BY BISHOP KEVIN MANNING
Is there such a thing as the Catholic vote? I don’t mean a slavish adherence to a particular political party but an understanding among Catholics that there is a body of Catholic Social Teaching that helps them to make informed choices on the myriad of issues. These include unemployment, euthanasia, homelessness, homosexual marriage, access to basic resources.
Take the economy. There are differing views on the best approach to running the economy, and bishops have no particular expertise in economic matters! What can be said is that there is a set of principles in Catholic Social Teaching, which we can apply to particular issues.
The first principle is the dignity of the human person. Catholics believe that every human person is created in the image of God. Skin colour, place of origin, intellect, family wealth – none of these matter because none confers greater dignity than the dignity with which we are born.
This conviction allows us to scrutinise all policies and proposals from the fundamental perspective: do they recognise and promote the dignity of the human person?
Another principle is that of the common good. A society at the service of every human person at every level is a society that has the common good. A government that has the good of all people and of the whole person as its primary goal is a government at the service of the common good.
It may come as a surprise to you, and even more of a surprise to some governments, that Catholic Social Teaching sees their purpose as the promotion of the common good! It is the role of governments to structure society and the economy on the basis of justice for all.
Now we have two questions with which to critique policies: Do they recognise and promote human dignity? Do they promote the common good?
It is not only governments that are responsible for the common good; every person has a role to play. The flip side is participation and the common good calls for every person to participate in our common life. Why? Because, as Pope John Paul II said, “we are all really responsible for all”.
There is a great deal more to be found in Catholic Social Teaching but where do Catholics find out about it? Yes, at school, but we cannot expect the Catholic school system to teach us everything we need to know as adults.
It is to be regretted that when moral issues are in the forefront of public debate, many Catholic voices have been subdued, muted or absent. Have we forgotten or conveniently ignored the Gospel imperative?
Thus Social Teaching, based on Scripture and the Tradition of the Church, needs to become part and parcel of our adult faith formation in parishes, Lenten discussion groups, social justice groups, and, dare I say, homilies!
It too is part of the New Evangelisation. In fact, it is a great entry point to evangelisation because it proclaims that we, the followers of Christ, are interested in the wellbeing of every human person. It proclaims that we care about people and their lives.
Want to read up on Catholic social teaching? Try the Compendium for the Social Doctrine of the Church complied by the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace and published by St Paul’s Publications. It’s not exactly bedtime reading but it is revealing and rewarding.
So the Advent challenge is: are we ready to welcome Christ by ‘incarnating’ Him into our world? Are we prepared to act for the common good and the dignity of the human person locally, nationally and globally? If we are, the ‘Catholic vote’ will make a difference.
Most Rev. Kevin Manning DD is Bishop Emeritus of Parramatta.
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