the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union,
establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide
for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings
of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this
CONSTITUTION for the United States of America.”
dear brethren in Christ, the children sitting in these pews, playing in our
parks, and sleeping in their mothers’ wombs, in all their innocence, their
purity of heart, and their childlike faith, are the “posterity” to which this
Preamble to the Constitution is referring. And we are called not just by this
Constitution, but also by our Church, to “secure the blessings of liberty” to
this posterity, a liberty that has slowly been eroding and is in danger of
disappearing. This was why our bishops called for a Fortnight of Freedom this
summer. From June 21 to July 4, you were asked in your parishes to increase
prayer and fasting for religious liberty.
there are many people in this country who believe that the pulpit is no place
to talk about politics, but, thanks be to God, we are Catholics, and that is
not a Catholic mentality. Our Catechism teaches us, “submission to authority
and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay
taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country” (CCC 2240).
can guarantee you that no politician would ever cry foul because a priest
preached from the pulpit that one is morally obliged to pay taxesespecially
since the Supreme Court told us this summer that we have a whole new tax now.
In the same vein, no politician should cry foul when a priest preaches from the
pulpit about voting and defending one’s country.
first lady affirmed this very point on June 28. Speaking to members of the
African Methodist Episcopal Church, Michelle Obama said, “And to anyone who
says that church is no place to talk about these issues, you tell them there is
no place betterno place better. Because ultimately, these are not just
political issuesthey are moral issues. They’re issues that have to do with
human dignity and human potential, and the future we want for our kids and our
grandkids.” That is precisely the teaching of the Catholic Church; these are
not just political issues, they are not even primarily political issues, they
are first and foremost moral issues, hence the pulpit is exactly the right
place to bring them up.
consider for a moment what this teaching means. When we do not do something
that we are morally obliged to do, we are committing a sin of omission: “I
confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly
sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.” Hence,
it is at least objectively sinful not to pay taxes, not to defend one’s
country, and not to vote when we have that right. That is how strongly our
Church makes this connection between religion and politics, between our beliefs
and how we exercise those beliefs in the public square.
is a legitimate separation, to be sure, but there is also a legitimate union of
the two. When Thomas Jefferson wrote his famous “Wall of Separation Letter” in
1802, he was writing it to the Danbury Baptist Association to assure them of
their religious freedom, to assure them that the state would not interfere with
their God-given right of religious expression, that is, to protect the Church
from the state, not to protect the state from the Church. His letter, which led
to the “separation” clause in the Bill of Rights, was meant to allow every
religion to express its views freely and publicly, in other words, to include the voice of every religion, not
to exclude the voice of every
religion from the public square.
add the Catholic voice, the American bishops write a document on faithful
citizenship every four years. For this election cycle, they wrote, “In the
Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in
political life is a moral obligation. This obligation is rooted in our
baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in
all we do” (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship).
The hands that we toil with, the hands that we pray with, and the hands that we
vote with are the same hands. Hence, we are to bear Christian witness in all
Catholics are morally obliged to vote, then every priest is obliged to preach
about it. Because a priest’s vocation, his duty, his whole purpose for
preaching is to help people form their moral consciences.
if it is a well-formed Catholic conscience that obliges us to vote, then,
logically, we ought to vote in accordance with that Catholic conscience, that
is, vote in a way that is consistent with our Faith, vote into office those
representatives who truly represent our beliefsnot just give it lip-service,
but truly represent it. For, as we heard earlier, our obligation to vote comes
from our “co-responsibility for the common good”the common good of ourselves
and our posterity.
is an awesome responsibility to have the power that we as citizens possess in
this country, the power of self-governance. I think this realization was what
prompted Thomas Jefferson famously to quip: “I tremble for my country when I
reflect that God is good.”
is regrettable that we now live in a society that is trying to drive God out of
our government. Because our government is a representation of the people, a godless
government comes from and leads to a godless people. Without God there is no
hope. And without hope, there is no true freedom, no “blessing of liberty [for]
ourselves and our posterity.”
is why the Catholic vote is so important. Catholics have always believed that
the supreme Ruler of the world, the Lord of lords and the King of kings, is
Jesus Christ. This means that all temporal rulers, all worldly governments, and
all civil leaders derive their authority from God, and, hence, are limited in
their exercise of that authority by Him.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia has pointed out, we see this very
clearly in our Lord’s admonition to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to
God what is God’s. Many people like to use that teaching to support a false
notion of separation of Church and state, but recall why that coin belonged to
Caesar. It was because the coin bore the image of Caesar that it belonged to
him. Therein lies the true message, because Caesar bears the image of God. We
are all created in the image and likeness of God, including Caesar, which means
that Caesar belongs to God. Hence, that teaching does not affirm the false
interpretation of separation of Church and state, the interpretation that does
not allow one to bring his religious convictions into the public square. On the
contrary, it teaches us the importance and necessity of bringing our faith into
the public square. For it reminds our present-day Caesars that they belong to
God, that they, too, are bound by his laws.
our government officials deny that truth, when they become so schizophrenic
that they believe they can divorce their public actions from their private
beliefs, when they deny that their authority and our dignity come from the
Creator, then they have no business representing us or this country. For our
liberties and our rights are given to us by God, and not by men. Our founding
fathers keenly understood this principle and formulated it in those most
eloquent words so familiar to all Americans: “We hold these truths to be
self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their
Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty,
and the pursuit of happiness.” The Creator gives us our rights, not a
president, not a congress, and certainly not “nine unelected lawyers” (in the
words of Justice Antonin Scalia).
is the principle that ended slavery; it is the principle that can end legalized
abortion and the manipulation of innocent human life in a Petri dish; it is the
principle that can stop the legalization of euthanasia and human cloning; it is
the principle that can defend marriage between one man and one woman; and it is
the principle that can stop the erosion of our religious liberty.
Catholics, we do not vote for parties, but for principles. We do not concern
ourselves with political conservatism or liberalism, but with people’s dignity
and their God-given rights, which means that some issues are more foundational
1998, the American bishops framed it thus: “[B]eing ‘right’ in such matters [racism,
poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care] can never
excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed,
the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders
suspect any claims to the ‘rightness’ of positions in other matters affecting
the poorest and least powerful of the human community” (Living the Gospel of Life
2008, Archbishop Gregory interpreted those words in this way: “Catholics must
support the just care of the poor, the rights of workers, the dignity of people
who immigrate to a new nation, the conservation of the environment; we must
assess the very complex economic issues, seek to provide affordable health care
for people who do not enjoy that security, and foster the more humane treatment
of those who are imprisoned…. However, before and prior to all of those vitally
important concerns, Faithful Citizenship places the issue of Life itself. All
of those other matters are of no consequence for those who are not granted the
first right the right to be born” (“What I
Have Seen and Heard,” Georgia Bulletin, October 30, 2008).
the words of our Declaration of Independence, without the right to life, there
can be no right to liberty or the pursuit of happiness.
is where the current issue of religious liberty intersects with the ongoing
life issues. With every right comes an obligation. If someone has a right to
something, then someone else has an obligation to give it to that person. If
someone has a right to an education, then someone else has an obligation to
educate himwe call that person the parent. If someone has a right to property,
then everyone else has the obligation to not steal from him. And if someone has
the right to an abortion and contraceptives, and even contraceptives that
induce abortions, then someone else has an obligation to provide for that
abortion and those contraceptives. And our government is telling us that even
if it goes against your faith, even if it goes against your conscience, you have to pay for it. You have to pay for it. You cannot be a
faithful, practicing Catholic in America. You cannot be a Catholic in America.
government of the people, by the people, for the people requires that the
people, including their Caesars, be governed by a higher power, by a higher
authority, by the Supreme Judge and Ruler of the world. This is why popes used
to crown kings in Catholic Europe, to remind them that they too have a heavenly
king to which they must submit. Once they forgot that, the pope had the
authority to excommunicate themin essence, kicking them off their thrones and
relieving them of their temporal authority.
have that same power today with our voteto kick out of office and to deny
office to those who do not uphold these Catholic, and, as we have seen,
all that I have just said, though, please do not get me wrong. Being American
and being Catholic does not make us American Catholics. Do not let the media
fool you. There is no such thing as an American Catholic. To call oneself an
American Catholic is to answer the question: “What type of Catholic are you?”
To which we respond that we do not qualify our Catholicism. For our Church is a
divine institution, founded by Christ, and guided throughout the ages by the
third person of the Holy Trinity. Nations fall, but the Church perdures unto
eternity. We do not qualify our Catholicism, because to do so is to qualify our
faith, to qualify our allegiance to our Creator, to qualify our love for our
heavenly Father. What we qualify is not our Catholicism, but our Americanism.
are not American Catholics. We are Catholic Americans. To call oneself a
Catholic American is to answer the question: “What type of American are you?”
To which we respond that our patriotism is tempered by our faith, our love of
country is subordinated to our love of God, our decisions in the body politic
and our actions in the public square are all determined by consciences informed
by faith. That is what kind of Americans we are. We are Catholic Americans.
course, what makes this country great is that all these ideas and ideals are
built into our founding principles, because the First Amendment to the
Constitution prevents the government from prohibiting the free exercise of
religionat least it used to. Whether it will continue to do so depends upon
June 28, in his now famous opinion, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “It is not
[the job of the Supreme Court] to protect the people from the consequences of
their political choices” (National Federation of Independent Business v.
Sebelius, Opinion of Roberts, C.J.). That means it is our job to make the right
political choices in electing our representatives.
November, we are going to be asked, once again, to exercise our civic duties.
The Church teaches us to take these duties very seriously, because they are
duties that will either secure or forfeit “the blessings of liberty to
ourselves and our posterity.”
the intercession of the Immaculate Virgin, our patroness, may God help us in
essay was originally delivered as a homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary
Time, August 5, 2012, at the Roman Catholic Church of St. Monica in Duluth,