Bringing Christ to the caucus

| Bishop Andrew Cozzens | February 17, 2016 | 2 Comments

Venturing into the political realm today can be an unappealing prospect. Sometimes it seems that American politics appeals to our base fears and prejudices, while advancing only the special interests of a powerful few. Often, sound bites, faux controversies and empty gestures take the place of true civil discourse and a deeper understanding of how to pursue the common good.

As followers of Christ, we might wonder if participating in the political process is worth our time at all. Why muddy ourselves or the Church in such a seemingly dirty business? Shouldn’t we stay above this ugly fray?

Not according to Pope Francis, who reminds us that “a good Catholic meddles in politics.” In fact, rather than lamenting the negative state of things, I believe we are called to do our small part to make a ripple of change. One of the keys is not getting fixated on national and presidential politics. Instead, we should remember the fundamental truth that political change starts in our local communities and in our state.

Duties of faithful citizenship

Civic engagement is part of the vocation of all God’s faithful, who are called by Jesus to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” Though contemporary politics may indeed be distasteful at times and darkened by a flawed understanding of the human person, this is all the more reason for Christians to bring the good news into public life in whatever way we can.

This is not a duty that any of us can delegate. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that it is every person’s responsibility, as far as possible, to promote the common good through participation in public life (CCC No. 2240). Yes, we are our brother’s keeper, and our social concern for others extends to the public arena, where the lawmaking process can have an important impact in affirming human dignity and fostering the common good.

Though each of us is responsible for the care of our community, this does not mean we all have to run for office (thank God!). Nor does it mean that our civic responsibilities are fulfilled after casting our ballot. We all have different gifts and roles to play, and we must discern where we are called. For some, it might be issue advocacy; for others, it might be service in the community, such as volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center or providing meals for the hungry. At minimum, we can — and should — pray. We can pray for our nation, elected officials and all citizens.

Of course, we are all busy with many responsibilities in our homes, schools and workplaces. But exercising the duties of faithful citizenship need not come at the expense of our more immediate responsibilities. In fact, given the growing number of political and legal threats posed to our religious liberty and way of life, Catholic engagement in politics is necessary to defend our families and consciences.

Be the change we seek

It’s fair to ask, “Where do we begin?” Like in any work of missionary discipleship, the key is to start with prayer so that we may see better through the lens of faith. Where am I needed? What are my gifts? How do I feel led by the Holy Spirit?

Though we can be focused on what we see filtered through national media, I know from personal experience that even simple engagement at a local level can have a noticeable impact. I was blessed to grow up in a family that believed in the importance of political participation. As a high school student, I would join friends and family members and participate in local precinct meetings, especially when I turned 18 and was able to vote. It was incredible to see and experience how a few individuals who are well organized and of strong conviction can affect the candidates a political party endorses and the positions it adopts.

Here in Minnesota, we have a fast-approaching opportunity to be faithful citizens by participating in local precinct caucuses, which will be held March 1.  Though there are many ways to participate in the political process, precinct caucuses are an impactful — but often overlooked — means of shaping our political landscape. A unified Catholic voice at the caucus level can play a large part in ending the “political homelessness” that many Catholics experience by urging all political parties to adopt positions that foster human flourishing from conception to natural death.

Related: How to caucus: MCC explains

As you consider ways in which you can exercise faithful citizenship, I encourage you to look to the Minnesota Catholic Conference — the public policy voice of the six Catholic dioceses of Minnesota. They have a wealth of resources to help faithful Catholics better participate in the political process, foster faithful citizenship and end political homelessness.

By entering the public arena, emboldened by the Gospel and the Holy Spirit, we can, little by little, change American politics and be faithful to our Church’s call to foster the common good for all Minnesotans.

Bishop Cozzens is the auxiliary bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis and a Minnesota Catholic Conference board member.

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Category: Faith in the Public Arena

  • Charles C.

    I used to think it was important to have a large number of Catholics vote, but now I wonder what difference it makes.

    I thought Catholics were supposed to be opposed to candidates who support gay marriage and abortion. I also believed that they wanted candidates who would oppose euthanasia or suicide with a doctor’s help.

    According to exit and other polls, a majority of Catholic voters chose Obama twice. What sense does that make?

    Are they voting party loyalty instead of adhering to Church teaching? Will they vote for anyone who will promise to take more money from some people and give it to others?

    In any event, what would have changed in the last two presidential elections had Catholics just stayed away entirely?

    I’m afraid Catholicism is only referred to by many voters when they can find a way to make it support their original biases.

  • Charles C.

    Another quick thought.

    “A unified Catholic voice at the caucus level can play a large part in
    ending the “political homelessness” that many Catholics experience by
    urging all political parties to adopt positions that foster human
    flourishing from conception to natural death.”

    And a real Santa Claus would make Christmas shopping easier.

    Most Catholics voters went for the pro-abortion candidate in the last two presidential elections. If we can’t even get Catholics to vote against politicians who support abortion, on what grounds will we find “A unified Catholic vote?”

    Catholics are what, 20-25% of the population? If Catholics wanted to get rid of abortion supporting politicians, and install pro-life judges, it could be done in less than a decade.

    But most Catholic voters put SJW issues ahead of the Catholic pro-life position. Part of the reason for that is that Catholics aren’t told by their priests and bishops of the moral danger they face in voting for any candidate who wants to continue or expand abortions.

    We have voters who are Catholic, we’re just short of voters who vote Catholic.