Monday, October 15, 2012

A Homily About Voting

Msgr. Woster and I chose yesterday as the day to address the upcoming election.  I preached the following homily.  It was well received by many, and a source of deep anger to others.  Some have asked for a copy of my words.  Here they are:


I have never liked math.  From the time I first began to learn long division, I knew that math and I would never be close friends, and though for a time we reached something of a fragile truce, it became immediately apparent to me that math and I were to be lifelong enemies when letters were introduced into the picture.  With all of the “x” and “y” and trains leaving stations, I could simply no longer make sense of it.  I suppose it was the fact that there were just too many variables, too many unknowns.

We live in a world today that is filled with variables, filled with unknowns.  It is an election year with Election Day less than one month away.  The economy is still awful, and many Americans are still without work.  Yet another war in the Middle East seems nearly inevitable.  At the same time, we live in a nation where, since the Roe v. Wade decision, fifty million children have died at the abortionist’s hand.  The culture in which we live is rapidly arriving at the conclusion that marriage is founded upon nothing more than a feeling of affection toward another person, and that its privileges should be extended to any combination of persons who experience such affection.  All of us look at these issues and wonder, “How are we to proceed?”

To my mind, the Scriptures today provide us with a way forward.  The first reading was about Wisdom.  The author comments that he prefers wisdom to riches or gold, and tells us that to be poor and wise is better than to be rich and unwise.  When we hear this word, “wisdom” I think we most often assume that the author is talking about some high degree of intelligence, or that to be wise is to be somehow brighter or cleverer than other people.  This, however, is not at all the way that the Scriptures portray wisdom.  Throughout the Old and the New Testaments, wisdom is described as the capacity to think with the mind of God.  Thus, for instance, it is wisdom that informs us that the most hardened criminal, the most vicious murderer, the perpetrator of the most violent terrorist attack is good.  He is good because God has made him that way.

When it comes to finding a way forward in our own time, wisdom has a great deal to say.  First, wisdom tells us that our actions in this life echo in eternity.  In other words, this means that someday, when we stand before God Almighty seated on His throne of judgment, we will have to defend the vote we cast this November.  Likewise, wisdom informs us that our vote is not simply about ourselves.  Because I live in a society, the results of my vote affect other people.  As a result, I cannot simply make my choice on the ballot because I am making less money than I made four or eight years ago.  I cannot simply vote based upon the fact that I am still looking for work.  My vote will affect the poor and the marginal.  Wisdom informs us that as Catholics, we cannot be single issue voters.  We must take into consideration all of the variables before casting a ballot.  Nevertheless, wisdom also tells us that there are certain things that can disqualify a candidate from our consideration.  An example of this is abortion.  Abortion is an intrinsic evil.  This means that there is no time, no place, and no set of circumstances under which it would be legitimate to procure an abortion.  It is always wrong.  If I vote for a candidate who supports an unfettered right to abortion, I become complicit in that evil.  I cooperate with it.  Likewise, embryonic stem cell research which similarly destroys a human being is an intrinsic evil.  It is never ok to suction cells out of a living child in order to put bit of them in other people.  To vote in support of such a thing is to cooperate with that evil.  

Wisdom teaches that there are other examples too, which, though perhaps not intrinsically evil, are nevertheless, profoundly important to Catholics.  In January, President Obama through his Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, mandated that Catholic institutions would be required to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, abortifacient drugs and procedures.  There was to be no exception.  This means that Catholic Hospitals, schools, universities, adoption agencies, and social service agencies would be required to provide these services.  If this mandate stands, many of these institutions will likely close their doors.  Even in our own diocese, Catholic Social Services, who serves thousands and thousands of people each year, may have to close their doors.  I know there are people sitting in this congregation who have turned to this agency in their need.  On Thursday night, Joe Biden stood before America and told us that none of what I just said is true, that no institution would be required to provide anything to which they morally objected.  So egregious was this lie that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement the following day correcting Biden’s error.

By this point I know that many of you are livid.  I know that many of you are wondering why priests cannot keep their politics out of their preaching.  Some of you wonder just who you need to contact at the IRS to have my tax exempt status revoked.  It is not my job to stand before you and tell you for whom to vote.  I cannot tell you the political party to which you ought belong.  Here’s the thing, though.  Someday, I too will stand before almighty God on his throne of judgment and I will have to explain why I did or did not help inform people’s consciences.  I will have to explain why I did or did not help people to sort through the issues of the day with the mind of God.  I will have to explain why I did or did not help us all become just a little wiser. 


  1. One of your very best!

  2. Enjoyed hearing the Wisdom given you, that you shared with your flock. All the way to CA.

  3. Really enjoyed your homily this weekend Father, and I agree with all you said. However, I am really torn, I don't feel like there is a good candidate out there that supports all my beliefs. In your homily you did say that you know of many Catholic democrats who vote their conscience. I have heard another priest years ago that said that it is just as possible for their to be good Catholic democrats just as there are republicans, because of issues such as the death penalty and funding programs for the poor-issues that would allow a democratic vote. So my question is, why is the death penalty always left out of the debate? Why is it always abortion? I am abhorrently against abortion and it makes me ill to think of the numbers of children killed. But if all life is precious, then how can I vote for a republican who will uphold the death penalty and cut funding to social programs-both of which are Catholic teachings? I don't feel like I can vote for either party! A friend talked to me about her dilemma with abortion as well. She said that even if she voted for a candidate strictly because of her stance on abortion, the likelihood of abortion being overturned is almost nill. So if that was her one vote issue, she wasn't sure if it should still be the one issue that makes her decide on a candidate. Thoughts on this would be great because I am thoroughly confused.

  4. I appreciate your frustration and confusion in this matter. I don't want to respond at the length these topics probably deserve, so I will limit myself to the following points:

    1) The Death Penalty is an important issue, and one about which Catholics ought to be concerned. i do not support its use. It differs from abortion, however, in the sense that there are (or may be at least) times when it is legitimate to use capital punishment (Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2266 ff.) Abortion is never legitimate. It can be justified to support a candidate who supports the use of the death penalty because it is not an intrinsic evil, though it is still a very grave matter. I assure you a homily in regard to that matter is coming as well.

    2) It was much in vogue twenty years ago to treat all social issues as though they were cut of the same cloth. This is not a position that can be defended through recourse to the magisterial teaching of the Church. Those things which involve intrinsic evil take precedence over those which, though still evil, are not intrinsically evil. I don't know a single Catholic who is unconcerned for the plight of the poor. The manner in which this issue is resolved, however, is left to the discernment of men and women of good will. The Church gives us no policies in this regard. I would simply point out that while Jesus loved the poor, he never made a single one of them not poor. It is a trip of demagogues to convince us that care for the poor automatically means support for more federal financial aid to them. This is one approach. It is not the only approach. One can oppose such an approach and remain in good standing with the church. The same cannot be said about abortion rights or other intrinsic evils.

    3) There are four candidates on the ballot this year. I have never implied that one must vote for Romney. I might not vote for Romney. It takes some pretty masterful intellectual gymnastics, however, to find a justification for an Obama vote this year.

    4) I would pose the following question to your friend: "Are you prepared to stand before the souls of all the aborted babies on Judgment Day and explain to them that your one vote would not have saved them anyway? Are you prepared to say that because you couldn't make a difference by yourself, you decided to vote based on some other seemingly more pressing issue?"

  5. Thank you for your comments, Father. I, like you, am passionately pro-life and believe this is a very important issue in our time. However, I have a hard time ignoring several other issues integral to Catholic social teaching - such as care for the poor, migrant, and marginalized - when following my conscience at the polls. In the end, so many issues boil down to the same thing: respect for life. Respect for the lives of the unborn is integral in this, especially since they do not have voices to speak up for themselves. However, we cannot forget the millions of other lives that are in jeopardy in our country every day; the life of the abused immigrant trying to provide for his family, the life of the citizen on the streets who cannot break the cycle of poverty no matter how hard she tries, or the life of the child who dies at home because her health insurance does not cover her treatment. These people - the people on the margins - often have no voice either. They are unable to speak up and fight for themselves and for what they deserve as human beings. And, as a Catholic, I feel compelled to speak up for these people as well.

    Since Roe vs. Wade, we have had several presidents, both Democrat and Republican. However, we have seen no real change in this issue, regardless of what the candidates promise during their campaigns. I am not saying that we give up hope for a change to this policy, but I am arguing that this, in light of the broader right to life of Catholic social teaching, urges for a more broad perspective as we examine candidates in light of our consciences. The HHS Mandate, while in no way is perfect (although exceptions were made to the contraceptive piece after urging from the US Bishops, a good thing), is a step forward in a core piece of Catholicism and Catholic social teaching: that all people, regardless of race, ethnicity or social status, have the right to health care. It may be a fumbled step in ways, but it is a greater step than we have seen in decades none-the-less. I think that is something our Creator and Savior would support.

    In the end, I think Catholics need to look at all of the issues present during a given election. I know many people, including my parents, who take a more single-pointed view and only look toward a candidate's stance on abortion when making a decision on who to vote for. I am not saying that is wrong, but I do believe it is taking the easy road in a sense. The world that our God created cannot be distilled to a single issue, nor can it be approached purely from a black-and-white perspective. As I travel, grow in the faith, and experience the world, I am realizing that this beauty and complexity of situations - like those present in our upcoming elections - can help manifest the greatness of our Lord, and I think we owe it to ourselves and our Catholic roots to look more in-depth at all of the issues related to protecting life when we make our way to the polls this November.

  6. Father, you said in your reply to anonymous, "I would simply point out that while Jesus loved the poor, he never made a single one of them not poor." I have to completely disagree! He was always giving to the poor and the Bible makes it a point to tell us that we MUST do the same!
    Matthew 25:31-46

    “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

    “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

    “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

    “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

    “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

    “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

    “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

    “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

  7. In no way am I suggesting that we abdicate our responsibility to the poor. I am saying, however, that the manner by which we address the questions of poverty, homelessness, war, immigration and the like are all issues about which Catholic men and women of good will can disagree. Paul Ryan, for instance, suggests one way to address the issue. Obama suggests another. The Church does not require that we accept either one as the official Catholic position. We are free to accept either as the best way to address the problem of poverty. The Church does, however, require that we oppose abortion. Support for abortion removes a candidate from consideration by Catholics. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops makes this matter very clear:

    Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship notes,

    "28. The first is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.3

    29. The second is the misuse of these necessary moral distinctions as a way of dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity. Racism and other unjust discrimination, the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war, the use of torture,4 war crimes, the failure to respond to those who are suffering from hunger or a lack of health care, or an unjust immigration policy are all serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act. These are not optional concerns which can be dismissed. Catholics are urged to seriously consider Church teaching on these issues. Although choices about how best to respond to these and other compelling threats to human life and dignity are matters for principled debate and decision, this does not make them optional concerns or permit Catholics to dismiss or ignore Church teaching on these important issues. Clearly not every Catholic can be actively involved on each of these concerns, but we need to support one another as our community of faith defends human life and dignity wherever it is threatened. We are not factions, but one family of faith fulfilling the mission of Jesus Christ."

    The Same document later comments,

    "37. In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate's commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching."

    See the next comment for the remainder of my response.

  8. Part II:

    This issues you raise are important and cannot be ignored. But they are not of equal weight to the question of intrinsic evils. You might ask why this is so. John Paul II responds in his apostolic exhortation "Christifideles laicis":

    "The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights-for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights(38)."

    No social justice issue has any meaning if the right to life is not defended first. A case cannot be made or defended by a Catholic Conscience to support a candidate whose party's platform reads:

    "The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right."

    I do not disagree that we are faced with incredibly important issues. These issues cannot eclipse the absolute moral imperative to oppose abortion and other intrinsic evils.

  9. Rockin' homily, Fr T. I wish I could have been there to hear it in person. It takes guts to speak what we truly believe, especially when we know it will make us the target of great criticism.


I appreciate your comments and thoughts. I do not appreciate vulgarity, attacks on me, the Church, or other people who comment. Comments of this variety will not be published.