At the beginning of Pope Francis’s latest encyclical “Fratelli Tutti,” he speaks of how alone many of us feel in today’s world. This loneliness stems from the broken nature of many of our social interactions and a feeling made even more palpable by the Covid-19 pandemic. This year has been extremely difficult and trying, as we have lost friars, members of our families, parishioners, and perhaps even our sense of hope.
Amid this, 2020 is an election year. For some, this fact might be accompanied by a sense of foreboding, as both sides of the political aisle speak of a resulting existential crisis if the “other side” wins. As Franciscans, as Catholics, as just people — how are we to approach these elections in the context of such feelings of isolation and fear? How do we prepare ourselves to remain hopeful, and to fight feelings of being overwhelmed as we consider the choices before us?
It is naïve to think that all sides of the political argument are equal or that difficult implications don’t accompany the choices people must make. No matter what choice is made, it will be imperfect. If moral choices were simply about choosing between one completely good and one completely bad choice, the choice would be easy. However, the Catholic tradition allows the faithful to address complexities and make the best imperfect choice possible through the formation of our consciences.
Reflections from Catholic Leaders
Now, and over the next few weeks, the JPIC Office of Holy Name Province is pleased to reintroduce tools used in the past and introduce a few new ones to help in this ongoing act of conscience formation. Many other wonderful resources are out there, in addition to the ones offered here, but below are some of our recommendations.
Two early reflections — from leaders of two large dioceses — served as a foundation for our initial thinking on how to approach the 2020 elections. They provide a broad framework for how to understand the task of forming conscience.
Cardinal Blasé Cupich of Chicago used Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation “Gaudete et Exultate(Rejoice and Be Glad),” to write “The Call to Holiness in an Election Year.” In this talk, he suggests that the most faithful way to approach the elections is by engaging the full gamut of life issues during the larger political debate, rather than limiting the focus to a few life issues solely in the act of voting.
Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego gave a speech titled “Conscience, Candidates, and Discipleship in Voting,” where he provides further guidance to Catholics who want to faithfully approach the act of voting.
During the Season of Creation, which recently ended with the feast of St. Francis, the Catholic Climate Covenant held three webinars focused on how to approach and develop one’s conscience for the elections. The first webinar provided a framework for conscience formation, and the second and third provided more specifics and tools around how to form one’s conscience and discern political choices.
In addition, the Franciscan Action Network produced three short videos on the topics of moral leadership, migration, and climate change to help incorporate a particularly Franciscan approach to the ongoing work of conscience formation. These videos can be used in contemplation or to spur small group discussions. They also are easily shareable through social media.
The release of Pope Francis’s latest encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti: On the Fraternity and Social Friendship,” offers one more means to come to see how these elections might serve as an opportunity to embrace our shared humanity. To assist in this process, Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, invited six friars to reflect upon the encyclical’s message and the scripture readings for the three weekend Masses (Oct. 18, Oct. 25, and Nov. 1) prior to the election, and to prepare outlines that might be used for homilies, talks, or prayer reflections. These resources are being distributed to friars the Monday before each weekend. Kevin described the purpose of the project to “introduce important issues derived from the Scripture of the day and the themes of “Fratelli Tutti” that call for reflection from Church members who are voting in the upcoming election.”
Kevin also shares that in the message of the Holy Father, especially if one embraces the Franciscan character contained within it, “the theme of ‘reconciliation’ will loom large as a way of mending, healing, and bridging the gaps that are so present in the world.” Such a message of reconciliation is needed, especially as we experience a growing political trend seemingly bent on “destroying the other side;” an apt description of political stances in the U.S. these last several years.
A final point as we prepare to vote and await the results: if the election polls are correct, when the Electoral College members register their choices, at least 30 to 40% of the people in the U.S. will be unhappy or even angry – no matter which candidate wins. Therefore, this moment presents itself as an opportunity to live out our Franciscan call to nonviolent action, peacemaking, and reconciliation.
During this voting season and after its conclusion, people of faith are called to join with others, even those with whom they disagree, in the struggle to build the Common Good; that is, the effort to live out the Gospel mandate that those most on the margins of society must be cared for and empowered to live full lives so that they also may share their gifts with the larger society. As people in the U.S. take these next few weeks to make final preparations to vote, the Franciscans’ prayer for all is to have the courage to continue efforts to build a world that embodies the social friendship that Pope Francis reminds us is alive in the Gospel.
-Russell Testa is the JPIC animator for Holy Name Province and director of the HNP Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, located in Silver Spring, Maryland. He also serves as chair of the English-speaking Conference’s committee of JPIC animators.
- “Transitioning to a New President” – Jan. 20, 2017, HNP Today
- Justice and Peace Page of HNP.org website
- “Bringing a Preferential Option for the Poor to the Elections” – Sept. 1, 2012, HNP Today