Political responsibility: Citizens of two cities

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Presentation by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades at Saint Vincent de Paul Parish, Fort Wayne, on February 21, 2016

Click here for an audio version of this talk. (The speaker starts at minute 11:40)

I’ve been asked to speak this evening on a very important topic – our call to political responsibility as expressed in the USCCB document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship and also, in the context of this Year of Mercy, on the pastoral letter of the Indiana Bishops on poverty here in Indiana.

I’d like to begin by sharing some general teachings of the Church about political life.

You probably know the motto of Bishop Dwenger High School: Citizens of Two Worlds. This expresses a truth of our faith. The Second Vatican Council used the expression of Saint Augustine: citizens of two cities, the city of God and the city of man. In today’s second reading, we heard Saint Paul’s words to the Philippians: our citizenship is in heaven. Jesus Himself said that we are in the world, but we are not to be of the world. So we are citizens of two worlds: earth and heaven, human society and the Church. Pope Saint John Paul II reflected on this union that exists from being members of the Church and citizens of human society. He wrote: There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called ‘spiritual’ life, with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called ‘secular’ life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social relationships, in the responsibilities of public life, and in culture. Saint John Paul warned about the grave consequences that come when faith is separated from life and the gospel is separated from culture. (Christifideles Laici 59). The Second Vatican Council taught the following: The Council exhorts Christians, as citizens of one city and the other, to strive to perform their earthly duties faithfully in response to the spirit of the Gospel. They are mistaken who, knowing that we have here no abiding city but seek one which is to come, think that they may therefore shirk their earthly respnsibilites; for they are forgetting that by faith itself they are more than ever obliged to measure up to these duties, each according to one’s vocation… This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age” (Gaudium et spes 43).

Among our earthly responsibilities is politics, our responsibility to be faithful citizens. To be a faithful citizen, one must first have a correctly formed conscience. To make good political choices, we must make prudential decisions that are based on well-formed consciences. We have a serious obligation to form our consciences in accord with human reason and Church teaching. Here is what the U.S. bishops state in our document: Catholics have a serious and lifelong obligation to form their consciences in accord with human reason and the teaching of the Church. Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere ‘feeling’ about what we should or should not do. Rather, conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil. Conscience always requires serious attempts to make sound moral judgments based on the truths of our faith” (#17).

Like other matters of decision-making in our lives, it is essential when it comes to political choices and voting that we make prudent decisions in light of a well-formed conscience. The bishops explain that there are several elements included in the formation of conscience: First, there is a desire to embrace goodness and truth. For Cat