Rights and Duties of Citizenship

Rosa Lee, Columban Volunteer USA
October 28, 2010

As Catholics, we are called to live a life of faith and service, to live in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, and to work to protect the rights of those most vulnerable in our society. However, with much of our focus on our responsibilities towards people suffering in distant corners of the earth, we sometimes forget to stop and consider our own rights and responsibilities as citizens of the United States. Voting in today’s democratic process remains one of the most important – and at times most underappreciated – rights and duties that we have as United State’s citizens. While it is important to offer our time and resources to directly aid those most in need, it is also important to remember the significance of taking part in other, somewhat more indirect, forms of charity and devotion such as voting.

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In November 2008, Americans across the country cast their votes in a presidential election that boasted the highest voter turnout in nearly forty years. The current economic recession and continued political and social turmoil that still exists throughout the world threatens to persuade many to lose faith in the political system. However, as Christians, we are often called to be the spark that ignites even the weakest of flames.

Today, more than ever, the U.S. political process remains one of the single most important avenues that we have towards creating those positive changes that we wish to see in the world. The beauty – and at times the curse – of our representative democracy lies in its concept of “separation of powers,” established through a complex system of checks and balances. On one hand, this system ensures that political power cannot be monopolized by any one branch of government and that the decision-making is not left in the hands of any one single politician or political interest group. On the other hand, this sometimes makes the process a rather slow and painful one, especially for legislation that may be considered in any way to be controversial such as comprehensive immigration reform or climate change and energy policy.   But there is hope to be found here, especially in knowing that our votes matter in a number of diverse and integral ways. The system fosters a spirit of cooperation among political leaders and allows for the inclusion of minority opinions. Further, it ensures that “the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” It remains now, more than ever, immeasurably important for us to elect local, state, and national leaders who will represent our communities responsibly and courageously.

My experience here in Washington, D.C., though still limited, has shown me a glimpse of the role that individuals and their communities play in the democratic system. Surely there are problems in the process. There is much for me to learn. But even in my short time here, it has struck me on a number of occasions that the system is only as good as the people who work within it. During my first few weeks in D.C., it has become increasingly clear to me that the congressmen and women on Capitol Hill truly do listen to the needs and wants of their constituents. There always will be differing and conflicting ideas about what should be law and what should not, what we are responsible for and what we are not, what we are called to do and what we are not. But as Christians, I feel that we are blessed to have a much more cohesive idea of what is truly important. We practice a dogma that encourages love and respect for our neighbors and action on behalf of our brothers and sisters most in need of our support.

This November, we are called again to come together and to take another step in a direction that leads us closer to God and closer to creating a world that respects the dignity of every human being. Learn more about the issues being discussed in your communities. Consider what truly matters to you. Then consider which candidates will be most able to represent these values on an institutional level. If you do not have the time for extensive research, see who others in your community may be endorsing or ask a friend you respect about the stances certain candidates may have on issues that matter to you. However you do it, I encourage you to embrace this opportunity to make your voice heard, especially on behalf of those in this world that remain unjustly silenced.

I close with a prayer found on our website through our Mission Education Program

Vision for Justice

“God of all good things, give us a vision for justice.

We ask that our minds be open, our hearts be generous, and our deeds be genuine in reaching out to those who are poor.

Awaken us to our responsibility to do something about harmful economic and political situations.

Strengthen us so that we might help people who are denied their human rights and freedoms.

Provide us the courage and imagination to be the voice crying out for justice for the poor and the oppressed.”