The last stop for this year’s tumultuous presidential election season, which for so long seemed like a remote intangible, suddenly is within our sights. In a few weeks, Americans will cast ballots for their preferred candidate. Unfortunately, for many American Catholics weighing their options — and their consciences — the choice is a difficult one with no ideal options.
This dilemma surfaced at an in-flight press conference with Pope Francis Oct. 2 as he returned to Rome from a visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan. When a journalist asked what advice Francis would give to American voters, the Holy Father responded: “ … I would say only: study the proposals well, pray and choose with your conscience.”
Such advice pairs well with the U.S. bishops’ document on political responsibility, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” which also advocates for studying the issues, the Church’s teachings and taking the choices to prayer.
Such a task is sometimes more easily said than done, however, and some leaders have offered a third option. Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, recently published a column saying that in “extraordinary circumstances,” some Catholics — in following their consciences, and unable to find a candidate who, “with some degree of probability, would be most likely to do some good, and the least amount of harm, on the foundational issues” of life, family, conscience rights and religious liberty — “might choose not to vote for any candidate at all in a particular office.”
Bishop Conley emphasized that what is needed more, however, is “a broader vision of public life, which values and proclaims the dignity of every human life, and which aims for the flourishing of individuals, families and communities. This broader vision won’t come through an election. It will come through life in Jesus Christ. The most important part of being good citizens is living as faithful and active missionary disciples of Jesus Christ.”
This point is critical. In an election cycle that has been a source of great uncertainty, frustration and disunity, it is natural to feel despondent and disengaged. Our challenge, as Bishop Conley reminds us, is to remember the big picture: to strive to live as missionary disciples, bringing Christ to the world through one act of love and charity at a time.
As American Catholics look to an uncertain future, we can find solace and hope in our Blessed Mother, trusting in her protection and care. With this goal in mind, it is particularly fitting that October is the Month of the Rosary. As such, Catholics have the opportunity to rediscover the beauty and power of the ancient Marian devotion — a devotion which our faith credits with the victory of Christendom over the Ottoman Empire at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, preserving the Faith in Mexico during the persecution of the 20th century, and the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe.
Perhaps if every American Catholic family committed to praying the Rosary each day between now and Nov. 8, we may begin to see Christian values once again taking root in our nation and our world. At the very least, it would help form and fortify us as we head into the voting booth. The results could impact much more than one election — it could be the game-changing effort that brings the living Christ into our hearts and our families. And through us, back into the world.
Editorial Board: Scot Landry, chief mission officer; Greg Willits, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor