and sisters in Christ:
On Nov. 1, 2016, the Solemnity of All Saints, the preface of the Mass reads: "For today by your gift we celebrate the festival of your city where the great array of our brothers and sisters already gives you eternal praise. Towards her, we eagerly hasten as pilgrims advancing by faith . . ." (Roman Missal, Third Edition).
In the Collect of the third Mass the following day, All Souls Day, the celebrant prays: ". . . grant, we pray, to your departed servants that, with the mortality of this life overcome, they may gaze eternally on you, their Creator and Redeemer" (Roman Missal, Third Edition).
How very clear it is that we have an eternal destiny. Our Lord intends that upon the completion of our earthly life, we "may merit to receive the joys of eternal happiness" (Collect, Second Mass of All Souls Day, Roman Missal, Third Edition). That we celebrate these two liturgical occasions, one following upon the other, is not an accident. We are all called to be saints, for a saint is one who lives forever with God. All Saints Day reminds us that we have been made in the image and likeness of God and we "look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come" (The Creed). On All Souls Day we pray that our departed loved ones be "cleansed by the paschal mysteries, [so] they may glory in the gift of the resurrection to come." (Prayer after Communion, Second Mass of All Souls Day, Roman Missal, Third Edition).
So it is then, that in this life as believers in God, in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit, all that we do should be directed by our faith. Faith, the Christian life, and our membership in the Catholic Church are not accidental to who we are. Faith cannot be placed in a compartment to be acknowledged or lived only when convenient or when we consider religion suitable or appropriate for our own personal advantage. Religious faith is an ongoing, lived experience that identifies who we are in relationship to God and to one another. It is the constant commitment to love God and to love one another. Faith should be so essential to our lives that we welcome its enriching impact on our daily activities; thus, faith is not merely cultural, but rather transcends any particular culture or historical period as it allows us to reach beyond ourselves and to engage in loving dialogue with the Creator and Savior.
In the days ahead, our democracy offers us the opportunity to participate in the process of electing public officials, a right citizens should exercise. We later cannot complain about the outcome of an election if we have not participated in the electoral process.
To assist Catholics in exercising this right, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has issued the document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States (cf. http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship/). The document clearly states: "We bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote. Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth" (p. 2, no. 7). When we vote, our faith, integral to who we are, should accompany us as we make such important decisions. Our faith should be a true support as we participate in a process that affects not only ourselves, but the society in which we live.
Faithful Citizenship guides us in this process and calls to mind that:
The formation of conscience includes several elements. First, there is a desire to embrace goodness and truth. For Catholics this begins with a willingness and openness to seek the truth and what is right by studying Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church as contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is also important to examine the facts and background information about various choices. Finally, prayerful reflection is essential to discern the will of God. Catholics must also understand that if they fail to form their consciences they can make erroneous judgments" (p. 7, no. 18).
The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of His Church are often counter-cultural and follow a path at odds with contemporary trends which make our choices so much more difficult. The bishops recognize this tension:
Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods. A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity" (ibid., p. 11, no. 34).
In fulfilling our civic and religious duties, we must imitate the courage and fortitude of the saints who never forgot the Lord. How beautiful it is, then, that during this same month we celebrate a day recalling the blessings of the Lord, Thanksgiving Day. With Proclamation 97 – Appointing a Day of National Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer, issued on March 30, 1863, another elected official, the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, deemed it necessary to call to mind God’s presence among the citizenry:
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.
Since the writing of this proclamation, religion has more and more been pushed to the fringes of society, and threats to religious freedom have escalated. In his Sept. 13, 2016, statement Faith and the Full Promise of America, Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, writes:
People of faith have often been the ones to carry the full promise of America to the most forgotten peripheries when other segments of society judged it too costly . . . Catholic social service workers, volunteers and pastors don’t count the cost in financial terms or even in personal safety. But, we must count the cost to our own faith and morality. We do not seek to impose our morality on anyone, but neither can we sacrifice it in our lives and work. The vast majority of those who speak up for religious liberty are merely asking for the freedom to serve others as our faith asks of us . . . We respect those who disagree with what we teach. Can they respect us?
Invoking the intercession of All the Saints, who were forever mindful of the Lord, let us pray that our leaders will keep before their eyes the welfare of those whom they serve, and reverence the dignity and worth of every person. Guided by the Holy Spirit and unafraid to take our faith to the polls, may we make decisions that will truly guarantee the right to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" (United States Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776).
Assuring you of my prayers with a special memento of our beloved deceased sisters and brothers during this month of prayer dedicated to All Souls, I remain
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester