FIRST THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS ELECTION YEAR
By Archbishop JOSÉ H. GOMEZ of Los Angeles
The hardest thing to do in any election year is to keep our faith and politics straight.
There are always two basic temptations we face.
On the one hand, we’re tempted to separate our faith from our politics — to act as if there is no relation between what we believe or what our Church teaches and how we vote or the positions we take on issues.
The other temptation is the opposite — the temptation to “use” our religion to justify our political projects and prejudices.
Obviously, neither option conforms to what Jesus expects of us.
We all remember the Gospel story of how the religious leaders of his day tried to trap Jesus by asking him whether it was right to pay taxes to the government.
Jesus’ response is very well known, even among non-Christians. He asks his opponents to show him a coin. Then he asks them whose image is on the coin.
When they respond that the image on the coin is that of Caesar, the Roman emperor, Jesus says: Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God!
This Gospel passage can be misinterpreted.
Sometimes we hear people argue that Jesus is calling here for a strict separation of our faith — what we owe to God — from our politics — what we owe to “Caesar.”
But Jesus calls us to a unity of life — to a faith that embraces all of life.
The coin that they show Jesus bears the image of Caesar. But we remember that each one of us bears God’s image. Each one of us is made in God’s image and likeness.
That means we owe God everything in our lives — all our hearts and minds, all our soul and strength.
There is no part of our life that does not belong to God. That means our faith in Jesus must shape how we live and work. It must shape the decisions we make in public life and who we vote for and the policies we support.
We have important obligations as citizens. But we have to carry out those obligations always in light of our duty to God.
We owe “Caesar” — our society and government — our respect and cooperation. We are called to obey every just law and to work hard for the common good of our society.
But we owe God the duty of our sincere and true faith. That means we can never allow our beliefs to be watered-down. We can’t forget about the Church’s teachings and the demands of God’s law when we are engaged in our public life.
And when political realities force us to choose, the choice is clear. As the apostles used to say: “We must obey God rather than men.”
There are certain “non-negotiables” in Catholic social teaching. As we all know, there are some laws and tendencies in our society that violate God’s laws and the natural rights and dignity of the human person.
Abortion and euthanasia are never allowed because they involve the direct taking of innocent human life. There is also no negotiating the God-given definition of marriage and family based on the permanent and exclusive union of one man and one woman.
But on most of the big issues today — issues like taxes and government spending, immigration, or how best to help the poor — there are moral principles that we should consider. But sincere and faithful Catholics are always going to have legitimate differences of opinion over how best to apply the Church’s moral principles.
What’s important is that we are always trying to think and act with the mind of Christ and the mind of the Church.
That is why, over my next two or three columns, I want to try to think through with you some of the issues we face in this election in light of the teachings of Jesus and the Church.
The most important thing is to form our consciences. We have to make sure our participation and our contributions always reflect the moral and religious values that we find in the Scriptures and in the teachings of our Church.
So as we enter the final weeks of what has been an intense election campaign, we need to pray for one another and our country. We give our country our best as citizens when we are trying to be totally faithful to the teachings of Christ and his Church.
Let us ask our Immaculate Mother Mary, who is the patroness of the United States, to help us in this election season to work harder to know what we believe as Catholics and why.
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