when appropriate.

Electing better leaders in a democracy is not difficult. It requires a bit of effort, but it is effort that each of us should be making anyway:  we should all be consulting and supporting responsible news sources, keeping an eye on candidates who are presented to us at elections, and on those we have elected to office.  This is neither difficult nor time consuming; with the internet it can be done in minutes each day.  Consider subscribing to one or two or three news sources, and using key words to set up searches, as well as watching items of general interest.   Use comment sections to speak up when appropriate, to point out the relationship between events and responsible social thought.

Perhaps the most helpful way to help, if you have time and are inclined toward one or another of the parties, is to become involved with the party in ways that will give you a voice in establishing platforms and selecting candidates – if we continue to simply accept the candidates and the platforms that are presented to us, without speaking up beforehand, we will have a much more difficult time effecting change.

Taxation & Stewardship: Ontario and New Brunswick 2017 Provincial Audit Reports

It is necessary that governments collect taxes, and apply them toward projects that are in the common interest.  Because tax money is being collected from people who may or may not agree with the uses to which they are to be put, however, it is incumbent upon governments to bear in mind at all times their responsibility to collect and spend tax money wisely, fairly, and efficiently.  After all, those who are required to pay the taxes might have been able to put the money to their own good uses.  And governments all levels must in every case be scrupulously correct in accounting for their use of other people’s money.

The Auditors General of New Brunswick and Ontario have recently released final annual reports of provincial finances and expenditures prior to next year’s provincial elections.  In both cases, encouraging work has been noted.  However, in both cases significant discrepancies have been noted as well.

Indeed, in each case some strong criticisms are made.  For example:

  • In Ontario, the Auditor General found that “there was one overarching theme this year that was common in varying degrees to almost all of the VFM audits: the need to improve planning that supports timely and informed decision-making and oversight—or even to just have a plan of action with ongoing monitoring of the results being achieved—to ensure efficient and cost-effective public services.” Morever, the Auditor, reported, the Province continued to report billions of dollars of assets as its own, and available for public use, when, for example, those assets belong to the Teachers’s Pension Plan.  Such practices in mis-reporting funds can significantly distort pictures of spending efficiency.
  • In New Brunswick, the Auditor reported “very troubling disregard for procurement practices,” specifically in the Department of Social Development, with deficiencies in contract management and lack of oversight. In at least one case, the Auditor reported, a “consultant was highly and inappropriately favored by the Department.”   As a more hopeful example, the report acknowledges that provincial greenhouse gas emissions peaked in 2001 and have declined since, with efforts apparently on track to meet 2020 targets.  Still, the report concludes, “meeting the 2030 and 2050 targets will require significant [additional] action from provincial and Federal initiatives.”

Whether provinces are, overall, collecting and spending money fairly is an assessment that each voter should make before voting in next year’s elections.  The Reports are publicly available, and easy to read:

The New Brunswick Report is at:

The Ontario Report is at: