This month we head into 1996 and begin the countdown to the celebration of the millennium in earnest. In recent years the Holy Father has made it clear that our Church’s preparation for the Jubilee Year 2000 must be one of individual spiritual renewal and recommitment to faith. A firm grounding in faith is the beginning of any meaningful action in life, and the Holy Father’s teaching on this point has been clear and inspiring.
The Catholic Campaign for America’s National Convention last November was a clear indication that the Catholic community in America is ripe for the spiritual and cultural renewal of which John Paul II speaks. Hundreds of Catholics from across the country gathered to explore ways of putting their faith to use more effectively and publicly in their own lives. What they took away from that convention was both inspiring and challenging.
It inspired those who participated to become more active in the public arena. It is encouraging to be gathered together with so many others from all walks of life to learn more about your faith and spirituality. It is challenging because “Public Catholicism” requires more of individuals than attending mass and receiving the sacraments. It means integrating your faith into everything that you do, and encouraging others to do the same. These challenges will be particularly important in 1996 for two reasons: the first is the approaching millennium, and the second is our country’s national elections in November.
1996 marks the last year of what the Holy Father has designated as the first phase of preparation for the Jubilee Year 2000. This phase is a time of reflection and spiritual devotion. This can be done in many ways, including the celebration of the sacraments and a more intense personal devotion to our faith tradition.
It can be done in other ways as well, though. This spiritual renewal is important for personal fulfillment and spiritual growth, but it also must manifest itself in concrete circumstances in our lives. 1996 offers all Catholics and indeed all Americans the opportunity to let our faith and spirituality heal some of our nation’s wounds.
The most effective way to do this is to engage political candidates in public debate on important issues. We Catholics make up a substantial percentage of the American population. We should be more active in directing the public discussion toward issues that can have a real and positive impact on people’s lives, such as protection of the unborn and alternatives to abortion, parental freedom and educational choice, and tax policy that encourages and assists the cohesiveness of the family unit. We should draw attention to and support immigration policies that welcome and assist those who seek better lives for themselves and their families, poverty assistance programs that help those in need, encourage self-reliance, and welcome people of faith to participate in their democracy.
We have seen some positive progress on some of these issues in recent years, but on others it has been less encouraging. Catholics have begun to take a more active role in the public policy debate in America, but to make an impact on the healing of our culture, we must continue to be engaged and to focus our energies where they are most needed. And an important crossroads for many of these policy issues will be the state, local, and national elections of 1996.
Catholics should not only make an impact in this year’s elections because of civic responsibility, but also because our faith calls us to do so. In the past few years the writings of the Holy Father have been keen to both preparing ourselves spiritually for the Jubilee Year and to engaging in the great debates of our time. He has called for an integration of “faith ever more fully into the fabric of [our] daily lives” (Newark, New York 10/4/95). And why is this particularly important this year? John Paul II said in Evangelium vitae that “democracy is a system, and as such, is a means and not an end … therefore, its morality depends upon the morality of the ends which it pursues and the means that it employs.” In other words, the good of a democracy is dependent upon participation of good people, those with spiritual and moral grounding.
As Catholics, we can raise our voices in the spirit of Christ to contribute to the public discussion on these fundamentally important issues. The Holy Father was clear on this point when he said in Baltimore last October that “the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a private opinion” but rather is “the power which can transform the world.” We can engage our political systems to respond—to encourage them when they do so effectively and to hold them responsible when they do not. This is how Catholics will become a formidable and potent voice for the gospel and for the Church. 1996 provides us this great opportunity. Through a collective effort it will not slip away.