When the Citizen first gained the franchise – oh so many years ago, now – you could vote for individual candidates or simply pull the ‘party lever’. With one fell swoop, this selection would automatically register all of your votes for the candidates of the chosen party. The lever disappeared a number of years ago…and I still hear the older voters complain of it’s absence.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a ‘Catholic Lever’? Without having to read and research, read between the lies (and no, that was not a Freudian slip), and weigh a candidate’s platform against the Magisterium, voting would be painless and easy. Perhaps pulling the Catholic Lever would automatically grant an indulgence! Wouldn’t that be wonderful? No. Not at all.
There was a perfectly good reason to remove the party levers from the voting booths. Perhaps for the first time in their lives, people were required to THINK about their votes. While it was glaringly apparent that a number of voters stepped in the booth and with amazing dexterity, flipped all of their party’s candidates and left before the curtain stopped swaying, still more voters began to take their time. And that is a good thing – one should reflect on their decisions one last time before exercising sovereign power. Once the system changed, a strange thing happened. In Connecticut, a heavily Democratic state, you started seeing the odd Republican winning elections. Sometimes you even saw candidates from one of the ‘fringe’ parties. Remove the excuse of voting without thought and you get thinking voters.
A Catholic lever is an amusing bit of fancy, but it is not realistic – or desirable. The Catholic vote would not be Democratic or Republican or Green or Libertarian or one of the myriad smaller parties. And the Catholic voter shouldn’t even think of party. When people ask me my party, I have taken to saying ‘Catholic.’ Every so often, they ask what that means. I explain that I support the candidate that most shares the social and political values that the church teaches as important. If it’s a Republican, he or she should get my Catholic vote. If it’s a Democrat, again – they get my Catholic vote. And – remember – not all issues are created equal.
But what does that mean? It means that we must become informed voters. And that’s a pain, right? I mean – having to read about the candidates, go to debates or watch them on television. It means understanding the Catechism of the Catholic Church as it applies to social issues. It means a process of discernment and distinction about your vote and the moral application of your authority. It means breaking with the easy traditions of voting on the merit of sound bites and party loyalty. Hard work? Yes it is. But isn’t your town, state, and nation worth it? Isn’t the future you will leave for your children worth it?
This past election has spawned a number of contradictory voices and opinions on what the Catholic vote truly is. Nonsense, I say. The first source of all Catholic justification on any issue is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. If you don’t have one of these at home – go out and buy one. Now. This essay can wait. The US Council of Catholic Bishops did a nice job of condensing this and other appropriate sources with their Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. If these documents say something is wrong – it is wrong.
There may not be a Catholic lever, but there certainly is a need to vote as a Catholic. Many of our Bishops tried to teach us that. Brothers and Sisters, we are One Church, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. As Catholics, we cleave to the Church. We need to live that way. We need to vote that way.