Wednesday, February 13, 2008


The other day the Publisher and the Theology Editor of attended the joint vicariate meeting of the San Bernardino Diocese. It turns out that this is an annual event when at least one priest and the staff of every parish come together at the Pastoral Center and have a day of conviviality, informational get together, constant light snack buffet and two solid conferences/presentations as food for thought. This year Bishop Barnes decided to make the fourth Episcopal Letter to the citizens of the United States the center piece of the event. To make the event all the more attractive, he invited Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington D.C. to discuss the election year document from the United States Conference
of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

This is a short overview of the event, mostly focused on Cardinal McCarrick's presentation of the document, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility."

My wife and I arrived at 1:00 PM, the announced gathering time for the afternoon presentations. The reception area was abuzz with people still excited from their morning experience. We bumped into Bishop del Riego, the Auxiliary of the Diocese of San Bernardino. It was the third time that we had personal contact in about 5 days. He had his usual smile, warm handshake and glint in his eye. He was also in his usual position, right in the middle of the pedestrian traffic. "That's where the people are." After a couple of jocular exchanges we proceeded to the fruit, cheese and crackers buffet accompanied by ice chests of water and soft drinks. I could not refrain my brain from remembering the dictum of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, "Wherever a Catholic sun doth shine, there you'll find good food and fine wine." Hhhmmm.

Into the conference room with you, and pay attention. So we entered, discovered a room full of round tables surrounded by ten chairs each, sat there at one of them, met our table mates and awaited the signal for silence. After a few short moments, there was an opening prayer, an introductory statement by Bishop Gerald Barnes, the Ordinary of San Bernardino followed by the Cardinal himself.

I don't want to be mean, but the Cardinal started his conference with two of the oldest and stalest jokes in the Christian universe. Coming from Washington, the capital of slapstick and hilarity, I would have thought that the opening jokes would have been better. So, I got robbed of my opening laugh.
Nevertheless, before long, I was hearing things that I felt at home with. "The Catholic Church is not a single issue Church." "A good and faithful Catholic first and foremost, will be a good and faithful citizen." "You will not be a good Catholic if you do not strive to be a good citizen." I wasn't looking for laughs any more. I was looking for ways to spread the news to the Catholic World. I'm blessed, I have The other 300 participants in this event have bigger challenges. But wait, this was just the beginning.

I was now thinking of myself at about age 12 or so. I came from a very, very Catholic family, both sides. I had been reading the newspapers (yeah, we had them then, and the radio). There had been several news releases that mentioned that the pope had made this statement and this other pronouncement. I asked my father what was so important about these statements since not everyone was Catholic anyway. My father simply replied, "When the Pope speaks, the world's ears burn." ( circa A.D. 1949) The same is true with our bishops. When they speak, the world listens. This is so true that the bishops in this document can say, with great certainty, "In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation." They follow this up with the pronouncement, "The Catholic call to Faithful Citizenship affirms the importance of political participation and insists that public service is a worthy vocation." (Both quotes from Forming Consciences for Faithful
Citizenship, Part 1, numbers 13 and 14)

The Cardinal spoke for some 45 minutes. It was impossible for him to explain and comment on the entire document. Similarly, it is impossible for to give you a complete symposium on this wonderful effort by the USCCB. Let me just make one final point.

This is a document in the style of Vatican II. Nowhere in this document are you going to find statements like, "if you vote for a pro-choice candidate, may you be anathema." NO. This is a true Catechism lesson. It is not a threat to comply or go to hell. It is a push to study the question of how to cause the good to happen through our vote, so we may contribute to its realization. This document is intended to be studied in prayer and meditation so that our conscience may be made surer and firmer in its resolve for the good. The bishops of the U.S. are presenting us with the traditional doctrine of conscience held for centuries by the Church, "...Conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil." (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, Part 1, number 17)

Thanks, Bishop Barnes. Thanks, Cardinal McCarrick.

Check out the Burning Question of the week. You'll keep coming back for more. I love telling you these things. I know that if you make an effort to study these things, you'll never, ever, be tempted to cry at my funeral.
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