SPECIAL: On Our Civic Responsibility for the Common Good
©Catholic Online 2004
To Christ’s Faithful of the Archdiocese of St. Louis:
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
1. 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.
2. One day, the sacristan opened his heart about the evils of Naziism. 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 Naziism.
3. 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.
4. As your Archbishop, I write to you now 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”
5. IN REFLECTING UPON the sacristan’s question, I call to mind the story of Cain and Abel from the Book of Genesis (Gn 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?” (Gn 4:9).
6. Christ has supplied the definitive answer to Cain’s question in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37) and ultimately, on Calvary, by giving Himself up to death for the salvation of the world (Jn 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.
7. 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?
8. Concerning the moral responsibility of voting, I, as the 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 ...
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