Sep 16, 2008
Now that both major political parties have officially nominated their candidates for president and vice-president, we are entering the final phase of a long campaign season. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that as Catholic citizens we have an obligation to contribute alongside of civil authorities to the good of society. Exercising the right to vote is a moral obligation according to the Catechism (#2240). It is only one aspect of our civic life, but it is important that we do attend to it now in an election year. Because our participation in civic life, including voting, is a moral responsibility for Catholics, it is important that we recognize the obligation to act in a way that is consistent with Catholic life, that is, shaped by Catholic moral teaching.
As we mature, we understand that we have each been blessed by God with a conscience. This is the faculty that enables us to make judgments about the moral good or evil of the choices we make or consider making. In other words, conscience is that internal compass which makes it possible to tell right from wrong, or to tell which is best of a number of possibilities.
Some mistakenly view conscience simply as the ability to make up one's mind about something. That is not conscience, but rather a partial view of freedom. Because our human freedom has been corrupted by sin, conscience is an important tool to help us exercise our freedom properly, to choose good and avoid evil. If Catholics expect to use our consciences to make sound judgments - as all people are obliged to do - then we have to train or form our consciences.
The formation of conscience is something much different from the formation of an opinion. Because we will have to give an account to God for the choices we make, it is essential that we be able to make conscientious decisions based on the knowledge of what is true and good, according to the loving plan of God. We must take time to learn "natural law," that is the plan of God written on the human heart. This plan of God is reflected in the nature of persons and things and can be known by all, regardless of one's particular religious faith. In our Catholic faith, we also have the benefit of sacred Scripture and the teachings of the church, through which the Holy Spirit speaks to us.