Let’s get political

Sarah Hahn is many things. She’s a runner, a Franciscan University of Steubenville graduate, and the daughter and granddaughter of veterans. However, as a millennial mother of six young children, she was not planning on becoming a politician anytime soon. Yet when she and her husband brought their kids to a local political event, they walked away as delegates for their precinct.

“We thought we would go and support those of our neighbors who were running. When we got there, we met lots of conservatives, but no one wanted to run,” Hahn said. “We kind of felt like it was our duty.”

The Hahns were later voted to represent their district, then went on to a meeting with potential state delegates. At that point, Hahn learned that if she and her husband were elected, they would have to spend two weeks in Cleveland. That wasn’t an option with her herd of little ones, so she found other conservative candidates and started pushing for them.

After all, she had been elected to represent her district.

“My vote wasn’t just representing me. My vote represented thousands of votes,” Hahn said.

Again, Hahn went to her first caucus meeting not intending to run. She wound up as a contender to become a state delegate. And as a highly controversial pair of candidates look to capture their parties’ nominations, it may be time to revisit the Catholic principle of subsidiarity to understand how that could happen.

How the Church helps

Jenny Kraska is the executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, which is a united voice for Colorado’s three Catholic dioceses, speaking on public policy issues.

She is painfully aware of how much of a difference involvement at the local level can make, and thus strongly encourages Catholics to become involved in their local politics.

“Our Catholic faith is pretty clear about our duties as citizens and Catholics to make our voices heard,” she said.

Kraska’s job is to research policies and advise the faithful on them. You can go to http://www.cocatholicconference.org/ to learn about various policies up for a vote in the state of Colorado, and to see which public officials support or condemn them. The Conference also offers email updates to keep voters informed about important legislation as it occurs.

Kraska said involvement can begin long before a vote.

“One of the big ways you can be involved is to educate yourself on the issues, and what’s happening in the community. There’s tons of local blogs and forums where people talk about these things,” Kraska said.

Hahn said she will use her children’s nap times to learn about the issues. She said the issues she’s learned about aren’t all abortion and Obamacare, either.  In fact, she’s confident that anyone can find an issue to become involved with, even if it’s simply the zoning of their neighborhood.

“Maybe you’re not involved with national politics, but you get involved with your HOA. Maybe you go to your HOA and say you want your rec centers to have gender-separate bathrooms,” she said.

Find a way to become involved in politics that makes sense for your state of life. HOAs and school matters are valid options. Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic.

Find a way to become involved in politics that makes sense for your state of life. HOAs and school matters are valid options. Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic.

As a mother with many young children, Hahn said she understands that some seasons of life are not compatible with high-level political activism. However, she encourages everyone to have some level of involvement.

“Vote.  If that’s all you can do, thank you,” Hahn said. “But for those who simply cast a vote on November 4 and only do that thinking it doesn’t make a difference, and are then unhappy with the outcome, then I would recommend reevaluating how you could be more informed.”

Kraska agreed, again emphasizing how to start becoming involved on the local level.

“One of the most underutilized ways to get involved is town hall meetings,” Kraska said. “They’ll allow you the opportunity as a constituent to get more one-on-one time. They allow you the opportunity as a constituent to get more one-on-one time. They allow you to bring up issues you want your legislator to vote on. You could bring your family, your Respect Life group from church, your ENDOW group.”

She said that most legislators will have town halls listed on their websites.

Overall, both Hahn and Kraska strongly encouraged Catholics to be active citizens.

“Get involved. Get your voice heard on these issues,” Kraska said.

 

Event Reminder: Fortnight for Freedom

Learn about political activism from two saints who were martyred for standing up to their government. The relics of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher will be at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception 9 a.m. to noon and 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. June 14. There will be a presentation after the 5:30 Mass.

What is subsidiarity?

Subsidiarity is sprinkled throughout the Catechism and papal documents. It is the principal that problems should be solved on the most local level.

The Catechism explains that “neither state nor any larger society should substitute itself for the initiative and responsibility of individuals and their intermediary bodies.”
So, if a person needs, they should appeal to their family. If their family is unable to help them, they should then appeal to their parish, then bigger groups. Bigger institutions are welcome to help. For example, the state can donate extra food, but it should be distributed through parishes and local groups, because they are closest to the people.
That’s why the Vatican won’t announce that every Catholic soup kitchen has to serve apples and be open on Wednesdays. Instead, the pope encourages us to perform acts of mercy. We then apply that in a way that makes sense for our community. For example, we can see what day no other soup kitchens in Denver are open and decide to open ours that day. We can decide what food to serve based on the population we’re serving, and their dental health. We can do that because we see what our people need.
Because we see what needs to happen around us, we should be involved with our local politics. Something as seemingly simple as a school board election can have a profound effect on your community and, by extension, the nation.

COMING UP: ‘Do the right thing’: Bringing the Catholic Faith into politics

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How does one do the right thing, and more importantly, what is the right thing? This seems to be the dilemma many Catholics are facing during this uncertain political season.

As the United Kingdom proved on the eve of June 24, when majority voted to leave the European Union, anything, even the completely unexpected, can happen in politics. However, this historic event also proved another, more important point: voting absolutely matters. As the United States approaches Election Day on Nov. 5, the political climate is perhaps more uncertain than ever.

The good news is that the Catholic Church, historically and statistically speaking, has proven itself to be a crucial element of the democratic process. Father Thomas Reese, senior analyst for National Catholic Reporter, wrote in a February article titled “The Catholic Vote in 2016” that Catholics “…are important because they have voted for the winner of the popular vote in almost every presidential election since Roosevelt,” and that they are “often pointed to as the preeminent swing voters who can decide an election,” with the caveat that political parties typically don’t focus much campaigning on swing voters during presidential elections.

From state politics to priesthood

Father Ron Cattany, pastor of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, is no stranger to politics. In August 2009, at the ripe age of 55, Father Cattany retired from a long and fruitful career working for the state government as a natural resource official, but instead of retreating to an island resort for the remainder of his days, he entered the seminary and was ordained a priest in May 2013.

Father Cattany has observed that in modern culture, the civil law and moral law are growing farther apart, he said, and the reason for this is because people seem to confuse civil laws for moral laws.

“There’s a common perception in our culture right now that if you follow the civil law, you’re living a moral life,” Father Cattany said. “A lot of that is because people have gotten away from the fundamental values of a moral life.”

Father Ron Cattany was a long-time Colorado state executive, recent head of Mining and Reclamation, who is about to embark on a career change as a Catholic priest. Cattany and his parents were long-time parishioners at Mother of God Church in Denver, becoming members ther

Father Ron Cattany is no stranger to politics. He was a long-time Colorado state executive before he embarked on a career change as a Catholic priest. He was ordained a priest in May 2013 and now serves as pastor of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.(Photo by Kathryn Scott Osler | Getty Images)

He stressed that in order for Catholics to be effective in the political process, they themselves must first live the moral life by means of properly formed consciences and solid faith formation.

“The deeper we get into living the moral life, the better reflection we get of our own life and where we may live a life of nuance on a number of these issues as to be definitive in terms of what’s right and wrong,” he said. “We have to come to terms with that within ourselves first because any way we live this out within the public square, we’re going to be challenged.”

‘Do the right thing’

To effectively illustrate how to do this, Father Cattany recounted an experience he had while working in the public sector. One day, he stormed into his boss’ office, worked up about a particular issue, and his boss gave Father Cattany what he called a “dad look” and simply told him, “Just do the right thing.”

This simple command, which Father Cattany acknowledged is not as simple as it seems, needs to be the basis for the way in which Catholics become involved in politics, he said.

“That’s what we’re confronted with now in the political sphere. How do we do the right thing?” he said. “The way we do the right thing is by living it first of all, and living it in a way that in living those principles, we have a joy in our articulation of these issues that shows that we’re looking at something better, that we’re looking at truth defined by Jesus Christ.

“It all becomes very personal. It’s sort of the opposite of the pharisees, who were the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ crowd. We have to apply to ourselves the principles, the beliefs, the actions and the faith that we’re asking somebody else to do as well. And we don’t do it in a wishy-washy way, we don’t do it in an accommodating way, we do it in terms of ‘this is the right thing.’”

These principles don’t solely apply to Catholic voters, either. Father Cattany challenged politicians to examine their own conscience and motivations in running for office.

That’s what we’re confronted with now in the political sphere. How do we do the right thing?” -Father Ron Cattany, former state executive and pastor of the Denver Cathedral

“Is the goal to build a career out of [politics], or is the goal to do the right thing? These become tough choices for politicians,” he said.

Ultimately, Father Cattany thinks that the goal of politics in any form is to effect real change and instill a set a values within society that properly aligns with what Christ taught, and the only way to do this is for Catholics to do the right thing by truly living their faith.

“We change lives one at a time,” he said. “We do that in ministry, we do that in social outreach, and the reality is we probably do that in politics as well, and it may very well be that faith, even at the political level, ends up being a lived experience.”

An enduring presence

Father Cattany also acknowledged that some Catholics may find themselves uneasy as they step into the voting booth this year, if for no other reason than they may be forced to choose between two controversial candidates. However, he urged Catholics not no let this sway them from exercising their right to vote, and to do so courageously and with persistence.

“Don’t give up. It’s that enduring presence that changes things over time,” Father Cattany said. “It’s the enduring presence that ultimately ended slavery. It’s the enduring presence that led to the civil rights act. There are a lot of things that happen because people endured over decades.”

Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, concurred with Father Cattany.

“As Catholics, we are called and have a duty to bring our faith and values into the public arena,” Kraska said. “The first step in exercising your faith in the public square is to rid yourself of those notions that somehow your participation doesn’t matter or isn’t needed. That is a huge barrier for a lot of Catholics.”

In a tumultuous and uncertain political season, many Catholic voters wonder how to play an active role in the political process. Father Ron Cattany, pastor of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, said it is important for one to, firstly, be an example of a lived Catholic faith, and to then to use the developed sense of morality that comes from a proper faith formation and “do the right thing.” (Stock photo)

In a tumultuous and uncertain political season, many Catholic voters wonder how to play an active role in the political process. Father Ron Cattany said it is important for one to, firstly, be an example of a lived Catholic faith, and to then to use the developed sense of morality that comes from a proper faith formation and “do the right thing.” (Stock photo)

Kraska said that in the 2012 presidential election, many Catholics either didn’t vote and weren’t even registered to vote, and statistics appear to back this claim. Pew Research Center reported that in the 2012 election, 22% of all voters identified as Catholic, which was a drop from both the 2004 and 2008 elections, when 26% of all voters identified as Catholic. Kraska emphasized that the simplest thing Catholics can do to impact the political process is register to vote and actually exercise that right.

She also shared some practical ways for Catholics to bring their faith into politics, including getting involved in a campaign, contacting legislators via phone or email, and even considering running for office themselves (see: “Let’s Get Political”).

“There is a tremendous ability to make a huge difference just with that one vote or making your voice heard,” Kraska said. “The answer is never not to vote.”