On Wednesday, March 19, thousands of Catholics from throughout New York State will participate in the annual Catholics at the Capitol day in Albany. Led by our state’s bishops, participants will enter into a day of witness, prayer and, for some, meetings with local legislators. In our diocese, many are attending preparation workshops, organized by Catholic Charities, about Catholics at the Capitol so they are both informed and prepared for this important day.
The reality is that many of us may not be able to be in Albany on March 19th. Yet, we are not excused from the work of advocacy, awareness and action regarding important political issues that impact the lives of those we are called to serve. There are some outside the Church who may say that the Church (or any religious group) should not be engaged in the public square. We know this is not true. Yet, sometimes, there are those of us in the Church, even here on Long Island, who would say, “This does not impact me” or “It is not my concern” or “Others can do this”. This, too, is not true. As Catholics we must remain informed and involved in political issues that impact the life of the Church and those we seek to serve and protect. For while the Church is very different from government, “the mutual autonomy of the Church and the political community does not entail a separation that excludes cooperation” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 182). That cooperation and participation requires our awareness and engagement.
With this in mind, the Diocesan Public Policy Advisory Committee will be posting information about each of the five issues Catholics have been requested to address with New York State legislative leaders on March 19. The five issues are: Support Humane Treatment for Incarcerated Individuals, Preserve Catholic Schools, Ensure Sufficient Funding for Programs for Vulnerable Populations, Support Equitable Labor Standards for Farmworkers, and Support Pregnant Women and Oppose Expansion of Abortion. (Of course, these are not the only issues we need to address on the state level but to make the Catholics at the Capitol day most effective we must focus.) The truth is that these are not just issues for you and me to address during one day, i.e. March 19th, but should become part of our regular prayer, reflection and consideration daily.
What can you do?
1. Pray! Pray! Pray! Pray for the work of the Church and its leaders and for the politicians elected to serve us.
2. Be informed! It is important that we know the Church’s teaching and position. So often, many people of good will may present an opinion we might think sounds reasonable but when we look deeper it may not be so reasonable at all. For Catholics, the best (and often easiest places to go) are the websites of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the New York State Catholic Conference and the Diocese of Rockville Centre (In the future, a separate webpage on www.drvc.org will be up with updates, foundational teachings, and information for parish bulletins, etc. We ask all Catholics to sign up for the Catholic Action Network, sponsored by the New York State Catholic Conference.
3. Consider engaging! There are many ways to get involved in these issues. It requires a little reflection upon your own gifts, but we can each do something. Some of us might be great letter writers, other better at joining a respect life or social justice group in our parish, others good at speaking on legislative issues and so on. You can visit nyscatholic.org for more information about these things and check our upcoming webpage soon.
As you consider today’s reflection and the issues presented in the next week and a half by the Diocesan Public Policy Advisory Committee, take time to reflect on the ways you might be called to be an “ambassador for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20, Second Reading, Ash Wednesday) particularly in areas of public policy and social justice.
Fr. John Sureau is an associate pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help R.C. Church in Lindenhurst and the chairperson of the Diocesan Public Policy Advisory Committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.