The Rector writes …
Saint Paul sums up his understanding of the Christian concern for civil society when he writes to his disciple Timothy: “my advice is that first of all there should be prayers offered for everyone – petitions, intercessions and thanksgiving – and especially for kings and others in authority, so that we may be able to live religious and reverent lives in peace and quiet”. These sentiments were expressed when the Pax Romana was still operative (those two centuries when the Roman empire was at its height and brought an unprecedented era of prosperity and good government across a vast swathe of the then-known world) and although Paul knew the tensions of living under an occupying power his experience of civil authority was much less complicated than our own. Modern communication means that we are alive to concerns and situations far beyond our own borders: our understanding of the common good is both national and international, local and universal.
This country is now faced with a general election. On all sides we are told that the significance of the choices being made by the electorate are more crucial this time round than in many previous elections. The Catechism reminds us that: “political rights are meant to be exercised for the common good of the nation and the human community”. There are many parts of our fractious world where the right to vote is compromised and where democratic freedoms are limited and there should be no question about those who have a vote using it and using it after proper consideration and with prayer. One of the major strands in Catholic social teaching is the notion of subsidiarity – decisions should be made as near to those affected by them as is genuinely possible. Much of the frustration felt by many today and which expresses itself in various forms of populism (some positive and some less so) springs from the individuals’ perception that their own hands are too far from the levers of influence and that decisions are made for them by elites whose agendas are not necessarily their own. The disjunction felt by those who are governed from those who are charged to govern is a concern which needs to be recognised and addressed speedily.
In the years immediately after the Second World War a number of European nations experimented with specifically Christian parties: this has never been the British way where people of faith are to be found in all the major political groupings. The question we have to ask ourselves as Catholic voters is which party or candidate most approximates to the standards established by our own social teaching. It is unlikely that the fit will ever be exactly as we would wish, and if may be that we have to decide on the lesser of several evils when standing at the ballot box. If ideas of the common good and subsidiarity are important then the over-riding moral consideration has to be the most basic of all human rights – that of the right to life. Everything else fades into insignificance if that absolute is breached, Speaking definitively in the Decalogue, God’s word to all his children, in every age, is as simple as it is clear: “thou shalt not kill”. The wilful destruction of any life, at any stage of its journey, flies in the face of everything we believe about the value and dignity of each person. What God says of Jeremiah he says of every one of his sons and daughters: “before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you came to birth I consecrated you”.
The coming four weeks provide an opportunity to refresh our own understanding of the Church’s social teaching, and the election campaign also gives us the chance to talk with family, friends and work colleagues about the principles which underpin our world view. As Christians we should be demonstrating that it is possible to disagree and yet maintain respect for those of contrary views. Our motivation has to be the understanding of a basic human solidarity which, as Saint John Paul 11 says, “strengthens community and builds a civilization of love”. The same source goes on to remind us: “the Church values the democratic system inasmuch as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices and guarantees to the governed the possibility both of electing and holding accountable those who govern them and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate”.