Conscience, Scripture, and loving life Print
Respect Life
Written by Susanna D. Herro, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Oct. 23, 2008 -- 12:00 AM

This Sunday’s readings are so direct and to the point. They also bear directly on how we form our conscience in today’s complicated world.

What was said and written so long ago from the Book of Exodus is powerful and true. “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.”

Does that resonate with you on how we are to build a public policy concerning undocumented aliens? We shall not oppress them, but rather, create ways to allow people to join us in this land of opportunity. Our ancestors were not only aliens in Egypt, but aliens when they came to the United States.

The next part of Sunday’s first reading is, “You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.” The alien, widow, and orphan were, in times of old, the people we call the voiceless or the disenfranchised.

They did not have a voice in the public forum nor a legal protector, so the rule was strongly set that they shall have the special protection of society. Who, in today’s world are the voiceless? The unborn, the disabled, the embryo threatened with annihilation in the guise of scientific research, the elderly, the victims of war, the poor, those threatened with assisted suicide and euthanasia. Can you think of others?

Our consciences are to be formed from Scripture such as this and also from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, from the materials from our bishops, Faithful Citizenship, which says our conscience “. . . is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere ‘feeling’ about what we should or should not do” (No. 17).

We are to use our well-formed reason and our prudent judgment to inform all of our acts, to make sure they are moral. One such act deserving our best prudential judgment is our vote.

Too often in our society, opinion leaders, talk show hosts, and political ads are where we go when forming our political judgments. I urge you to go first to Scripture, the Catechism, and the opinion leaders who should count greatly in this moral choice of voting — your bishop and priests — and take time to delve into all aspects of the candidates. No human is perfect; no candidate will be either. However, as Catholics, we are called to build “a civilization of love.”

The Gospel emphasizes this point. The Pharisees tried to confound Jesus by asking which commandment is greatest. He answered then, and for all time, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. . . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

This is a starting point for forming your conscience. Take away all the labels of this day, Democrat, Libertarian, Republican, Socialist, whatever. Ask, how can my vote best show that I love the Lord, my God, and my neighbor? How will my vote make true my great hope, expressed in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”

Your vote is one of the greatest tools of building a just society. Be not afraid to step back from the trappings, the ads, the confusion of the sound bite. Form your conscience according to what God asks of us and use the power of your vote to bring about his kingdom.

Susanna Herro is the director of the Office of Justice and Pastoral Outreach for the Diocese of Madison.