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Revisiting Faithful Citizenship

4/14/2004 - 5:00 AM PST

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Deacon Keith A Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC


In November of 1999, in anticipation of the 2,000 elections, the Catholic Bishops of America issued a Statement called “Faithful Citizenship: Civic responsibility for a New Millennium” It further developed the themes developed in an earlier pastoral letter they had penned entitled "Living the Gospel of Live".

With crystal clarity, prophetic insight and pastoral wisdom, this statement answered the prayers of millions of Catholics, other Christians, and all people of good will. On the eve of a presidential election, many had hungered for a simply written understandable explanation of the implications of Christian faith on political participation.

I believe that this statement also presented a strategic blueprint for what must now become a new "Catholic Action" for America...and beyond.

Like many other Catholics seeking to inform my political and social participation by my faith, I have spent years both on my knees, and in the activist trenches, in the struggle to end what Pope John Paul II properly labeled the “Culture of death” and to build what he calls a new "Culture of life" and "Civilization of Love".

Captured by the teachings of the Second Vatican Council on the mission of the Church in the “modern world” and informed by the extraordinary teaching of Pope John Paul II with his infectious enthusiasm for the "New Evangelization", I have labored "in the vineyard" of the culture for decades. I have come to understand that the missionary “fields” of our age must include the call to social, cultural and political participation.

I have gone to Court as a lawyer, lobbied Congress, engaged in "risky" (by some people's evaluations) ecumenical efforts, and utilized every possible resource I could to effect lasting cultural change and conversion. I refuse to just "curse the darkness" believing that Christians are called to light the light of truth that alone can dispel it.

My cultural evangelization was undertaken first as a layman, and now (for seven years) as a deacon. I have simply tried to live as a missionary in a nation that I love, America, which all too often feels like a post-Christian nation. I know that that the “fields” of our age are indeed ripe for the harvest. One of those fields in the mission to the culture is the arena of political participation.

When the American Bishops issued their 1998 letter entitled "Living the Gospel of Life: The Challenge to American Catholics", I joined the chorus of praise and redoubled my prayer and evangelical action in this social apostolate. But, to my chagrin, I often met with cynicism and suspicion of my actions from some unlikely circles. I was the subject of “labels”, both political and theological. Yet, I simply sought to be a faithful Catholic Christian and a faithful citizen. I still do. I have come to experience that that this cynicism is all too often entrenched among Catholics in America.

The 1999 statement entitled “Faithful Citizenship” was another welcome drink for me, flowing from the waters of wisdom that always flow from the Catholic Church. It also came at just the right time. My “activism” had become a parched desert. I was disillusioned and tired. My activism (like my ecumenism) has always been rooted in a deep belief that the teaching of the Catholic Church, including her “Social teaching” and her call to authentic ecumenism was neither optional nor theoretical. It is meant to be lived in the real daily “trenches” of the human experience and made to be given away.

If in fact Catholic faith is the fullness of Christianity (which I believe that it is) then, though our faith may be profoundly personal to us as Catholics, it must never be private, in the sense of “kept to our selves”—it is radically public. In fact, the right to hear the Gospel is the first right of every human person. Our lives may be may be the only gospel many ever hear. Also, the insights and teaching of the social tradition of the Church offer solutions to many contemporary problems. These principles provide the path to building a more just and truly human society. This statement simply, profoundly and in a straight forward way makes that clear.

The Structure of the Document

In the first part of this statement, after the Bishops set the context in the sections entitled the "Challenges for Believers" and "Questions for the Campaign", they summarized the social obligation of every baptized Catholic (for that matter every baptized Christian). They then spend the entire statement detailing the implications of how “faithful citizens” must act in civil society. They also set forth clear criteria for evaluating candidates for public office for those who are sincere about being “faithful citizens”:

" We believe every candidate, policy, and political ...

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