Sunday, October 05, 2008

“What’s wrong with the Church? I am.”
G.K. Chesterton


Conscientious Election
A moral guide for Catholics entering the voting booth



In order for men and women to engage in the political debate, their consciences must be formed. Only then can they discern the common good. The U.S. bishops emphasize the role of conscience in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility, a guide for Catholics as they prepare for the 2008 elections.


Conscience emerges as a voice, greater than one’s own, from the center of two sources: right reason and the teaching of the church. Conscience communicates the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, based not on the truth of circumstances, my top values or best intentions, but first and foremost on the truth of things in themselves accessed by faith and reason. To ensure that each aspect of conscience thrives, we have an obligation to form our consciences: “a well-formed conscience…perceives the proper relationship among moral goods” (No. 34).

Forming One’s Conscience

The formation of conscience entails first the clearing away of sin and its effects: concupiscence, ignorance, weakness, ideologies, microscopic self-concerns, lingering justifications, anger and prejudicial impulses. In the process of being freed from sin, our minds more easily grasp, and our hearts more easily accept, that which is true. The Holy Spirit seeks to build up, throughout our lifetime, the virtue of prudence within us (No. 19)...

Thus, the formation of conscience thrives on our openness to hear the voice of God in Scripture, in the teaching of the church and the prayerful discernment of the true dimensions of the concrete choice before us. Even with our best efforts, our judgments of conscience may, at times, be only partially correct. God continues to seek inroads to our heart to clear the blockages that impede a mature moral vision…

Careful Deliberation

…There are times when it seems difficult to apply a judgment of conscience. We may judge some policies of one candidate to be correct, but dislike other policies that seem to be morally erroneous. Rather than stubborn resistance, this calls me deeper…


The application of conscience is often difficult: “There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil” (No. 35)…

On a political coastline where the waters run shallow, it is not uncommon that in a particular contest each candidate on the ballot holds a position that favors an act of intrinsic evil… The focus on “careful deliberation” cannot dwindle to a minimal criterion by which one can squeeze past the core issues, much less justify support for intrinsic evil; it is a summons beyond our vision to a new junction, where we are called to embrace a new vision.

Conscience sees broadly. It brushes back the curtain, pries down the lever, and by the leverage of honest truth is able not simply to change, but to transform the world.

Rev. J. Brian Bransfield is a moral theologian with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Evangelization and Catechesis and its incoming executive director. In America Magazine http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=11118

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