“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.” This is the powerful opening statement of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, which comes from the Second Vatican Council. To put it very simply, in other words, Christians must take an active interest in anything which contributes to or undermines the common good. That is why, even though politics is often frustrating and sometimes very disappointing, Christians have a responsibility to engage in the political process.
It is true that the European Parliament often seems rather remote, but the European Institutions do actually have the potential to make a significant contribution to peace in the world, to justice in global trade, to a humane and effective resolution of the refugee crisis, and to the promotion of strategies to care for the earth which, as Pope Francis reminds us, is “our common home”.
In much the same way, while local government may seem to be quite “local” and limited in scope, our local authorities have a very significant role in the planning and provision of housing, in the education of our young people (through the participation of County Councillors on Education and Training Boards – ETBs) and in the care of the environment which is so important to all of us. It is also generally accepted that many politicians who go on to hold national office, begin their political careers as members of local authorities.
I encourage Catholics to vote, if at all possible, in the upcoming elections. I urge you also, before you vote, to do all that you can to establish what the candidates actually stand for. If candidates belong to political parties, then a vote for the candidate is usually a vote for the policy of the party. Past experience should have taught us by now that what candidates say before an election may not always be the same as what they do once they have been elected. It is not enough to read the slogans. Neither does it make sense simply to vote for the same party that your parents and grandparents voted for.
Ask yourself, where does the candidate stand, and what is the track record of the party on the questions that really impact on the common good:
- the right to life from conception to natural death
- the provision of effective and timely care for the sick and the elderly, in a manner which is consistent with their human dignity
- the education of children, with due regard for their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being
- support for the integrity of the family, including especially the right of the family to have a home and the right and responsibility of parents as the primary educators of children
- the right to work or to participate in a meaningful way in the life of society, not only for citizens, but for all who are willing to commit to the common good of our society, including those seeking asylum.
Since these are core Christian values, it does not make any sense for Christians to vote for candidates or parties whose policies are at odds with those values.
We are also being asked to vote in a referendum to remove the Constitutional requirement for a four-year waiting time between the separation of a married couple and their eligibility for civil divorce. The Church understands marriage to be a life-long commitment, which contributes very significantly to the stability of society. Through human frailty, sometimes combined with difficult personal and economic circumstances, marriages sadly fail. The original intention of the waiting time, as I understand it, was to give couples space to seek a resolution to their difficulties rather than divorcing “at the first sign of trouble”. I think Catholic voters, like everyone else, must now consider whether the proposed Constitutional change might have the effect of further weakening the social commitment to marriage. The important parallel question that we need to ask is whether society is living up to its responsibility to prioritise the family and to provide the human supports that might help couples to resolve difficulties that arise in their relationship, before their differences become irreconcilable.
May the Holy Spirit guide us all. May the same Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, guide all who seek political office, so that together we can build a society which responds not simply to the good of the majority but to the good of each and of all, which is the common good.