The thing that troubles me during this election season is seeing how many of us seem to be willing to set aside aside the obligation to discern the right and wrong of an issue. Instead our discernment involves stopping at the point where we find a justification for something we planned to do anyway or else we give only a superficial analysis and ends up overlooking things of importance that might have led us to a different conclusion. In writing this, I don’t intend to make myself the judge of how a specific individual formed their conscience. I only ask that people avoid being careless or otherwise flippant about their moral responsibilities when it comes to voting.
St. Thomas Aquinas once described the purpose of law this way:
Hence this is the first precept of law, that good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided. All other precepts of the natural law are based upon this: so that whatever the practical reason naturally apprehends as man’s good (or evil) belongs to the precepts of the natural law as something to be done or avoided.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II q.94 a.2 resp).
The determination of good and evil is not a moral calculus where you decide to give a certain weight to some issues and a lesser weight to other issues. That kind of thinking usually ends up going in the direction the individual tends wants it to go in the first place. That’s rationalization used as a smoke screen because we tend to weigh issues according to our preferences, and not as they stand in God’s eyes.
The real question is whether this issue is good or evil in the eyes of God. Some things are evil by their nature and can never be justified regardless of circumstances. Other actions depend on circumstances and intention to determine whether an action is good or bad. What we need to do is to consider our actions in light of the way we are called to live and is made known to us by the Church. We should always keep in mind what Lumen Gentium said in ¶14:
All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.
Catholic Church, “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium,” in Vatican II Documents (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011).
In other words, because we have a Church established and graced by God, we have no excuse if we live in opposition to what she teaches and claim to be obeying God in doing so. Because of this, we have an obligation to keep the love of God and the teaching of His Church in mind when assessing how to act.
Unfortunately, I think that we, as Catholics, forget this. We tend to approach the selection of our political leaders in terms of partisan preference. Something is considered wrong when it inconveniences us and right when it benefits us. The Church teaching is considered unrealistic or it is cherry picked to select the portions that justify what we were going to do anyway, or it is used to bash the person with a different opinion. That’s not listening and learning. That’s just quote mining.
What we have to do is look at the choices which are available—ALL of them, not just the palatable ones—and consider what we must need to do to remain faithful to Christ. Sometimes that means we have to choose an action that is good even if it costs us. Sometimes it means we have to accept suffering to avoid doing evil. But we must always remember that we may never choose evil so good may come of it. That’s why we should never be reckless or impulsive in choosing what to do.
That’s why the Catholic has to consider the realistic consequences of an action while avoiding putting God to the test. Sure, I could blow a thousand dollars on lottery tickets in the hopes of winning, but that’s not a realistic result and would likely leave me worse off than if I had not spent any money on the lottery in the first place. Trying to invoke God on a gamble is to try to place the responsibility on God where it is not His responsibility to act. If we have faith in God to deliver us from evil, part of the responsibility is to practice prudence so we don’t choose to get into situations that harm us.
If we seek to do good and avoid evil, we will consider the consequences of our actions to the best of our ability and determine whether the consequences of our action help build the Kingdom of God or whether it hinders this building. That means in terms of voting in the elections, we don’t vote our instincts or our politics. We vote with our faith to guide us. This means asking “Why?” Why do we hold to certain preferences? Do we always hold to our moral obligations? Or do we set them aside when it suits us?
I don’t ask this in the gotcha sense of “if you don’t agree with me personally, you’re a bad Christian.” I ask it in the sense of “how sure are you that you are following Christ instead of your own self will?” Self deception is easy. We need to pray that we be delivered from evil.