Back in April, this column called for Catholics across Michigan to participate in the Civilize It initiative adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The effort involves taking a pledge to promote civility, to love one’s neighbor, and to build community, cutting across the name-calling and bitter partisanship that too often accompanies the election season. The first line of the pledge begins with a powerful directive: “I pledge civility … to recognize the human dignity of those with whom I disagree, treat others with respect, and rise above attacks when directed at me.”
With the 2020 election moving into in its final weeks, living out this line — and the full Civilize It pledge — is more crucial than ever.
In the daily discourse of the news and in political discussions online, examples of civility seem to be less and less valued. While campaign politics naturally brings out competitiveness, the most highlighted stories tend to be the most contentious and divisive, the most “clickworthy” ones. In the Catholic tradition, however, recognizing the dignity of every person — including in the way people of faith debate ideas and argue positions — is a central tenet. That means all deserve to be treated with respect — regardless of whether we agree with them.
Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the guidance document for political involvement from the U.S. Catholic bishops, states now “is a time for renewed engagement;” now is an opportunity to promote greater compassion in discussions about the common good. Meaningful engagement does take patience and a deep sense of hope. Thankfully, as Catholics, we are well prepared to exercise these virtues, as ours is a faith of patience and hope.
Throughout Catholicism’s history, believers have been reminded that they are not alone in seeking a better future. Other people of faith have demonstrated the diverse ways to live Catholic values in the public realm and to use one’s gifts. The Michigan Catholic Conference’s latest FOCUS publication, The Issues, The Candidates, and Your Vote 2020, highlights a selection of saints for Catholics to reflect upon because:
- These holy men and women demonstrate the good that comes from an openness to God’s will.
- The saints instruct Catholics how to bear witness to their values, in word and deed.
- They can offer intercessory prayers for us as Catholics study the 2020 election choices carefully.
Specifically, the publication mentions more than 50 saints and shares a variety of insights that we can glean from them. For example:
- St. Gianna Beretta Molla demonstrates that courageous action is needed to protect human dignity.
- St. Thomas More validates that our convictions matter, even in the face of governmental pressure.
- St. Vincent de Paul teaches that actions of charity and justice are both essential in society.
- St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Josephine Bakhita show that even through the most difficult challenges and circumstances, there is hope.
- Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin provide living witness to the idea that commitment and faith can keep families strong in difficult times.
- St. Teresa of Calcutta proves that in every action, we can affirm the value of others.
- St. Maximilian Kolbe promotes the value of helping those in need, even when it requires sacrifice.
- St. Frances Xavier Cabrini recognizes that all are God’s children and have lessons to share.
- St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint, highlights the connection between the well-being of the environment and the well-being of human beings.
- St. Martin de Porres, the first Black saint of the Americas, demonstrates that all of God’s creatures deserve to be welcomed and cared for: people (of every race and income level) and animals.
Catholics have the opportunity to blend these insights with Catholic social teaching as they prepare for the 2020 election. Additional resources can be found at www.micatholic.org/2020Election.
As the Election Day approaches, now is the time to promote civility, adopting a respectful tone and seeking greater understanding in every interaction with others. Now is the time to love others, recognizing that each person is wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God. And finally, now is the time to build community, first with our election choices and then through advocacy engagement with those who are selected. Together, we can help make a better tomorrow.
The Word from Lansing is a regular column for Catholic news outlets and is written by Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) President and CEO Paul A. Long. Michigan Catholic Conference is the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state.