Pursuing the Golden Rule through civic engagement this election day and beyond

When Pope Francis spoke to Congress in September he told members, "You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics." He further encouraged legislators and "the entire people of the United States" to use "the Golden Rule" (MT 7:12) as their guide.

"This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated," the Holy Father said. "The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development."

Throughout his pontificate Pope Francis has encouraged all of us to become involved in political life, which he called one of the "highest forms of charity," because it seeks the common good. The common good is "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily." Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1906.

How should we act responsibly in the political sphere? First, we stay educated and informed on important issues. Secondly, we engage in year-round advocacy by communicating with our public officials on matters affecting the common good.

Thirdly, we vote, which is both a privilege and a duty. On Tuesday, November 3, Virginia voters will elect all state Senators and Delegates in the Virginia General Assembly.

But before voting, we must form our consciences, guided by the consistent social doctrine of our Faith. Please prayerfully consider the following points to support your voting decisions and advocacy efforts.

Respect and defend the sanctity and dignity of every human life, marriage and family and God's creation. "Every human being has a right to life, the fundamental right that makes all other rights possible, and a right to access to those things required for human decency - food and shelter, education and employment, health care and housing, freedom of religion and family life." Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, para. 49.

Recognize that not all issues have equal moral weight. Some issues involve questions of intrinsic evil, actions that are always wrong and always incompatible with love of God and neighbor and natural law. "[T]he moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions." Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, para. 37. Intrinsically evil actions include abortion, euthanasia, research that destroys human embryos, genocide, racism, torture and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, and offenses against natural law, including redefining marriage, an institution founded as the union of one man and one woman. Issues involving other human rights, such as the right to food, shelter, health care and the right to migrate, for instance, require us to act and call for us to apply our prudential judgment to determine how best to resolve them.

Give highest priority to the fundamental right to life. 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. This right to life must have first claim on our consciences. The clearest example is abortion. Each year, abortion claims more than a million lives in the U.S. and tens of thousands of lives in Virginia alone.

To learn more about conscience formation and faithful citizenship, please visit the Virginia Catholic Conference's website (www.vacatholic.org). In addition to its advocacy network, which you are encouraged to join, the Conference also provides resources, including a Voters' Guide to the upcoming elections, to assist you.

We pray that all of us will embrace our heritage as faithful Catholics and Americans and let our Church's consistent moral principles guide us in the voting booth on November 3 and as we encounter the world in the public square.

Faithfully Yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Paul S. Loverde

Bishop of Arlington

Most Reverend Francis X. DiLorenzo

Bishop of Richmond

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015