"It does not concern me in the least that I be judged by you or any human tribunal … the one who judges me is the Lord."
— St. Paul, first letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 4:3-4)
As we approach another presidential election, we encounter lots of shouting in the op-ed pages and on social media about the rules of politics for Catholics. You can’t be Catholic and a Democrat, screams one, because the Church is against abortion. You can’t be Catholic and a Republican, rants another, because the Church is against capital punishment. What’s a good Catholic to do?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church actually has an answer, if everybody could be quiet long enough to hear it. “Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.” (#1782)
Side note: This goes for women, too.
The Catechism has a lot more to say, especially regarding the proper formation and education of the conscience with the help of the Holy Spirit, but simply put: You are called to follow your conscience. Always. In decisions large and small. Including when you are weighing your vote.
It would be a perfect world, or else a theocracy, if a political candidate existed who checked every single box of the particulars of the Catholic creed. Of course, it would be a perfect Church if every single Catholic worked equally hard for every single cause of social justice, if we all unhesitatingly fed the hungry and gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked and housed the homeless, cared for the sick and visited the prisoner. But candidates for office and churchgoers are human. We mess up and press on and rely on the grace of God to form our consciences and guide our choices. If we have done wrong, we are called to apologize and repent and repair the damage we’ve done and learn from our mistake. If we are true to our faith, we know we are called not just to believe it, but to live it.
I am speaking as a cradle Catholic, but I believe the basics of decency and kindness and service are intrinsic to all faiths. And there is another thing that people of all faiths struggle to get right: leaving judgment to God.
We get this directly from the holy words of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke: “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.” (Luke 6:37) We understand that Jesus is not suggesting we be a little more understanding. He is telling us to knock it off.
Who gets to say if you’re a good Catholic, a good Muslim, a good Sikh, a good Buddhist, a good Christian, a good Jew, a good Hindu, a good agnostic, a good anything? Who wants that job? I don’t. Without the ability to see into another person’s heart and soul, you wouldn’t be able to judge the sincerity of that person’s belief or intentions. Although that doesn’t stop some people from trying. It doesn’t stop some people from ostracizing or denouncing or killing others whom they deem of inferior devotion in matters of their own religion.
We Catholics can benefit from the wisdom of a saint who walked among us as Mother Teresa. “If you judge people,” said St. Teresa of Calcutta, “you have no time to love them.”
If we believe in God, we recognize that we don’t get to be God. We don’t get to lord it over others. But we are called to emulate the God of our faith, to act with mercy, compassion and forgiveness, and to go about our work in this world as encouraged by our conscience. Including the way we vote.