Civilize It: Dignity beyond the Debate

Archdiocese_Civilize_It_LogoI am sure that, on any given day in the U.S. Catholic Church, faithful members are calling their congresspersons, meeting with legislators at their Statehouses, and assembling in their parish halls to write letters. They are advocating at all levels of government on such issues as protecting unborn life, capital punishment, clean energy, religious liberty, and affordable housing.  What’s equally amazing?  We can imagine that two parishioners somewhere are in a lively dialogue about their opposing views on such matters.  These two people are clearly committed to their principles.  But, refreshingly, they are not threatened by the conversation.  In fact, they each want to know if the Holy Spirit has something to say through the experiences of the other person!

This is faithful citizenship in action. It’s promoting God’s vision for life, dignity and care for creation through civic life while recognizing the goodness in those who disagree with us.  As Pope Francis said to Congress, “All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity” (Address, Sept. 24, 2015).

Yet, few would dispute that, with each election season, faithful citizenship becomes more of a challenge. Heightening antagonism and polarization can tempt you and me to abandon our Christian behavior with each other. As my Archbishop recently shared in the newspaper:

One of the songs we sing in our churches includes the refrain, `Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.’ A fundamental cause of all the negativity we face in our national conversation is the speed at which we confidently point fingers at others as the source of our problems. We need to look humbly to ourselves first… We must engage in dialogue with the person who has a view differing from our own. The Lord is active in all our lives, so respect demands that we at least try to understand where the other is coming from. (Archbishop Dennis Schnurr quoted in the Cincinnati Enquirer, May 15, 2016).

 

The content and tone of our political conversations must not be left up to political candidates and the media. We can make clear the type of rhetoric we expect from those honorably seeking public office, and we can exemplify respectful dialogue with each other.  As a Church, we can help shape the public discourse.

buttonTo that end, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has launched a new campaign, Civilize It: Dignity beyond the Debate.  We invite everyone to join the movement and take the pledge at www.civilizeit.us.

As the webpage explains, “Civilize It is a non-partisan movement and a call for all of us to help change the tone, follow our faith, and quiet the quarrels in our day-to-day lives.”

In the Archdiocese, we’re handing out Civilize It campaign buttons, car magnets, t-shirts and yard signs.  Parishioners have signed letters to our candidates, urging them to keep their campaigns respectful and to consider the full slate of Catholic social teaching in their platforms.

Wherever you are, take the pledge! Share it!  Tell yourself, friends and family that you are part of a movement to infuse civility, clarity and compassion into our political engagements.

Instead of allowing another election year divide American Catholics further, let’s first and foremost respond to the goodness of Christ in each other.

As Pope Francis exclaimed, “No to warring among ourselves!” As we faithfully live out our consciences in the public square, “[l]et us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the ideal of fraternal love” (Joy of the Gospel, nos. 98-101).  Let’s Civilize It!Tony Stieritz at Archdiocese

 Tony Stieritz is the Director of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Catholic Social Action Office


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Learn more about civil dialogue with these resources:

 

Party Politics and the Body of Christ

Tom ChapmanMy doctor was smiling as I woke up from the anesthesia. “You must have a very interesting job, Tom,” my doctor said. “You help people with the formation of their conscience and encourage them to take action? Very interesting.”

I finally realized I must have been giving part of a “Faithful Citizenship” presentation in my sleep. As a state Catholic Conference director, that says something about my interest in the subject!

Every election cycle brings many requests from parishes for presentations about “Faithful Citizenship” and what the Catholic bishops have to say about our political activity as laypeople.

Catholics who take the time to attend these presentations often identify strongly with a particular political party. So one of the first things I do is ask attendees to put aside their political party, and take on their identity as a member of the Body of Christ. We discuss political issues and the principles of our social teaching as Catholics first.

It’s essential we do so. Political party talking points are just that. They are shorthand sound bites designed to inflame the base and drive people to one side or the other of an issue.

On the other hand, God speaking to us through Scripture gives us some pretty clear direction: “You shall not kill.” We are to “bring good news to the poor, liberty to captives, new sight to the blind, and to set the downtrodden free.” Our cause, as Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship says, “is the defense of human life and dignity.”

The principles of Catholic social teaching – dignity of the human person, subsidiarity, the common good, and solidarity – frame how the Church considers specific issues and invite reflection on the best specific response.

Some are fearful about what this fall’s presidential general election will mean for our country. But what a critical time it is to consider why and how our Catholic faith is calling us to get involved in politics, discuss the very real challenges we have in society, and figure out what we can do to meet those challenges. The message of the Church is needed now more than ever.

Politics doesn’t need to be a dirty word. We can be the ones who help others inform their conscience, find their voice, and take their faith everywhere, even the voting booth. Maybe even talking in our sleep!

Tom Chapman is Executive Director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.


Go Deeper!

For more on forming our consciences, see this handout in English and Spanish. Visit www.FaithfulCitizenship.org for additional helpful resources, including Part I and Part II summary of the bishops’ statement, homily helps and announcements, lesson plans, and more.

10 Tips on Dialogue from Pope Francis: A Challenge to Families…and Candidates?

amoris-fb-meme-5-4In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis calls dialogue “essential” for family life.   His guidelines on dialogue are easily applicable to civil society as well.

Can you imagine how this election cycle might be different if we challenged ourselves, candidates, political parties, commentators, ourselves, and others to follow Pope Francis’ advice?

  1. Recognize the real “importance” and dignity of the other person. Recognize others’ right “to think as they do and to be happy.”  Pope Francis challenges us to acknowledge the values of the other’s “deepest concerns” and what he or she is try to say (no. 138).
  2. Try to understand where the other person is coming from: his or her pain, disappointments, fear, anger, hopes, and dreams (no. 137).
  3. Put yourself in the other’s “shoes”; try to “peer” into his or her heart. This is the starting point for dialogue (no. 138).
  4. Be ready to “listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say.”  Dialogue requires the “self-discipline” of waiting until someone is finished speaking before responding.  And, it means truly listening to what someone else is saying—not planning a comeback before the other person has even finished speaking (no. 137).
  5. “Keep an open mind.” We need not stick to our own “limited ideas and opinions,” but we must “be prepared to change or expand them.” Our goal is “synthesis” that enriches everyone involved in the dialogue.  We don’t seek unity in diversity, Pope Francis says, but rather “reconciled diversity” (no. 139).
  6. Our goal is to advance the common good. Respect and appreciation for the “other” are necessary prerequisites (no. 139).
  7. Try not to offend, and don’t vent. We must choose our words carefully, be sensitive to how others feel, and never seek to inflict hurt. We must also avoid a “patronizing” tone, which “only serves to hurt, ridicule, accuse and offend others” (no. 139).
  8. Love everyone. “Love,” Pope Francis writes, “surmounts even the worst barriers.”  When we come from a place of love, we can better understand others (no. 140).
  9. Base positions on beliefs and values, not on the desire to “win” an argument or be “proved right” (no. 140).
  10. Pray! True dialogue, Pope Francis reminds us, “can only be the fruit of an interior richness” nourished by our quiet time with God through reading, reflection, prayer, and “openness to the world around us” (no. 141).

These are challenging words from Pope Francis.  How might our own families be different if we took his words to heart? Our parishes?  Our neighborhoods? Ourselves? Our society? The current election cycle?

Pope Francis’ vision is a vision of joy-filled love. Let’s share it!Rauh headshot

Jill Rauh is assistant director for education & outreach at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.


Go Deeper!

Get more tips and resources on dialogue from the WeAreSaltAndLight.org page on Encounter.

Being “Sheep” Who Hear Jesus’ Voice

7-342-Catholics-Care-Catholics-Vote-1In yesterday’s reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus called us to be “sheep” who hear: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” (10:27-28). Are you a sheep who hears Jesus’ voice?

In Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. Catholic bishops emphasize the importance of hearing God’s voice—in particular, “the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil” (no. 17).

Another name for this voice is “conscience”—our “most secret core and sanctuary” where we are “alone with God, whose voice echoes” in our depths, revealing “that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 16).

Each one of us has this “secret core and sanctuary” where we can hear God’s voice. Yet, as all of us who are still on the path to sainthood can attest, “hearing” doesn’t usually come naturally—it’s something we work at for our entire lives.

When we have important decisions to make, such as deciding which candidates, policies, or platforms we should best support as Catholics and U.S. citizens, forming our consciences becomes all the more important—especially during an election season when candidates, parties, and super PACs spend millions trying to convince us that their side is right.

So how can we be sheep who hear?

First, in Faithful Citizenship, the bishops encourage us to begin with a sincere desire to embrace goodness and truth (no. 18).  We don’t engage in conscience formation simply to reaffirm or justify a conclusion we’ve already reached.

Second, we are called to study Sacred Scripture and the moral and social teachings of the Church.

Third, we must carefully examine facts and background information about various choices before us.

Finally (and really, throughout), we must pray and reflect, seeking to discern God’s will.

Conscience formation is a lot of work—but it’s a must for anyone serious about trying to hear and follow Jesus’ voice.

So let’s get to it.


Go Deeper!

Learn how Catholics across the country are putting their faith into action through civic engagement with Success Stories from WeAreSaltandLight.org.

For more on conscience formation, check out the Conscience Formation Bulletin Insert and Homily Suggestions for April 17, 2016.

Rethinking the Social Question

“The exclusive binary model of market-plus-state is corrosive of society…”
Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate 39

Pope Paul VI pictured in undated portraitThe recent beatification of Blessed Pope Paul VI has reminded us of his deep commitment to justice and the role of the Church’s social doctrine in lifting up human dignity and promoting the common good in the political, economic and social order.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in Caritas in Veritate (CIV), recalled that Paul VI urged the formation of an economy in which “all will be able to give and receive without one group making progress at the expense of the other” (Populorum Progessio 44).

As we approach another election, we are afforded the opportunity to exercise our right to participate in the political life of the country and our local communities. Yet it is arguable that our choices are often relegated to a narrow space between support for either bureaucratic state control or the pervasive laws of the market, to govern the totality of civil society. This false binary logic plays itself out in an increasingly hyper-partisan political culture pitting liberals against conservatives, free marketers against proponents of the welfare state, or other labels one decides to use. This overriding logic, according to Benedict XVI, has “accustomed us to think only in terms of the private business leader of a capitalistic bent on the one hand, and the State director on the other” (CIV 41). Perhaps it is time we reconsider the social question and how the political economy serves, or undermines, human life and dignity.

Church teaching calls for us all to be active participants in civic life. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states, “It is necessary that all participate, each according to his position and role, in promoting the common good” (CCC 1913). This is also echoed in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States (Faithful Citizenship 4). But the bishops also remark how Catholics often feel “politically disenfranchised”, given limited political options and how these compare to the breadth of the Catholic social teaching tradition.

This disenfranchisement, I believe, is traceable to the false binary logic that Benedict XVI describes. In CIV, building on the thought of both St. John Paul II and Blessed Paul VI, Benedict suggests we should think differently. He suggests that the social teaching of the Church has something more genuine to contribute to the social question than the current global order affords.

Benedict refers to an “economy of gratuitousness” (CIV 38) where both the political and economic life is oriented in the service of the person, promoting solidarity and human dignity. Ultimately, this is a political and economic order rooted in the values of love and gift, or reciprocity. A social order of this quality is better suited to the integral development of the human person in his or her material, social, political and spiritual being. Greater and more meaningful global participation in social life, especially by people on the margins of society, is possible than is reflected in our current economic and political arrangements.

Pope Francis has spoken many times of an economy that kills and excludes, where for many, “it is a struggle to live, and often, to live with precious little dignity (Evangelii Gaudium, #52). Such an economic and political order denies the “primacy of the human person” (EG #55), he argues, and lacks a truly humane purpose.

Paul VI and Benedict XVI challenged us to think imaginatively and consider the values that drive our global order.

How different would our world look if it were grounded on an ethic that placed the human person and the strength of families and communities first? Poverty, hunger, violence, the good of families and persons, political participation and other concerns, I suspect, would look radically different if the virtues of caritas, gift of self and love were the basis of our human interactions.

Perhaps it is time we rethink the social question anew.

Anthony J. Granado is a policy advisor at the USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.