CATHOLIC CIVICS: Good Government 101
Through its social teachings, the Church has provided guidance for the building of just societies in a very wide variety of forms, suitable for a wide variety of cultural, historical, and geographical contexts. Forms of governance, economic structures, international relations, and mechanisms for enabling and empowering each individual to have a voice and to seek truth and God in their own way are all addressed, so that wherever and whenever we find ourselves, we are not left to grope or wander in the dark.
A primary goal of Catholic Conscience is to bring the values of the Gospel, as reflected in Catholic social teachings, into the center of social discourse. We present seminars and workshops, and publish podcasts, videos, and notes on a variety of topics intended to stimulate discussion and to guide voters and other civic participants in making tough choices. Take a look: if you don’t see what you’re looking for, or have questions, let us know. We are here to help.
The social doctrine of the Church is informed by the Gospels and by tradition, which provide virtues that apply to social as well as personal actions. These virtues include:
- Good Stewardship
- The Beatitudes of the Politician
Prudence enables discernment of the true good in every circumstance, and selection of the right means for achieving it. “We can identify three distinct moments as prudence is exercised:
- to clarify and evaluate situations
- to inspire decisions, and
- to prompt action.
The first moment is seen in the reflection and consultation by which the question is studied and the necessary opinions sought. The second moment is that of evaluation, as the reality is analyzed and judged in the light of God's plan. The third moment, that of decision, is based on the preceding steps and makes it possible to choose between the different actions that may be taken.” Compendium, 547
|Prudence makes it possible to make decisions that are consistent, and to make them with realism and a sense of responsibility for the consequences of one's action. The rather widespread opinion that equates prudence with shrewdness, with utilitarian calculations, with diffidence or with timidity or indecision, is far from the correct understanding of this virtue. It is a characteristic of practical reason and offers assistance in deciding with wisdom and courage the course of action that should be followed, becoming the measure of the other virtues.
Prudence affirms the good as a duty and shows in what manner the person should accomplish it. In the final analysis, it is a virtue that requires the mature exercise of thought and responsibility in an objective understanding of a specific situation and in making decisions according to a correct will.
Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 198
St. Thomas Aquinas defines humility as “consisting in keeping oneself within one's own bounds, not reaching out to things above one, but submitting to one's superior." Summa Contra Gent., bk. IV, ch. Lv.
In his message for the 52nd World Day of Peace on January 1, 2019, Pope Francis noted that “Jesus tells us that, ‘if anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all’ (Mk 9:35). In the words of Pope Paul VI, ‘to take politics seriously at its different levels – local, regional, national and worldwide – is to affirm the duty of each individual to acknowledge the reality and value of the freedom offered him to work at one and the same time for the good of the city, the nation and all mankind’.”
“Is it not simply human wisdom, the fruit of knowledge and experience? The wisdom the Holy Spirit grants is the grace of being able to see things through God’s eyes. It is seeing the world, situations, problems, everything, with the eyes of God. And obviously this derives from intimacy with God, from the relationship of a son with his Father. When we are in communion with the Lord, it is through the Holy Spirit that our heart transforms and we are able to perceive all its warmth and predilection...
The heart of the man who is wise in this way has the taste, the flavor of God. We have the Holy Spirit inside us, in our heart; we can listen to it, or we can choose not to listen to it. If we listen to the Holy Spirit, He will teach us this way of wisdom, and will give us the wisdom to see through God’s eyes, to hear with God’s ears, to love with the heart of God, to judge with God’s judgment. This is the wisdom that the Holy Spirit gives us, and all of us can have this.”
-- Pope Francis, General audience, April 9, 2014
|Christ reveals to human authority, always tempted by the desire to dominate, its authentic and complete meaning as service. God is the one Father, and Christ the one Teacher, of all mankind, and all people are brothers and sisters. Sovereignty belongs to God. The Lord, however, “has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life.
“The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence.”
In Chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew, Christ explained to us that God, the creator, is still the owner of all creation, including ourselves. We are simply stewards of all these things, meant to use them for God’s purposes. This includes each of the gifts God has given us in common, as well as the various levels of intelligence, ability, health, longevity, and wealth that have been entrusted to us individually. We are meant to use all of these gifts for God’s purposes.
In Chapter 22 of the Gospel of Matthew, Christ taught us that God’s expectations are that we will each love God with all our heart, all our mind, and all our soul; and that we will do that best by caring after one another, and enabling each other to put our gifts to work for God.
Finally, in Chapter 25 of Matthew, Christ sternly warned us that we will be judged, as nations, on the basis of the care that we have offered to one another.
Both individually and socially, human beings have a deep duty of proper stewardship.
|The Bible teaches us that responsibility is inseparable from stewardship. We ultimately will be held accountable for the way in which we use what God gives us. In Luke 12:41-48, Our Lord reminds us that we are like stewards who are placed in charge of the household while the Master is away. "Who, then, is the wise and trustworthy steward whom the master will place over his household to give them at the proper time their allowance of food? Blessed is that servant if his master's arrival finds him doing just that." But if the servant abuses his master's trust, saying "My master is taking his time coming" and sets about beating the men-servants and the servant-girls,
and eating and drinking and getting drunk, his master will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know."
- Archbishop Thomas Cardinal Collins, Well Done Good & Faithful Servant
|The Beatitudes of the Politician|
In his message for the 52nd World Day of Peace on January 1, 2019, Pope Francis recalled us to the Beatitudes of the Politician proposed by Vietnamese Cardinal Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyễn Vãn Thuận:
- Blessed be the politician with a lofty sense and deep understanding of his role.
- Blessed be the politician who personally exemplifies credibility.
- Blessed be the politician who works for the common good and not his or her own interest.
- Blessed be the politician who remains consistent.
- Blessed be the politician who works for unity.
- Blessed be the politician who works to accomplish radical change.
- Blessed be the politician who is capable of listening.
- Blessed be the politician who is without fear.
In Chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew, Christ taught us that we are meant to spend our time and all our strength on earth doing the work of the Lord; and that in the end we will be judged not only as individuals, but as nations, on the basis of how well we showed love and concern for those around us. Matthew 25:14-46.
|A scholar of the law tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
This means that we must not only seek salvation for ourselves, through fervent prayer in devotion, that we must also participate as members of society, giving ourselves for the care of others.
|The Catechism of the Catholic Church
1913 It is necessary that all participate, each according to his position and role, in promoting the common good. This obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person.
1914 Participation is achieved first of all by taking charge of the areas for which one assumes personal responsibility: by the care taken for the education of his family, by conscientious work, and so forth, man participates in the good of others and of society.
1915 As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life. The manner of this participation may vary from one country or culture to another. "One must pay tribute to those nations whose systems permit the largest possible number of the citizens to take part in public life in a climate of genuine freedom."
Note that we are each of us called to promote the common good according to our positions and roles in life. Living in a democracy, as we do, this means that we must consider acting in multiple ways, through multiple roles.
At a minimum, we must vote. We will only have governments that reflect the values we feel they should reflect to the extent that we meaningfully participate in voting. This means that we must inform ourselves concerning the social teachings of the Church and concerning the relevant issues; must consider the positions and statements of the various candidates and their parties; prayerfully discern the vote that will be most pleasing to God, and then vote.
But that is only the minimum. Many of us are capable of more. We can, for example, and in accordance with our positions and roles in life:
- Speak with those around us – always respectfully, and always from a place of humility –about the issues, the candidates, and appropriate social behavior. And we must remember that the first and last step in any speaking exercise is to listen to those around us. The teachings of the Church are such that on very many issues it is possible to have differing points of view, each of them being in accordance with Church teachings.
- Stay in touch with those we have elected, and those who seek to be candidates – always respectfully, and always from a place of humility, and always thankfully – about the good things they have done, about ythe things they have given up in order to serve others, and, when necessary, about any of their positions that we find challenging. We can write to them, e-mail them, call them, and we can pray for them.
And we can get involved. For example, we can:
- Volunteer to help campaigns
- We can put our names forward as candidates for elections, or for appointed office
- We can join organizations that promote any aspects of the common good: respect for life, respect for the environment, care for the marginalized, care for wildlife, educational institutions, visits to the homebound, the elderly, and the bed-bound
We can also participate by ‘voting’ in the democracies of the economy and the internet.
- We can carefully consider each and every purchase we make. For example, do we really need to go to the big-box discount store, or the big clearinghouse website, to get the absolute bottom price available? Sometimes practices like that put others out of work, or out of business. Instead, can we consider the sources of the things we buy – the manufacturers, retailers, and middlepersons – to maximize just returns for producers, and dignified incomes for all those in between? The more we do so, the better effect we may have on the economy.
- We can carefully consider each keystroke we make while browsing the internet. Every choice we make on the web is a ‘vote’ for various types of content. If we pick the salacious stories, with the racy photos of movie stars, we are encouraging that sort of content. If instead we select responsible news sources, and responsible social media platforms, then we are encouraging those platforms.
|“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” Matthew 6:19-21
“The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.”
At this point in history, it is especially important for us, as Catholics, to be involved politically:
- The world is shrinking, thanks to electronic communications and the ease of travel
- Many cultures are coming together
- Forces of greed are ridiculing all religions; might – in the form of economic power – is being accepted as right.
- Its time for us to step back and reflect on the major organs of society
- Cultural institutions
- It’s not good for any one to have too much power – we need balance, or one way or another, dictators will arise. We have an unholy alliance between Government and Business, where parties, candidates, and ideology are fueled by direct or indirect corporate contributions
THE NEW TESTAMENT PROVIDES A GREAT STARTING TEXT. The Church does not have all of the answers, but it knows what questions to ask. It’s up to us, as Catholic citizens, to influence society by acting gently and humbly at home, office, and in public, to bring Gospel values to the center of social discourse.
PODCASTS AND VIDEOS
Every month we send subscribers a free copy of the Catholic Commons, our e-newsletter for Catholic citizens. It includes prayers, the latest updates from Pope Francis, wonderful reading and video content on citizenship and spirituality that Catholics will love, and more!
Beauty of Creation webinar this Thursday, the Synod on synodality, and thank you for voting with a 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 on seeking the common good as Catholics, here in Canada and around the world.