Faithful citizenship: A work of faith and a labor of love

Voting has always been important to me. Like all school children, I learned at an early age that men and women had given their lives so that I could be free. As an adult, I came to understand that voting is key to that freedom, that participating in the process of electing leaders, as well as in the discussion that frames public policy, is a privilege and a responsibility.

Since my service in Iraq in 2004, I value the gift of casting a vote even more so. Stationed as the Catholic chaplain and medical group chaplain at Balad Airbase, which is about 40 miles north of Baghdad, I witnessed firsthand the great sacrifice our men and women in uniform make. The right to vote is even more personal for me, now that I’ve ministered in war to those who have fought to protect this precious right.

Why am I, a Catholic priest, talking about the responsibility of citizenship? There is a line from Thessalonians, which you will hear during the second reading at Mass this weekend: “We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers, unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love.” Civic participation is a work of faith and a labor of love. As Catholics, we are meant to live the Gospel in the world. When we participate in civic life, we reflect the moral framework we have received from Christ’s teachings. When we vote, we make our voices, our Catholic, Christian voices, heard.

If we are to reflect Christ faithfully in civic life, we must vote our consciences. But what does that mean? The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has released a document called “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” (FCFC). You can find the complete document at the USCCB Web site. There is also an excellent summary at the Massachusetts Catholic Conference Web site. (Both web addresses are at the end of this article.) The document does not tell Catholics whom to vote for. It presents key moral principles and states: “Catholic voters should use the framework of Catholic teaching to examine candidates’ positions on issues affecting human life and dignity as well as issues of justice and peace, and they should consider candidates’ integrity, philosophy, and performance. (FCFC Paragraph 41)”

The bishops’ document also makes clear that citizenship goes beyond voting, encompassing public service. As a student at St. Anselm’s College in Manchester, N.H., I majored in political science. I had the opportunity to intern on Capitol Hill and to participate in a presidential convention. Prior to entering the seminary, I worked as a nursing home ombudsman. This was a federally mandated, state-run and locally contracted program. I experienced up close how our government works at every level. These experiences had a big impact on me. Had God not called me to the priesthood, I would have pursued a career in public service. I found my vocation in the Church, not the civic arena, but I was called to both.

I believe we are all called to both: to be faithful Catholics and faithful citizens. Not only are these two callings compatible, they are both necessary. This is not a blurring of the separation of Church and state. We do not impose our faith on the state, but we bring the moral framework our faith provides to the national, state and local dialogue. As the FCFC document states: “Catholic teaching challenges voters and candidates, citizens and elected officials, to consider the moral and ethical dimensions of public policy issues. (FCFC Paragraph 90).”

On Nov. 4, you have the chance to exercise the privilege and responsibility of voting. I urge you to vote. It is a work of faith and a labor of love.

If you have questions about the issues, contact the Massachusetts Catholic Conference through these sites:

Father Erikson is Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia of the Archdiocese of Boston.