You may have noticed that Catholics didn’t vote as a group in recent elections. “Why not?” you may ask yourself. Don’t they all believe the same thing? Don’t they vote the way their bishops or the pope tells them to?
Some may ask, “Aren’t all Catholics Republican?” Or, depending on where you live you may ask, “Aren’t all Catholics Democrats?”
Actually both answers are “no” and “no.” Catholics don’t all believe in the same way and neither political party is truly Catholic. Some Catholics have a good understanding of Catholic Social Teaching preferencing those made poor and those who are oppressed, as well as caring for life from womb to tomb. Many understand that Catholics must inform their consciences, discern and then vote how they determine they are called to vote using the foundational doctrine of Primacy of Conscience.
On the other hand, some succumb to the heresy of fideism (blind obedience to authority) and simply vote they way their bishop indicates without any reflection or consideration. Finally, others simply follow their political party, tribe, family or culture – another form of fideism. Catholics are all over the spectrum in terms of formation, education, training and belief.
Nevertheless, the Spirit is active in the lives of everyone, regardless of the level of education, relationship to an institutional church or political affiliation. The Spirit, around the globe and over time, helps creates the sensus fidelium or the “sense of the faithful” to discern what is moral and what best serves the common good. Vatican II proclaimed that the Church is the people of God (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium 9). Thus, this sense of the faithful becomes part of the teaching of the Church.
The Spirit doesn’t work in a vacuum. No one individual or group has exclusive access to the Spirit. All must cultivate gratitude, an orientation of otherness, an understanding of justice as well as solitude in order to listen to the Spirit. We must read, become educated and listen to theologians and church leaders. God lives in everyone. The incarnation of God in Jesus and the community’s experience of that event confirm this. God or Christ is with us everywhere and always.
It is in listening and sharing our insights as a community that we can come to know what we are being called to do. Conversation, education and sharing various understandings help us to know what is most compassionate and what will best serve the common good. Without ongoing conversation there is no access to the Spirit active in others.
The question for those who name themselves as Catholic is, “How do we listen and discern what the Spirit is calling each of us to do?” God works in the world through our hearts and hands, after all. For Catholics it is not “What would Jesus do?” It is not about following the rules or imitating Jesus’ specific responses to specific situations, even though Jesus serves as a model of compassion and justice. Rather, we allow Spirit to emerge from within and ask, “What is the Spirit calling me to do now in this situation?” This is something quite different.
Each of us is unique with unique experiences of life and of Spirit. The decision for any question, issue or situation, therefore, may be different for each of us. And that is just as it should be.
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