The Civic Duty of Catholics toward the Common Good
By Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke
In the summer of 1982, I spent two months in Bavaria for the study of the German language, as part of my graduate studies in Canon Law. I offered Mass daily in the parish church, and got to know and respect very much the layman who cared for the sacristy of the church. Often, we visited after Mass and discussed spiritual matters.
One day, the sacristan opened his heart about the evils of Nazism. He was in his late teen years at the time of the rise of the Third Reich. The question which haunted him was how the people of his nation, how he, could have permitted such horrible evils to happen at all or to go on for so long. Some months ago, our conversation came to mind when another native of Germany, who grew up during the Third Reich, commented to me on the accusation, made against a number of the Catholic bishops of Germany of the time, of not having done enough to teach against the evils of Nazism.
These conversations, filled with much emotion, often return to my mind and lead me to reflect upon the responsibility which belongs to every citizen of a nation to safeguard and promote the common good. I think how much weightier the individual responsibility for the common good is in a democratic republic like our own nation, in which we elect the officials of our government. As a bishop, I think of the tremendous responsibility, which is mine, to teach clearly the moral law to all the faithful, so that, in turn, we all have a clear understanding of our civic responsibility for the common good.
I write to you regarding the fulfillment of our civic responsibility for the common good, especially by exercising our right and fulfilling our duty to vote, in order to choose those representatives who will best serve the common good in government.
I am ‘my brother’s keeper’
In reflecting upon the sacristan’s question, I call to mind the story of Cain and Abel from the Book of Genesis (Genesis 4:1-16). After Cain had killed his brother Abel, Our Lord came to him and inquired concerning the whereabouts of Abel. Cain replied: “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9).
Christ has supplied the definitive answer to Cain’s question in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and ultimately, on Calvary, by giving Himself up to death for the salvation of the world (John 3:14-15; and 12:31-33). Yes, we are our “brother’s keeper.” We are responsible for the good of all our brothers and sisters in our nation and in the world, without boundaries. The Good Samaritan gave every possible care to the foreigner, a citizen of an enemy people, whom robbers had left along the roadside to die. His fellow countrymen, indeed religious leaders, saw him and “passed by on the other side” of the road, avoiding him and failing to help him. As followers of Christ, who is the Good Samaritan, we can never excuse ourselves from responsibility when there is something to be done to save the life of a brother or sister in great need. We are called to be “Christians Without Borders,” without boundaries to our love of neighbor.
The sacristan in Bavaria, conscious that he is his “brother’s keeper,” heard the Lord’s question about the brutal killing of so many of his brothers and sisters. I ask myself what answer I will give our Lord when He asks me about my many innocent and defenseless brothers and sisters in the womb whose lives have been and are being snuffed out. How will I answer Our Lord when He asks me about my brothers and sisters who have grown weak under the burden of advanced years, grave illness or special needs, whose so-called “mercy killing” has been made legal in some places and is proposed to be made legal everywhere in our nation? How will I answer Our Lord when He asks me about what I, as bishop, have done to teach the inviolability of human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death?
Concerning the moral responsibility of voting, I, as a successor to the Apostles in your midst, write to present the Church’s teaching regarding our civic responsibility to promote the common good, above all by promoting the respect for the inviolable dignity of all human life. Through a clear understanding of the Church’s teaching, we should all be better prepared to exercise our responsibility, in accord with the Word of Christ, handed down to us faithfully in the Church. Our civic responsibility for the common good is great, especially in a society which fails to afford legal protection to the weakest and most defenseless. My responsibility, therefore, is likewise great to teach the moral law, in order to assist us in fulfilling our civic responsibility for the good of all.
Excerpts from Pastoral Letter “On Our Civic Responsibility for the Common Good”, 1 October, 2004.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Lord God, as the election approaches, I seek to better understand the issues and concerns that confront my city, my state and my country, and how the Gospel compels me to respond as a faithful Catholic and a citizen of Heaven and Earth.
I ask for eyes that are free from blindness and a mind that is free from darkness. Please grant me the grace to love You more and to love my neighbor as myself. Make me truly a Christian without Borders so that I may cherish every teaching of the Catholic Faith and love each and every one of my brothers and sisters, especially those in most need.
Give me the strength to choose Your will above all things and to stand for what is right! I pray for the courage to defend the innocent, protect the helpless, and oppose abuse and deceit.
I ask for ears that will hear the cries of the millions of unborn children massacred through abortion. I ask for the grace not to be deceived by the voices of evil, error and darkness. I ask that my mind and heart may be open to the Truth; I ask for greater Faith and the strength and valor to defend the family and true marriage.
My dear Jesus, grant me discernment so that I may choose leaders who hear Your Word, live Your love, and walk in the ways of Your truth. Shed Your light and mercy upon us, and guide us to Your Heavenly Kingdom. Amen
At this crucial moment in the history of our beloved country, let us turn to Our Blessed Mother and pray:
O Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, at this most critical time, we entrust the United States of America to Your loving care.
Most Holy Mother, we beg You to reclaim this land for the glory of Your Son. Overwhelmed with the burden of the sins of our nation, we cry to You from the depths of our hearts and seek refuge in Your motherly protection.
Under Your title of the Immaculate Conception, You are the Patroness of the United States. Look down with mercy upon us and touch the hearts of Your people. Open our minds to the immense value of souls and renew in us a profound respect for the sanctity of life. Bring an end to the merciless and senseless killing of the innocent and the defenseless. Please grant us the grace to understand the serious responsibilities that accompany human freedom.
May our voting in this election promote respect for all human life, safeguard the sanctity of marriage and the family, and foster the good of all.
Through Your intercession, may God bless our homes and our nation! Amen.